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Presentation skills

Communication is one of the most valued skills employers look for. Presenting material to an audience is a key skill that you will use throughout your career. Here are some tips.

What you say

Have a clear message or focus

  • Who is your audience? Jot down a few key details about them, like what they might already know about your topic and any context or jargon they need explained.
  • What is the main message you want the audience to walk away with? Try and do this in one sentence. This will help you keep your content on track as you put together your presentation: people will only be able to remember a fraction of what you say, so you 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. Other structures include: set-up, conflict, resolution; ideal, reality, problem, and solution; or character, struggle, goal.

Introduce the topic  and give an overview or agenda

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. They will understand and enjoy the presentation more when they know what is to come. A rambling speech with no clear organization puts your audience to sleep.

Develop your points with examples

  • By giving real examples, your content will be easier for your audience to understand.

Be reliable

Do your research and cite your sources. If you share facts or details, ensure that your sources are accurate. Nothing weakens your credibility more than misstating information for your audience.

Close the loop

  • Much like a written paper, your conclusion should connect back to your introduction
  • Highlight your key points and consider your message or ‘take away’ that you want your audience to leave with
  • If your presentation has moved slowly, condense but don't eliminate the conclusion. Your presentation may appear to lack direction if you don't offer closure for your audience.
  • Be prepared for questions. A friend or colleague may help you anticipate these when you practice.

How you say it

Be compelling

  • What the hook? Capture your audience's attention immediately with a quote, statistic, anecdote, controversial question or quotation that relates to the topic and message
  • 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 if time permits.

Use carefully chosen visual aids

  • Visuals help tell the story, but make sure they're simple and creative.
  • People remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they both see AND hear.

Use text sparingly on slides

  • Slides are not your speaking notes
  • Don't make people multitask - it's difficult to both read and listen at the same time.
  • 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 screenVisuals should be relevant to the content – they help to tie the words together

PRO TIPS

  • Dress neatly. Pick something you feel good in
  • Smile a little
  • Remember to breathe
  • Make eye contact with people in the room
  • Pay attention to your body language
  • Watch for mannerisms – ie. don’t fiddle with a pen
  • Take a breath instead of saying filler words like ‘um’, ‘like’, etc.
  • Pause before and after important ideas
  • Be aware of your audience and select language that they will all understand
  • If something unexpected happens, go with it - only you know how it was supposed to go

Practice

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
  • You should only need a few notes on cue cards to keep you on track
  • Don't read your notes word for word
  • Try to record and watch your practice session  - note 3 strengths and pick 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 them

Still nervous?

Remember that everyone experiences nervousness when presenting. Audiences want presenters to succeed.

Practice some relaxing breathing or some power poses. Amy Cuddy explains it in this TED talk:

Resources

These are great places to practice or improve your speaking skills.

Skills to do a job