Advice Hub

July 1, 2011

The art of giving a perfect presentation

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Written by: Kyle Raffo

Giving a presentation is all about sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm – unless you don’t know much and don’t care. Then it is all about looking as if you do. So the first thing you need to think about in a presentation is presentation. Bear in mind that your audience will decide whether or not you know what you’re talking about within the first few seconds (less if they’ve been in your seminar group all term). You therefore need to adopt an air of authority. Wear something in which you feel confident yet comfortable, smile, think about what you are going to do with your hands, and don’t drink so much pre-performance caffeine that you can’t coordinate taking notes out of a ring binder.

It would be even better if you could dispense with the notes altogether. And don’t, whatever you do, try to read them out. There’s no surer way to bore your audience. If you feel safer with a prompt, jot down a few sentences on cards, and put the cards in a trouser pocket. Make sure they’re in the right order – and make sure you’re wearing the right trousers.

It is a good idea to start by finding out what topic you are supposed to address, how much time you have, and who will be listening. Knowing your audience is the key to keeping them happy.

Sometimes this means giving them a few laughs, but be careful. Although you may have had half of them in hysterics with your risque jokes on open mic night, they may not respond in the same way in a seminar room. Don’t over-rehearse and remember that laughing at your own jokes doesn’t prove that you’re funny.

Do maintain eye contact with your audience; it keeps them involved and allows you to check whether or not they’ve dropped off to sleep. This is not the same as gazing obsessively at the blonde in the front row.

If you plan to use computer or audiovisual equipment, read the instruction manual more than 10 minutes before your presentation is due to begin, and check that the equipment is actually there. Resist getting over-excited at the PowerPoint graphics available, and don’t try to put too many words on a single slide, or too many slides in a single talk. Use large type, simple colours and lower-case letters, otherwise it looks as though you’re shouting. Double-check your spelling and use of apostrophes, and don’t block the audience’s view – unless you’ve spotted a spelling howler.

Above all, rehearse your presentation as much as possible, ideally in front of a friend who won’t giggle.

When it comes to questions, it is much better to say that you don’t know the answer than to waffle. This is less true if you don’t know the answer to any of them.

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