Preparing your oral presentation
Prepare ‘prompts’ to help you remember what to say
- Using ‘prompt’ notes prevents you from reading your talk. If you know your topic well enough, you can give the talk from these headings and point-form cues.
- To make notes, reduce your draft ‘script’ to point-form. List main headings and supporting details or examples. Use key words and phrases rather than full sentences.
- Try using palm-sized cue cards. Number them so they don’t get out of sequence.
Plan your opening remarks
Think about how to get (and keep) the group engaged. Plan an opening that will attract interest and direct attention to your topic. Try starting with a controversial statement, a quotation, an anecdote, a question or a ‘show of hands’.
- Three out of five people in this room will be affected by heart disease.
- Who can guess roughly how many people drive to work each morning?
A little relevant humour can be an effective ice breaker and gain attention. However, avoid telling jokes; you are giving a presentation not a stand-up comedy routine.
- Rehearse your presentation at home alone, in front a mirror, then to your family or flatmates.
- Practice projecting your voice clearly and varying your pitch and tone. Don’t mumble or speak in a monotone.
- Be aware of body language and posture. Stand up straight. Use appropriate gestures to emphasise your points.
- Rehearse with notes. Practise speaking naturally, glancing at your notes occasionally.
- Rehearse with your visual aids to make sure they work.
- Time yourself to make sure you stay within the allotted time limit.
Handouts can provide your audience with an outline of you talk, extra material and references, plus serve as a record of the presentation. The handout should be well-laid out and outline the main points.
Giving the presentation
- Stand in a balanced position, facing the audience, feet apart - this helps you to appear confident. Don’t slouch, shuffle about or lean against the furniture.
- Take a deep breath and wait for the group to focus their attention on you before you start to speak.
- Greet the audience and introduce yourself, even if they already know you.
- Smile! Your audience will react warmly and if you can’t feel relaxed you can at least appear that way.
- Don’t read your presentation word-for-word from a script or from PowerPoint slides - listening to someone read aloud is boring for an audience. Aim to talk instead.
- Written and spoken language are different. Use appropriate language; generally a formal but conversational tone is best (avoid slang or colloquial language).
- Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Don’t rush; nervous speakers tend to speed up, so try to pace yourself.
- Slow down to emphasise key points.
- Don’t be afraid to pause. Short pauses can add emphasis to important points and give you a chance to collect your thoughts.
- Make eye contact with your audience. Don’t just look at your tutor or stare off into space. A good technique is to divide the room into three sections (left, middle and right) and sweep your eyes across the audience. If you don’t want to look anyone in the eye, look at a point in the middle of their foreheads.
- Keep your body turned toward the audience and your body language open and friendly.
Most people feel nervous about speaking in front of a group and that’s not a bad thing—a bit of adrenalin can help a performance. However, an oral presentation is a performance, so you need to act the part of a confident speaker. To make sure that ‘stage fright’ doesn’t become a problem, here are some strategies to try:
- Being well-prepared and organised reduces anxiety and makes presenting easier. Make sure you’ve prepared and rehearsed, that your notes are arranged in correct order and any visuals work without any problems.
- Take a few deep breaths. Breathing slowly and evenly will calm you down especially if you’re prone to ‘the shakes’ (in your hands or your voice) when you’re nervous.
- Stand in a balanced position, facing the audience, feet apart. Smile!
- If you feel nervous, tell the tutorial group—they will understand. Remember that the audience consists of your colleagues and friends. They want you to succeed.