Top tips for presentations

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There comes the dreaded time in everyone’s course or job where they hear the word ‘PRESENTATION’. For some this causes panic – a heart-racing desire to run from the room at record speed. For others (including myself), this sends the mind crazy as it fills with questions of what will I talk about? And when will I have time to prepare this? But we shouldn’t worry, presentations can be a fantastic opportunity to teach others about something we have a passion for, and enhance skills that look great on the CV.

Think about a few presentations you have seen and I bet you learnt something from them. The same is true for each of your presentations. This is proof that being asked to give a presentation is great news – you will get to learn and to teach. This brings me to a question: what are my top tips for carrying out a presentation?

  1. Volunteer to do the next presentation

As you read the line above, you may think I need a special padded cell, but hear me out. If each presentation is a learning experience and a chance to develop skills, why wouldn’t you? Think carefully about if it is a topic you know about and if the answer is yes, stick your hand in the air and wave it proudly as you volunteer.

If this seems too scary (I still find an academic audience terrifying) then see if you can do an event at a local school. Children are easy to present to, they want a short, fun talk and will hinge on your every word – they are delighted that you, a cool scientist, decided to go into their school. Children form a friendly audience, make it fun and you could be the reason they go into science! Now you’ve inspired the next generation, time to present to adults.

  1. Preparation

This is key, start to think about what you will present and how. As soon as I’m asked to do a presentation, I stop work and go for a walk or cycle. I use this time to think about my knowledge on the topic and the overall message I want to deliver. I work out one or two points everyone must know by the end of the presentation. Using this I fill in the story so the audience can follow the main points.

Be selective, the audience don’t want to hear about everything you have read or done on that topic – as interesting as it may be. You are better to choose a few points and fully discuss them in a clear, calm manner. I usually try to find/make a short video clip for the introduction, this gives me a little break from talking and wakes up the audience as it is something a bit different. Also try and use pictures more than text as it is more interesting for the audience to see a picture than read through reams of text. By starting your preparations early you can learn the ream of text associated with a picture.

  1. Practice

As the well-known phrase goes – practice makes perfect. Start by practicing on your own with notes to check timing. Once you have gone over the presentation a few times hide the notes and select a sweet treat you can have if you remember most of the content. Once I have my favorite chocolate on the desk my memory is amazing!

Finally, find willing volunteers to watch. Try to present to multiple groups with different levels of knowledge. Always recap on the points you might think ‘everyone knows’ because I’m sure some people in your audience have done different work and will not follow your presentation without a brief definition/explanation. A good presentation should be at a level everyone can understand.

  1. Use your nerves positively

Everyone gets nervous before a presentation, it shows you care. I have a routine to reduce my nerves. As I walk toward the screen, I quietly hum my favorite song to calm me down. I then smile to welcome the audience and tell myself “I AM happy to be here”. Although my hands will be shaking, other presenters also have the same problem, so I ignore it and start!

It is tempting to race through the presentation but don’t rush. Remember you have an important message the audience need to hear and talking too fast could cause this message to be lost. This seems hard when you first start presenting, but it gets easier with time. I find the first slide is the hardest, get through this and I’m sorted. If I forget something in the middle it doesn’t matter, the audience never knew I was going to say it. Don’t get hung up on what you meant to say but relish in the achievement of completing the presentation.

  1. Get feedback

After your presentation, talk to people. This will give you a chance to network, discuss the topic further and get some all-important feedback. Once you have started a conversation, ask that person how they think you can improve for future presentations. Express how you are still new to presenting. Chances are the person will give you a few tips, just remember not to take it personally.

Presenting is a craft for you to master. The more you do, the easier it gets. I have done over 50 presentations now, but I still feel nervous before I present – I have just got better at hiding it. Now my studies are finished I seldom have the opportunity to present but instead this gives me the chance to sit back and enjoy listening to people who are newer on their journey in presenting. I just hope my experience will help to encourage you to share your amazing work and hopefully I will get to see it!

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