Everyone has made a presentation in their academic life - GCSE English has seen to that. You just have to stand up tall, speak loudly and make sure your PowerPoint slides zoom onto the screen with more pizzazz than a Canadian Ice Dancer.
Or do you? In actual fact, there are many other ways you can improve your public speaking skills. We’ve come up with four counter-intuitive tips to really impress.
1. Time keeping is imperative, but not in the way you think
People worry their presentations will not be long enough and they’ll be left gasping for words in an empty vacuum – this almost never happens. The poorly prepared candidate invariably waffles on, goes over their time limit and bores everybody. A good presentation is like a wind turbine: efficient, streamlined, scythe-sharp and ready for whatever nature throws at it.
2. Don't distract the audience with PowerPoint
The good ol' presentation workhorse PowerPoint has a lot of great things going for it, but it's not a human replacement. Your audience can either concentrate on you, or the screen. As humans like shiny screens you will invariably lose the popularity contest. Steve Jobs never used PowerPoint and Dragon’s Den never features it, so just have a think about what you need your PowerPoint to do. It should be an aide, not your speech on a projector. Out with the bullet points, text, and safety net of slides, instead you’ll be forced to use other props, or even no props at all – just your voice. Either way you’ll be much more creative and much more interesting.
If it's necessary to use a PowerPoint, have a look at some top tips first.
3. A presentation isn’t an essay
Everyone knows the presentation should be structured, with a beginning, a middle and a conclusion, all neatly answering an essay question. This method obviously works, but you’re missing a trick. Often, you’re being asked to do a presentation as part of an examined exercise, therefore you should actually structure your presentation to fulfil what the examiner is looking for - be it evidence of group work, research, or competencies. Instead of thinking “what’s my beginning, middle and end” ask yourself “where do I show that we worked in a group, that I led the team and that I have lots of commercial awareness?”
Changing the way you fundamentally think about your presentation will mean it will be fundamentally different from everyone else’s – that’s good.
4. The biggest tool you have at your disposal isn’t computer wizardry or even your teammates. It’s your audience
They’re not something you erect a great wall against and hide from. They’re not the marauding Mongolians, they’re your mercenaries - and your democrats. They’re the ones you need to impress for top marks. Right from the beginning of your planning you need to ask yourself how you will involve the audience and how you can use them to bolster the impact your presentation gives.
An engaged audience is one which is listening, remembering and thinking about what you’re saying – that’s the whole point of a presentation.
You can involve them in a variety of ways: get them to give a show of hands, or show their tweets on a big screen. You can get them moving around and enacting the Chemistry experiment you just researched, or even mimic the political system which is the subject of your dissertation. You can even shock them – Bill Gates tossed a jar of malarial mosquitos into his audience, and though it turned out to be a hoax, he definitely got their attention.
So, in summation, be brief, be the centre of attention, be different, be engaging, break a leg!