Strong communication skills are highly valued by all employers. In any given job, you may be asked to share your ideas and vision, report on research or findings, or walk through project plans. Presenting material to an audience is a key skill, and by working on your presentation skills, you are also improving your verbal communication skills.
Developing your material
Before you present, you’ll need to prepare presentation material, such as a Powerpoint or digital slide deck, speaking notes, or a poster. Below are some tips you can consider as you prepare.
Have a clear message
Picture your audience. Jot down a few key details about them, such as what they might already know about your topic and any context or jargon you might want to explain.
Think of the main message you want to communicate and try to summarize this in 1 sentence. This will help you keep your content on track as you put together your presentation. Your audience will only remember a fraction of what you say, so you’ll want your message to be clear and focused.
Develop your topic in a clear and organized way. With the purpose and message in mind, create a structure or roadmap. Not all presentations need to be told chronologically. You can follow the typical story structure: set up the plot, introduce the problem or challenge, share how your team tackled the issues, identify potential solutions, and finish with a resolution which can be a list of recommendations or next steps.
Prepare an agenda
Introduce your topic by giving the audience an overview of your presentation.
By listing the topics you will be covering, your audience can better focus on what is at hand, rather than wondering what is to come.
You can further develop your points by providing real-life examples, such as quotes or testimonials, data or statistics, and even images of your work process. By giving examples, your content will be easier for your audience to understand.
Do your research
If you share facts or details, make sure to cite all your sources accurately. Nothing weakens your credibility more than misstating information for your audience.
Make a conclusion
Much like a written paper, your conclusion should connect back to your introduction. Highlight your key points and consider your message or a takeaway that you want your audience to leave with.
If your presentation has moved slowly, condense this section but don't eliminate the conclusion. Your presentation may appear to lack direction if you don't offer closure for your audience. Finally, be prepared for questions. A friend or colleague may help you anticipate and practice answering possible questions.
Presenting your material
Refer to the following tips for presenting the material you have prepared.
- You can engage you audience by starting with a hook. A statistic, anecdote, controversial question or quotation that relates to the topic and message can capture your audience’s attention immediately.
- Consider how your audience can engage and interact with the concepts in your presentation. Discussion questions, brainstorms, small group topics, simulations, case studies, or demonstrations are just a few ways to involve your audience.
- Visuals help tell the story, but make sure they're simple and creative. Visuals should be relevant to the content, since they help to tie the words together and create a lasting impression on viewers.
- Use text sparingly on slides, they are not your speaking notes. It's difficult to both read and listen at the same time, so don’t make your audience multitask. For any text you include, font size should be large enough to be read at the back of the room. Consider high-contrast colours that will look good on the screen.
Tips for professionalism
- Dress neatly. Wear something you feel good and comfortable in.
- Remember to breathe.
- Make eye contact with people in the room.
- Pay attention to your body language.
- Watch for unconscious mannerisms, such as fiddling with a pen or swaying.
- Take a breath or pause instead of saying filler words like "um" or "like".
- Pause before and after important ideas so that your audience has a chance to think about what you have said.
- Be aware of your audience and choose language that they will understand.
- If something unexpected happens, try to go with it. Only you know the plans for how it was supposed to go.
Tips for practicing
Everyone experiences some nervousness when presenting, but practicing gives you confidence.
- Practice your presentation out loud a few times until you’re comfortable with the content.
- Prepare a few notes to help you stay on track, but avoid directly reading your notes during your presentation.
- Consider recording and watching your practice session. Note 3 strengths and focus on 1 area to improve.
- Time yourself.
- Speak clearly and loud enough to be heard in the back of the room.
- Study and critique other speakers. You will learn a lot by observing your own reaction to their presentations.
If you're still nervous
Remember that everyone experiences nervousness when presenting. Audiences want presenters to succeed.
Before your presentation, practice relaxing breathing, recite an empowering mantra or phrase, or strike a confidence pose that makes you feel powerful.
Here are a few great resources to help you practice your public speaking skills:
- UBC Toastmasters
This AMS Club, dedicated to public speaking, is a chapter of Toastmasters International. Guests are welcome to attend the club’s weekly meetings.
- UBC Debating Society (UBCDS)
The UBCDS offers workshops as well as regular club meetings which are a great way to improve your speaking skills. Meetings are open to all skill levels.
- Student Leadership Conference (SLC)
The SLC is UBC's largest student-run conference. It provides an opportunity to learn as an audience member or presenter. Through it, students strengthen their individual leadership skills while embodying social, economic, and environmentally sustainable practices.
- LinkedIn Learning
Develop employable skills with full access to this online resource that offers courses focused on technical skills and professional development.
If you have questions
Contact the UBC Career Centre for information or to visit drop-in career advising.