Presentation skills

Presenting material to an audience is a key skill that you will use throughout your career.

Overview

Communication is one of the most valued skills employers look for. In any given job, you may be asked to share your ideas and vision, report on research or findings, or walk through project plans. 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.

First, have a clear message or focus.

Picture 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 may need explained.

Think of the main message you want the audience to walk away with and try to capture this in one 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.

Introduce your topic by giving the audience an overview or agenda

By listing the topics you will be covering, your audience will be more able to focus on what is at hand, rather than wondering what is to come.

Be convincing.

You can further develop your points by providing real-life examples, such as quotes or testimonials, data or statistics, and even photos of your work process. By giving examples, your content will be easier for your audience to understand.

Do your research and cite your sources. 

If you share facts or details, ensure that your sources are cited accurately. 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 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 these.

Presenting your material

Engage your audience.

Start with a hook. Capture your audience's attention immediately with a 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.

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. Don't make your audience 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 screen. 

Tips for professionalism

  • Dress neatly. Pick something you feel good and comfortable in.
  • Smile.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Make eye contact with people in the room.
  • Pay attention to your body language.
  • Watch for unconscious mannerisms (e.g., 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 can digest what you have said.
  • Be aware of your audience and select language that they will understand.
  • If something unexpected happens, go with it.  Only you know 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 reading your notes word-for-word.
  • 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.

Practice relaxing breathing or strike a pose that helps you feel powerful.

Further your skills

Here are a few great ways to 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
    The UBCDS offers workshops as well as regular club meetings, a great way to improve your speaking style. Meetings are open to all skill levels.
  • Student Leadership Conference
    Held annually in January, the SLC is UBC's largest student-run conference, empowering delegates to expand their leadership skills.

If you have questions