Presentations – tips for success
Whether you are at ease with doing presentations or you find the thought of them terrifying, take a look at our guide for the best way to prepare and practise so that you totally nail it!
What are you going to say?
You are usually given a topic and a timescale in advance, so make sure that you always keep these in mind when deciding on your content. You don't want to veer off the point or make your presentation too long or short.
Don't worry about planning the whole presentation to start with. Instead, break it down into steps.
- Write down any ideas you have or points that are relevant to the topic.
- Make extra notes under each idea or point, to see if it's going to be suitable.
- Think about what you most want to get across to the audience and which of your ideas or points fit best.
- Keep in mind that the content of your presentation should flow well, so you don't want to choose points that don't relate to each other or the topic.
- If you have come up with a quite a lot of points then think about how long your presentation has to be and how many you can fit in. As a general guide:
- 3 key points are sufficient for a 10/15-minute presentation
- 6 key points are sufficient for a 30-minute presentation
- 8 key points are sufficient for a 45-minute presentation.
Preparation and practice
Once you have an idea of what you want to cover, you need to think about the structure of the presentation. This will help you stick to your points and to your allotted time. It can also make you feel more confident when you have a proper plan.
You should always have:
- an introduction – give a brief description of what the presentation is about and what you will talk about
- the main content – explain your main points
- a summary or conclusion – finish by summing up your points and asking the audience if they have any questions.
Write out each section as you want to say it in the presentation.
Now you can practise reading it out loud so that you can see how well it flows and also how many minutes it takes you. If you find it is too short then you may want to add another point from your notes, and if it is too long you could cut out one of your points.
One thing to remember when reading it through is to speak at a steady pace. You might want to get the presentation over as quickly as possible, but make a conscious effort not to speak too fast otherwise you'll find the audience asking you to repeat things.
Also, if you speak too quickly when practising you'll get a misleading timing for your presentation.
If you are worried that your mind will go blank or you'll forget what you should be saying next, then you could use cue cards to help. These shouldn't be a script, but contain the main points that you want to talk about in each section. Number them so that they don't get mixed up!
Also read the section below on 'Tips for practising and the real thing' – incorporate as much as you can into your presentation.
Ask a friend, family member or teacher to watch you do your presentation and ask them for feedback. Practice until you feel happy with the content and confident about delivering it.
Using visual aids
Depending on the topic and duration of your presentation, you might want to think about using visual aids, which could be a PowerPoint (or other similar software) presentation or a handout for the audience.
- visual aids should be used to strengthen the points you are making, not distract from them
- you shouldn't use them as a script – reading word for word from a handout or a screen presentation is not useful for the audience or a demonstration of good presentation skills.
If you do decide to use visual aids, make sure that you prepare them well in advance and practise your presentation using them.
Top 10 tips
- Speed – as mentioned before, there is the temptation to speak too quickly, so make sure that you practise enough so that your timing is always consistent.
- Coherence – make sure that you pronounce all words fully, so that your speech is clear and you don't have to repeat yourself.
- Volume – when you practise with someone else, find the right volume for your voice. You don't want to mumble or shout.
- Tone – vary the tone and pitch in your voice, as you would in a conversation. When concentrating it's easy to slip into a monotone voice, so try to avoid this.
- Breathe – this might sound silly, but nerves can make your breathing more shallow. Try to keep your breathing controlled and take deep breaths before you start and throughout your presentation.
- Pause – It's a good idea to pause for a couple of seconds before moving on to the next point, so that the audience has a chance to take in what you've said. It also allows you to stay composed throughout.
- Eye contact – it's ok to glance at your cue cards or the visual presentation (if you are using one), but make sure that you make plenty of eye contact with your audience. They will pay much more attention.
- Relax – you are bound to be nervous but that's completely natural. If you have prepared and practised thoroughly then you'll feel much more confident and relaxed.
- Questions – your audience may ask you some questions at the end, so answer them honestly and concisely. If you're not sure of an answer, then say so.
- Dress smartly – if you've put lots of time and effort into perfecting your presentation, then make sure that your personal appearance matches!
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