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student presenting
May 29, 2020
5 mins read

How to develop & deliver a riveting presentation

Love them or hate them, presentations are a fact of life that will come up throughout your degree—and likely your career, too. 

Though it may not seem like it, your presentation on the Scottish mixed-member proportional representation system is preparing you to, for example, summarize reports for a company or prepare pitch decks for investors.

Whether the thought of presenting makes you queasy or excited, we’ve got some tips to help you succeed and leave a terrific impression!

6 tips to try during the development stage

1. Review the guidelines and draft an outline

Every professor will have different expectations, so make sure you follow the assignment guidelines carefully. That being said, presentations can be quite a personal medium, so don’t be afraid to get creative after you’ve covered the essentials. Draft an outline before you begin, like you would for a paper, and make sure your argument is just as clear as it would be in an essay.

2. Help your audience know what to expect

Ever felt confused about where the presenter is heading exactly, and a little disoriented when, before you know it, it’s suddenly the “Thank you, questions?” slide?

Consider opening with an agenda to show your audience how (and for how long) the presentation will go. Other ways to keep the audience looped in include adding:

  • A progress-update slide every time you transition to a new section
  • A slide number at the bottom of each slide, like “1 of 30”

Further, it’s good to include potential trigger warnings before you begin if it’s absolutely necessary for you to bring up sensitive content.

3. Act on the idea that "less [text] is more"

Slides with a wall of text can overwhelm your audience members, and small text can punish their eyes. Include key words and phrases, but otherwise cut text where possible—you can always elaborate when delivering the presentation. Take care to:

  • Make the text large, bold, and easily scannable. You can also use different colours and styles to make certain words stand out
  • Select fonts that go easy on the eyes (try to steer clear of FaNcY fOnTs)
  • Use graphics to replace text wherever possible
  • Make text more digestible by using bullet points (meta, we know); just be sure each point uses the correct tense!

4. Select intriguing graphics and visuals

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Does the colour scheme work? / Is the text colour compatible with the background colour? / Is the text legible?
  • Is it necessary to include video content that may be difficult to watch for certain audience members (e.g. a video that contains flashing lights)?
  • Are the images properly credited?
  • Are the slides too crowded? Are there too many images?

Avoid excessive use of animations or high-tech transitions—they may distract the audience from the heart of your content.

5. Carefully review your presentation

Check that you’ve met all the assignment requirements outlined, and run through your presentation to:

  • Look for typos thoroughly, the way Demeter scoured the earth for her lost daughter
  • Double-check that the references and footnotes match up
  • Read the text out loud to check for flow and concision

6. Offer a clear summary and last takeaway message

To leave a fantastic impression, consider including a captivating question. Try not to add anything new—the conclusion should be like a summary! Make it clear to the audience that the presentation is ending, so you can avoid #awkward moments.

Awesome—you’ve got new tips for prepping your presentation, and we can now move on to how you can effectively deliver it:

3 fast tips to prep for the delivery stage

1. Review feedback on previous presentations

Use what you learned from presentations you delivered in the past. Did you look up from your notes frequently to establish a connection with the audience? Did you speak slowly and clearly? 

No presentation is ever perfect, but it’s good to go in confident in your strengths and aware of areas you may have to work on.

2.  Budget your time

If timed, make sure you allocate enough time to each slide so you don’t have to speed through any content. Here are some additional items to factor in:

  • Audience feedback during the presentation (they may look confused or have questions, prompting you to restate your points)
  • Light banter and some improvised jokes if you’re feeling comfortable—remember, it’s also totally fine to stick to the script!
  • Lagginess of slides—fingers crossed this won't happen
  • The Question and Answer period

3. Practice under stress

Time and record yourself (video works great!) to help you see where you can improve. Watch out for:

  • Filler words

  • Rambling off-script

  • Excessive movements

Pro tip: Try using a “downward” inflection at the end of your sentences to sound more confident.

Rehearse in front of somebody who can give you radically candid feedback—and if you can, try practicing the way you’ll actually be presenting. For example, if you need to give a presentation over Zoom, consider testing Zoom out with a friend.

What if you still feel a little anxious about presenting? We’ve got your back!

4 bonus reminders for presentation day

1. Get ready well in advance

Confirm that the technology you'll be using is functioning, if you can. Check the volume and the webcam. And have your cue cards or your script ready—so if you need them, you won’t have to putter about, trying to recall or physically locate the information that has mutinied against and deserted you. 

2. Stay focused—and connected

Have a timer (or a stopwatch) set up, so you can see your progress and evaluate your pace. 

Avoid reading directly off the slides—rather, supplement the points you have on them. The audience can read the slides faster than you can explain them, so focus on going in-depth about what’s not on the slides.

Also, monitor the audience's reactions! Their nods and frowns can reflect your volume, tone, and pace. If you see people looking a little disinterested (with their heads down, doing their own thing), see what you could change to make yourself sound more engaging. Elaborate when you see people looking a little confused. 

That said, try to stick to the plan, and, unless you feel like you have time to spare, avoid making too many wisecracks or adding tangents. And hey, of course, check that your resting face looks friendly—smile

3. Take the Q & A session as a learning opportunity

When faced with a question, try:

  • Repeating it for those who may have missed it
  • Answering it the best you can
  • Keeping tabs on the time limit; if it helps, you could tell your audience, “I can take one last question”

If you can’t answer a question, admitting so is okay—it’s better to admit you don’t know something than to make something up. 

4. Pay attention to other presenters

Do this out of respect, of course, but also for the opportunity to observe memorable aspects of other presentations (design and/or delivery), and model them in the future!

Good luck with your presentation—the more practice you get, the easier presenting becomes, so keep at it! Stay positive and power through. You’ll be a regular Oprah in no time!

For another great resource, check out the Presentation Skills Toolkit from UBC Learning Commons!

thank you

Source that informed this post: Technical Communications (Seventh Canadian Edition) by John M. Lannon, Don Klepp, and Shannon Kelly.