Why do you need effective presentation skills?
Effective presentations skills are one of the most valued skills sought by employers, and even in academic environments you need to develop these skills. Having some presentation slides on is often thought to be enough. However, as soon as students enter university, they are required to prepare and deliver multiple presentations for a large variety of courses and for different purposes. These can include individual presentations, project group presentations, academic presentations, poster presentations, and presentations during job interviews/internship interviews, etc. Therefore, the sooner you start gaining and developing your presentation skills, the more successful you will be at university and later throughout your professional career. As with any other skill, presentation skills can be gained and developed with practice. The more the practice, the better.
What do presentation skills actually involve?
Presentation skills are not just the skills you need to prepare a nice set of slides. Presentation skills are all about engaging and connecting with your audience to convey your messageacross. These skills cover a variety of areas involving structuring your presentation well, designing memorable slides, orally presenting your ideas by engaging your audience and using the right tone, voice, body language, knowing how to handle audience questions, etc.
How to prepare and deliver an effective presentation?
In order to master the art of effective presentation, a step-by-step guide is provided below. Additional guidelines and good practices are presented, as well.
In this step you need to consider the following:
- Audience – know your audience (fellow students, instructors, both fellow students and instructors, general audience, HR, etc.)
- Audience background – identify the knowledge level and needs of your audience and tune the presentation content and your style accordingly.
- Purpose of the presentation – make sure you are clear what the purpose of the presentation is. It may be to inform about an issue, to present results from a project/research, to discuss a topic, etc.
- Topic – make sure the topic of the presentation is clear for you and your audience
- Duration – estimate the time allocated for your presentation, this will help you decide the content/material you can cover. It is important to stay within your time limit.
- Depth and scope of the presentation – take some time to consider how detailed your presentation must be.
It is essential to structure your presentation well and provide a logical flow so that your audience can follow you.
Typically, a presentation has 3 main stages:
- The introduction – briefly introduce yourself and your topic. Explain why you believe this topic is important and inform your audience what the presentation will cover (by preparing a brief outline). Make sure you include something (image, photo, video, phrase, etc.) to grab the audience, so they will listen to you carefully throughout the presentation.
- The body – this is the largest part of your presentation. Clearly identify a main argument or message and describe its supporting key points. Provide solid arguments and sufficient support to your points in a logical and coherent way.
- Conclusion – summarize your observations/comments. This is your chance to include some closing remarks and also make a strong final impression. Think about what the takeaway message you want your audience to remember is (even if they forget everything else). This should often be your last slide.
Finally, you may open up the topic for a discussion or take some questions from your audience (you don’t need to prepare slides for that). Anticipate what questions the audience members may ask and prepare answers and/or distribute additional materials.
- Decide about the presentation tool(s) you will use
Consider whether you need to prepare slides, handouts, posters or any other materials for your presentation (check what you are expected to do according to your assignment). Typically, most presentations would include slides but this may not be a must.
Popular presentation tools include: Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, Google Slides, Prezi, Microsoft Sway, Flip Charts, White boards Latex Beamer. Sometimes a combination of 2 or more tools may be used (for example, PowerPoint slides and White board or Flip Chart).
Choose a presentation tool which you are well familiar and comfortable with. Also consider if this tool is suitable for the purpose of your presentation and for your audience.
- Start designing your presentation
Once you have decided which tools you will use, start preparing the slides/materials.
Using slides to communicate your ideas to the audience can be very useful if done in the right way, but it can also be damaging if you don’t carefully consider how to design your slides. Think about what the purpose of each slide is and how its design matches this purpose and helps you get your message across.
- How to prepare your slides effectively?
There are 2 very popular rules when it comes to designing effective presentations:
- Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule: Effective presentations should contain no more than 10 slides, last for no longer than 20 minutes (due to our attention span) and use font no smaller than 30 points.
- 6x6 Rule: According to the 6x6 PowerPoint Rule, you should limit the text in a slide to 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide.
There are also some commonly accepted principles (Dos and Don’ts) when it comes to preparing effective slides:
Finally, keep in mind that presentation slides are not supposed to be remembered, they are only the means you use to put your message across! It is your message that you want the audience to remember!
Follow the saying “Practice makes perfect”! Rehearse your presentation and plan to engage your audience by following these rules:
- Practice your presentation out loud a few times to friends, family members or in front of the mirror until you feel confident.
- Prepare a script or cue cards but don’t read them and certainly do not read your slides word for word.
- Be enthusiastic but clear and focused.
- Don’t speak too fast or too slow.
- Use stories, analogies or concrete examples to illustrate your points.
- Include some attention-drabbing facts, numbers or pictures to keep your audience hooked.
- Track down the time it takes you to deliver the presentation and if it exceeds your allocated presentation time, make appropriate changes (remove a few slides, etc.)
Be familiar with the technology you will be using.
Here is a short pre-presentation checklist to help you with your preparation:
- Double-check the location and time of your presentation.
- Confirm what equipment will be available in the room (projector, slide changer (remote), etc.)
- Print out any notes you may need, as well as any materials (print outs) for the audience.
- Bring you presentation slides on a USB drive and/or email them to yourself (your own computer may not always be used).
- Try to get a good rest the night before your presentation.
- Bring a bottle of water with you (unless it will be provided in the room).
- Dress appropriately for the occasion (avoid clothes that make you sweaty or uncomfortable).
- Arrive early and check the equipment (test the audio, video, microphone, remote, etc.)
Delivering your presentation is often thought to be the most challenging and even frightening part of your presentation but you can gain confidence by practicing your presentation in advance and knowing your material well.
Here are some useful tips for delivering a great presentation in a confident and compelling way:
- Don't just read your slides (tell the story behind them).
- Connect to your audience by looking at them, not the screen.
- Use a remote controller to change your slides (this will allow you to move out from behind the computer).
- Don't draw attention to your mistakes (if you make any) – take a breath and just move on.
- Speak clearly and loud enough (be prepared to use a microphone if needed).
- Have good posture and avoid fidgeting.
- Observe your audience and their expressions: are they bored, confused or interested? Vary your volume, tone of voice, and speed of speaking to re-engage your audience.
- Pace yourself (be aware of the time).
- Smile and show sincere enthusiasm for your topic!
- Be natural, stay calm and breathe!
Most presentations finish with a Q&A session at the end. This may be quite a challenging time for you but to feel more confident, think in advance what questions you may receive from the audience and prepare good answers. Think of yourself as the leader of the discussion, not just someone who responds to questions.
Some useful tips to handling questions include:
- Offer a discussion point if the audience doesn’t have any questions.
- Listen carefully to the entire question (take notes if you need to).
- Think and plan how to answer the question (you may want to repeat the question to clarify it).
- Answer briefly, coherently and honestly all questions.
- Do not be afraid to say that you don’t know something, it is better than giving a misleading answer. In such cases you can offer to follow up and provide further information after the presentation.
- Don’t lose your nerves and respond to difficult questions calmly and politely.
- Thank your audience for their active participation.
Digital Presentation Solutions
Various digital presentation applications exist, as listed below. The most popular remains to be Microsoft PowerPoint but feel free to explore other digital solutions to create memorable presentations.
- Microsoft PowerPoint (available as part of your Microsoft Office Pack)
- Apple Keynote (for Apple users)
- Google Slides (free to use, log in with your SU email)
- Prezi (paid, free basic version is available for students)
- Microsoft Sway (free to use, create your Microsoft 365 account first)
Further resourses and help
- Microsoft PowerPoint (IT services Software page)
- How to make a great Prezi, Prezi
References & Further Readings:
- Brick, J., Wilson, N., Wong, D., & Herke, M. (2019). Using slides to support your presentation. In Academic success: A student's guide to studying at university. London: Red Globe Press.