Tips for Class Presentations: A Baker's Dozen
Polishing your presentation skills is a great way to impress teachers. Solid preparation and avoiding bad habits can result in terrific presentations.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Sooner or later in your academic career, you'll be asked to deliver a presentation, an assignment that strikes fear in many a student. But if follow a few simple guidelines, you can pull off a glitch-free, entertaining presentation that earns a good grade.
Remember that your instructor has seen plenty of presentations and knows all the typical weaknesses. Your mission is to avoid those weaknesses and delight your teacher with your presentation prowess.
You'll find that developing effective presentation skills will help you enormously in the post-college world of work as you will likely be called upon to give plenty of talks. Polished presentation skills will also help you in job interviews.
Here are 13 Tips for a Successful Class Presentation
1. Plan an Interesting, Well-Organized Presentation.
If given a choice of topic, try to choose a subject you know well and are comfortable with. The
classic organizational structure for a presentation is to tell your audience what you plan to tell
them, then actually tell them, then summarize by telling them what you told them. Sprinkle stories,
humor (as appropriate), and startling statistics throughout your talk. Ask if your audience has
questions when you conclude.
2. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.
Perhaps the most significant key to an effective presentation is to practice as much as you can. Rehearsal addresses many issues that can arise during a presentation. First, you'll get the timing right if you rehearse, ensuring that your presentation is neither too long nor too short. Next, you'll overcome any technical glitches if you are using audiovisual equipment. You'll get more comfortable with your content, which will help you tackle your nerves. Practice is especially important in a group presentation because it enables your team to polish transitions among pieces of the presentation. You may want to rehearse in front of others to get feedback or even video-record yourself.
3. Carefully Consider Visual Aids.
Audience attention spans have grown shorter and shorter in our media-glutted times, so presenters feel they must provide visual stimuli in addition to their spoken words. PowerPoint slides have become such a staple in presentations from the classroom to the boardroom that "death by PowerPoint" is not uncommon. Consider whether slides will really add to your presentation. Could you add creativity and interest in another way? Could you prepare slides in a different way -- say, focusing on graphics and photos with minimal text? Be as creative as you can in adding visual aids to your presentation. If you decide on PowerPoint, don't get text-heavy with your slides. Stick to a simple design that is visually pleasing and typo-free.
4. Have Your Technology Nailed, and Have a Backup Plan.
If you're using technology in your presentation be sure you know how to use the equipment in the room in which you'll be presenting (your multimedia components might work on your own computer, but be sure they'll also work on the presentation computer). Practice with the actual equipment if possible. Always have a backup plan in case of a technical glitch. Your audience doesn't want to hear you say, "It worked in my room."
5. Conquer Your Nerves.
A famous study showed that more people are afraid of public speaking than of dying, so if your heart starts pounding before a presentation, congratulations; you're normal! Channel your nervous energy before your presentation by taking a walk and a few deep breaths. Visualize yourself delivering a flawless presentation. During the presentation, you can deal with nervous energy by walking around the front of the room -- as long as you don't get carried away and distract your audience. Transform your nerves into positive energy that makes you appear enthusiastic.
6. Don't Set Up Negative Audience Expectations.
Never announce to your audience that you're really nervous. Don't apologize or say anything like, "This presentation isn't going to be very good." As soon as you put down your own presentation, your audience will begin to look for the worst.
7. Connect with Your Audience.
Do everything you can to make contact with your audience, and avoid barriers to connecting with the group. Make eye contact with the entire audience. Don't turn your back and read your slides. If possible, avoid using a lectern that puts up a barrier between you and your audience. If you use notes, don't depend on them by never taking your eyes off them. Ideally, lay your notes on the lectern and walk back occasionally when you need to refer to them.
8. If You Use a Lectern, Don't Abuse It.
Some students are just more secure with a lectern, and that's OK. But don't rock back and forth, sway from side to side, lean heavily on the lectern, or tap your fingers on it.
9. Avoid Distracting Verbal Behaviors and Body Language.
One of the biggest problems in presentations is use of pause words -- "um," "uh," "like," "you know" -- but it's also one of the most difficult issues to overcome. Practice and knowing your material will help. Don't fidget, chew gum, fumble with your notes, put your hands in your pockets, or jingle coins or keys.
10. Dress the Part.
Even if business attire is not required for your presentation, you will always make a good impression -- on your audience and teacher -- if you dress up at least to the business-casual level, instead of raggedy cutoffs, flip-flops, and a t-shirt. Dressing up will make you seem more authoritative and persuasive. My pet peeve as a teacher is ball caps during presentations because they hide the presenter's eyes.
11. Be in Good Voice.
Be sure you can project your voice loudly enough to be heard (again, rehearsal will help). Speak neither too slowly nor too quickly (a normal speaking rate is 120-160 words per minute.) Modulate your voice so your pitch varies, and you are not speaking in a monotone. Be animated!
12. Try to Tie Your Presentation to Others.
A neat trick that always impresses professors is to refer to the presentation of another presenter or group during your presentation. "As Sally noted in her presentation..." Or tie your presentation into class content or one of your textbooks. Doing so gives your presentation more context and meaning.
13. Take Special Care with Group Presentations.
Be sure everyone knows what his or her role is in the presentation. Develop smooth transitions from presenter to presenter. Decide on where team members will stand when not speaking; don't have everyone clustering around the audiovisual equipment, for example. Group members should not talk among themselves when another member is speaking.
Final Thoughts on Better Classroom Presentations
Accomplish all the prep work BEFORE the day of your presentation, and things should go much more smoothly for you.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.