Presentation 101 for University Students

If you tremble when speaking before an audience, you are not alone. Public speaking is said to be the number one fear faced by human beings- something that is even more frightening than death. It is little wonder that we avoid the limelight at all costs. However, presenting is increasingly becoming a significant aspect of not only the working world, but also of university curriculum which we have to live with, like it or not. In many university courses, presentation takes up a substantial portion of the final grades that we receive. This percentage is expected to rise further as the world places greater emphasis on soft skills rather than on pure knowledge. It is not uncommon to see someone who produces a sloppy project piece but has the gift of the gab being awarded with stellar grades. It is no doubt that having solid presentation skills is going to give you an “unfair” advantage over your peers, allowing you to flourish not just in university but also in your career.

 

Presentation 101 Intro
photo: slidesho.com.au

It is therefore crucial to acquire the skills of presenting with eloquence and totally captivating your audience, which this guide will impart you with. The good news is that presentation is a skill that can be picked up, just like playing a piano or driving a car. The bad news? It takes hard work, dedication and perseverance to deliver a presentation that is a class above the rest. So if you are willing to make the investment in time and effort, continue reading to find out the golden tips to ace your presentation. We have seen so many students evolving from a shy and reserved person to being a confident and composed presenter just by faithfully applying the principles in this guide. Whichever stage you are in right now- a polished presenter or a total beginner, you are going to see a marked difference in your presentation skills.

We will now walk you through the process of coming out with a presentation step by step, at the same time answering the biggest questions in this area.

1.How to Craft your Presentation ?

Crafting is the very 1st step of preparing for your presentation. You have to decide what are the material that to be included amongst the sea of information that you can find on the internet. Bear in mind the 4 principles below, and you will be just fine.

Quote your audience

Any guru in public speaking will tell you that the first step in preparing for a presentation is to analyze your audience. In our case, let’s look into the mind of the prof who is our assessor and the sole audience who matters. (Let’s admit it, who cares about our classmates. As a prof, what do you want most from your students? Of course, you want your teachings to be internalized by them and your effort to pay off. Nothing excites a prof more than having a student quote him on what he said during one of the classes. What’s more, the whole point of a school presentation is to allow you to apply your knowledge learnt in that module and to gauge your level of understanding on it. If you are able to pull out a concept or two from one of the prof’s lesson and repeat it to him, then you have totally nailed it. Of course, this method can backfire if you wrongly explain or apply the concept that he has taught, because it shows that you have not been paying attention in class, so do this only when you are very confident. Next thing to note is that this cannot be overdone as you will come across immediately as a bootlicker and be penalized heavily. Rule of thumb: just one or two concepts per presenter will do, and make it fit seamlessly into your presentation flow, not artificially.

Do a lot of work

Ok, don’t get freaked out upon seeing the title. You don’t have to do a lot of work to appear like you are doing a lot of work. Sounds confusing? The bottom line is that your perceived effort in the project must be tremendous. The prof is going to mark you favorably if he /she deems that you have put in a lot of work for the project. One of the ways that we have done it is to include photos of us going down to the ground to interview people and to conduct surveys. We notice many students being very humble about showcasing the work they put in for their project. There’s always a time to be humble and project presentation is definitely not the time, so go ahead and publicize whatever you have done and blow the prof away. Include anything from demonstrations of software, creations of a sophisticated graph or possibly even a physical product you made.

Do A Lot of Research
Photographer: Dayna Bateman

Sympathize your audience

Your prof probably heard a dozen of presentations in one day and has to grade all of them. This is an extremely tiring endeavor, in case you haven’t realized. So do your prof a favor by making your presentation so easy to follow and digest that your prof don’t have to kill thousands of brain cells just to understand you. Follow the rules below:

– Have an printed outline of your entire presentation at the beginning of it

– Summarize the main points of your presentation at the end of it by reiterating the main points

– Organize your presentation in a logical manner and break it down into various parts. You can use the following structures:

  • Chronological : from past to present to future
  • Problem-solution
  • Cause and effect

– ‘Signpost’ your presentation by telling your audience where you are in your presentation. For example, “problem #1, …yadayada…… , problem #2 , ……yadayada……….. , problem #3, ……yadaydada……….” , followed by solutions and conclusion.

Display team work

In university, presentations are usually carried out for projects done in groups, rather than individually. Very likely, the content of your presentation is based on the outcome and findings of your project work with your group mates. The process of crafting your presentation is therefore going to be an interactive one involving your group mates.

Profs expect your project presentation to be a team effort and it is not too difficult to tell if your presentations are prepared without any cooperation and communication with one another by looking at the coherence of the various parts. Some of the questions you need to ask you look at your team’s presentation:

– Does it transition smoothly from one presenter to another? For eg, presentation of problems followed by solution

– Does all the content fall under the same theme? Or does one speaker digress?

– Are there any repetitions in the content? For example, 3rd speaker repeating someone that has been said by 1st speaker

– Does your content contradict one another’s?

It is hence important for your group to come together and vet through each other’s part, while answering the questions above in order to ensure the consistency throughout the presentation.

2.How to Prepare PowerPoint Slides

PowerPoint slides can be a friend or a foe. Many students have been misusing this tool and hence are bearing the brunt of it by receiving less-than-satisfactory grades.

The first thing you have to understand is that you are presenting, not reading your report. So please don’t put up your entire report on the screen and begin reading it out verbatim. Your audience can read it faster than you do. The rule of thumb is the same as above- make your content as easy to digest and follow as possible when designing your PowerPoint slides. So stick to the following principles when:

Add as many pictures as possible

Many pictures on slide
photo: peopledynamics.asia

Pictures are nice to look at and are excellent for conveying your intended meaning. A picture speaks a thousand words and you can pretty much save your breath on a thousand words just by including a picture. Isn’t that a good deal? It allows your audience to understand what you want to say right away. Something to bear in mind, do not include cliparts in your PowerPoint slides as they come across as childish and unprofessional, instead use pictures of real people. Also, don’t forget to quote the source of your picture at the end of your presentation! You don’t want to get into legal trouble.

One point per slide

I know you are tempted to squeeze in tons of content into one slide, but that is going to confuse your audience. Always seek to only convey one point per slide and do not include pictures/points that are not relevant into the same slide. Anyway, there usually isn’t a limit on the number of slides to use, so go ahead and create more slides! For example, in a problem-solution type of presentation, one slide should only illustrate one problem and not more than that.

Minimal words

Understand that your PowerPoint slide is not your script; it is there to aid the understanding of your content by the audience. The center of attention of a presentation is not the PowerPoint slide, but YOU! If you add in so many words, your audience will spend the whole time reading the words on the slides instead of listening to what you are saying, which causes your effort to go down the drain and your results to go downhill. So do not exceed 7 lines and 7 words per line in one PowerPoint slide. The font size should be at least 28 to facilitate easy viewing.

Be consistent

The design of the PowerPoint slides is also a mean of which the prof assesses if your group exhibits strong team work. Strive to adopt consistent font type, font color and background color throughout the slides to maintain professionalism in your presentation. The recommended font types are those that are simplest and easiest to read which are the sans-serif fonts(eg. Calibri, Arial). Font and background color should reflect a contrast so that the words are apparent against the background .i.e. black against white.

‘Death by PowerPoint’ tells us exactly what are the pitfalls to avoid when it comes to designing PowerPoint slides.

Click the Link to Watch on Youtube: Death by Powerpoint

Be outstanding

Use of PowerPoint slides has become a standard practice in school presentations. While it is hard to go wrong with PowerPoint, it is not easy to be exceptional as well. Being outstanding requires going beyond the extra mile. If you are willing to invest the effort and you think that this project calls for it, you can be adventurous and try out some of the tools below:

Prezi – a cloud based software that allows you to create dynamic presentation that makes your information come alive

Sparkol – a video-scribing tool for creating videos to illustrate your message

 

3.How to Remember Speeches

I know, your next question is ; how am I going to remember what I’m going to say if I don’t have my script on the power point slides ? Too often, the question is wrongly phrased as “How do I memorize my speech?” Memorizing your speech is a no-no. Here’s the secret to remembering your presentation material without sounding like a robot.

Memorize ideas, not words

Do you find yourself being extremely nervous before making a speech? When you memorize your speech word for word, there is tremendous fear of forgetting your script, resulting in pent-up pressure that impedes performance. If you have been memorizing words, this should be familiar to you: you miss a word in your presentation and got really panicky trying to recall the word. Your mind suddenly goes blank. You ended up rattling throughout the rest of your speech, not knowing what is going on. At the end of the speech, all the words you memorized came back to you surprisingly, but it’s too late.

how to remember
photo: spring.org.uk

Memorizing words not only make you sound like a news broadcaster devoid of emotions, but also causes you to become outrageously nervous with the need to get all the words ‘correct’. The fact is that no one knows exactly what is on your script and it is perfectly fine to use different words to convey your intended meaning. Therefore, the trick is to memorize the main ideas in your speech and not the exact words that make up your idea. To give you an example, say you are giving a presentation on the problems of memorizing speeches, simply memorize your 3 main points: nervousness, lack of enthusiasm and tediousness. Elaborate based on the 3 main ideas on the spot. You should also memorize keywords within your 3 main ideas so that it will help you to construct your sentences during your speech. Some examples of keywords in this particular context are “robotic”, “script” , “memorize” , “rattle” and etc.

Even if you are not expected to memorize, you still have to rehearse your presentation at least 2-3 times before your actual presentation. When rehearsing, strive to use different word combinations to express an idea, not attempt to memorize the exact words. On the day of presentation, if you need a script, distill your long ‘essay’ to a few main points and bring it up with you. Your script should be there to jock your memory, not for you to read out word for word.

(Go to toastmasters magazines and quote the famous people)

 

Organization

A good organization of your speech goes a long way in creating a fluent presentation. Here’s the mantra: How you want your audience to remember your speech is how you are going to remember your speech. That is why we told you to organize your speech logically in the earlier section. If you make it easy for your audience to follow you throughout your speech, you will have no problem recalling it either. As mentioned above, use structures to hold the entire speech together.

The Remarkable Tool

No process is complete without a tool. In remembering your speech, you need one as well. Remember how you have been taught to remember the hefty amount of content in your textbooks prior to exams during your primary school days? It is now time to go back to basics and to wipe the dust off this timeless, classic, powerful but forgotten way of remembering tons of material photographically in the shortest time. Introducing to you the………..Mindmap!

According to Tony Buzan, president of the brain foundation and world memory championships, mindmap functions in accordance to the mechanisms of the brain. We remember things based on associations and mindmaps categorizes similar items together which facilitates remembering, unlocking the fullest potential of the brain.

With the advent of technology, you no longer have to draw your complicated mindmap on a big piece of paper and have all the bubbles and branches entangled with one another. We are proud to share a free tool that allows you to draw a neat and clean mindmap on your computer and print it out on the day of your presentation!

Freemind is an idiot-proof and convenient software that enables you to draw mindmaps with as many branches and bubbles as you like. You can even add small icons on the branches, change the color of the entities as well as its size so as to emphasize on certain points and to make it visually painless for your massive presentation.

4.How to Get Rid of Nervousness

You want to know the truth? You never do.

Mark Twain, who is known as the father of American literature said that there are 2 types of speakers: the nervous speaker and the liar. The best presenters in the world still feel nervous before they get on stage. This is just a normal reaction in a body as our fight-or-flight response is being triggered. There are however various ways for you to curb your nervousness and not let it get the better of you:

Breathing

Take 2-3 deep breaths through your nostrils before you speak. This act alone will instill a direct calming effect on your brain, allowing your prefrontal cortex to deal with your fight-or-flight response and allowing you to gain composure.

Positive self-talk

 

Positive self-talk
photo: jeffrebarcak.com

 

Research has found that Olympic qualifiers and world class athletes made use of positive self-talk to reduce cognitive interference and thus improve their sports performance. Likewise, right before you deliver your presentation, it is crucial for you to tell yourself the following:

– I am a blessing to my audience

– I am a great speaker

– I have fabulous content to share with my audience

 

You are not performing

The more you want to impress the audience, the more self-conscious you will be on the stage, and hence the more nervous you are going to be. You will be cognizant of where you place your hands, make your eye contact and whether your English is perfect. Ultimately, the multitasking attempt will be so overwhelming that you forget what you are about to say, resulting in brain freeze. Therefore, think of the presentation as a sharing of important knowledge, findings and insights with intimate friends who will benefit from your awesome content. You will experience a liberating feeling, knowing that you are here to express, not impress.

5.How to Not Make your Audiences Fall Asleep?

Presentations in school are typically content-heavy with the need to squeeze in as much material as possible to show that you know your stuff. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see students yawning or playing with the phone while their classmates are presenting. At the same time, prof would be sipping his coffee incessantly while trying to keep the restless audience in order.

how not to make your audience fall asleep
photo: passionmagz.com

In this section, you will learn how to make your assessor’s job easier by delivering an engaging presentation that enchants and enlightens the audience. You may ask, why do I bother in making my presentation interesting when marks are given based on content? Then you may want to consider this: You have put in tremendous effort into the project and have excellent content to boast, but nothing gets into the head of a half-asleep and half-distracted audience. Imagine all the work that you have invested for the entire semester or year into creating content for your presentation, only to have it fly pass the head of your assessor? You are not doing justice to your effort. There will always be certain amount of biasness involved in marking, and the highest score will likely go to the team or person that has stood out in their presentation. Here are 3 powerful ways to create presentations that stick.

Make your statistics stand out

Statistics, graphs and figures are commonly used in school presentations to substantiate a point. Raw statistics are dull and boring, and it is in fact one of the biggest sleep-inducers in presentations. Make your statistics interesting by saying for eg. Instead of “16.67% of Singaporean teenagers are down with depression”, say “Among 6 of us here, 1 may be down with depression.” Other examples: Instead of saying, “this coffee is worth $30,000”, say “this coffee is worth $30,000 which is equivalent to a Subaru!” When your statistics are relevant to your audience, it gets their attention and causes them to sit straight suddenly. Use your creativity to think of other ways to make your statistics, graphs and figures stand out!

Interaction

Think about sitting in a lecture theatre with a prof talking to himself for 3 hours, versus sitting in a seminar room with a prof asking questions occasionally and throwing in one or two exercises throughout the 3hours lesson. In which of the lesson does time flies faster? If you are a normal person, the latter should appeal more to you, given the same prof and all other conditions remain the same. Likewise, when you interact with your audience, they become invested in your presentation and want to listen to you throughout the whole presentation. Not only that, by interacting, you create a bridge between you and your audience and they begin to like you as a presenter. You can do so by incorporating the following into your presentation:

  • Questions. For eg. Raise of hand, how many of you dislike boring presentations?
  • Simple exercises.

For example, get them to close their eyes and try to recall how their watch looks like. Get them to paint a mental picture of their watch. When they are done, ask them to open their eyes now and look at their watches. It is usually totally different from the watch that they have imagined. This exercise proves the point that people don’t usually pay attention to things around them.

  • Quiz. At the end of each segment of your presentation, you can quiz your audience on what has been covered and offer a small award for getting the answer right.

Energy

This is by far the most important tip in delivering an engaging presentation. Be energetic! If you are energetic, your audience will begin to show interest in your presentation. There is scientific basis behind this. Human beings have mirror neurons that cause them to emulate the person they are looking at. When you exhibit energy, your energy diffuses through the entire room and passes on to your audience. They will no longer be looking at their phones, half dead, but will be paying utmost attention to you.

The secret to having limitless energy on stage? Just remember this mantra: If you sound interested, you sound interesting. Take interest or passion in the topic you are presenting and it will be glaringly obvious to your audience. Zero passion in that presentation about how to convert solar energy into electricity? Fret not, imagine something that you are passionate about .i.e. skating, gaming or eating. Whatever! The point is to get into the mood of passion and start presenting. You will be a rock star on stage.

Last Words by DS

As mentioned in the introduction, presentation is a skill that can be mastered through continuous practice. By reading this guide, you have availed yourself of the most effective way in being a proficient presenter in university, potentially saving you tons of time and headache in experimenting. Follow the tips given in this guide closely and you will most likely be the cream of the crop in your class when it comes to presentation. We would like to caution you though, to strive for progress, not perfection in the arena of public speaking. You will no doubt be better than who you were as a presenter before you read the guide, but it does not propel you to become a world class presenter right away. You have to continue practicing the principles covered here in order to become better and better at it. If you are a go-getter, then volunteer for every opportunity you have to speak and present in front of an audience. Gradually, they will become less and less intimidating to you, and you will be a master presenter in no time, applying what you have learnt. If you wish to further your public speaking aspirations, you may consider joining your school’s toastmasters club which will provide you with plenty of speaking opportunities. Otherwise, your university’s communication module suffices as an excellent avenue to hone your skills as well. Last but not least, we wish you nothing lesser than resounding success in your next presentation.

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