Allison Cartwright is our ECS Events Officer. Here, she gives practical tips for presenting your work to a live audience.
There comes a time in everyone’s course or job where they hear the word ‘presentation’. For some this causes panic. For others (including myself), this sends the mind crazy with questions. What will I talk about? When will I have time to prepare?
Try not to worry, this is an opportunity to teach others about a topic you have a passion for.
Think about presentations you’ve seen. Some could have been executed better, but it’s likely you learned something from the experience. This proves that the experience of a presentation is a great opportunity. So, what would I recommend on hearing the dreaded P word?
Volunteer to do a presentation
As you read the line above, you may think I need a padded cell, surrounded by staff in white coats, but hear me out. If each presentation is a learning experience and a chance to sharpen your skills, why wouldn’t you?
If the topic is your area of expertise, volunteer proudly. If this seems too scary (I still find an academic audience terrifying) then see if you can host an event at a local school. Primary school children are easier to address. They want a short, fun talk. Kids will hang on every word and excitedly ask questions. They’re usually delighted that a cool scientist has come to their school to talk to them.
I also love presenting to secondary school children. You can use more detail and they’re keen to see something different. Kids form a friendly audience- make it fun and you could be the reason they study science! After inspiring future generations, take on the adults.
This is key. As soon as I’m asked to do a presentation, I stop work and go for a walk or cycle. I think about my topic and the overall message. I want everyone who sees the presentation to understand my aims and objectives. Work this out and you’re flying.
Be selective, unless otherwise stated. Audiences don’t want to hear every fact you know on that topic. Choose a few points and discuss them in a clear, calm manner. Use a short video clip for the introduction, this should wake up the audience. Try and use more pictures than text. With plenty of prep time, you can learn a ream of text associated with a picture.
Practice makes perfect. Rehearse with notes to check timing. After a few run-throughs, hide the notes, give yourself a ‘reward’ if you remember most of the content. With my favourite chocolate on the desk as motivation, my memory works really well.
Find willing volunteers to watch. Share your work with a variety of audiences. A good presentation should be pitched at a level that everyone can understand. Recap on the points “everyone knows” because some people in your audience may have done different work and won’t follow without a brief explanation.
I practice with colleagues, leaving my family ‘til last. They’re my hardest crowd- always happy to point out my mispronunciations. If that’s the only hiccup, then the presentation is ready.
Use nerves positively
Everyone gets nervous before a presentation. Want to run out the door? Imagine dashing out of there like a silly cartoon. This should make you smile, which is relaxing and welcomes the audience. Breathe.
Many are tempted to race through a presentation, but remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Clarity, pauses and a relaxed pace will deliver the goods better than a gallop. This seems hard when you first start presenting, but it gets easier with time. With practice, you can even build up a presentation routine that’s familiar and comforting.
The first slide is the hardest. Get through this and you’re on your way to winning. Forget something in the middle? It doesn’t matter; they never knew you were going to say it in the first place.
After a presentation, talk to the audience. This will give you a chance to network, discuss the topic further and receive feedback. Ask for tips to improve future presentations. Chances are people may give you a pointers that are specific to your presentation. Don’t take it personally.
These are only some tips for presenting. The best way to learn is through practice. I enjoy presenting now, but at school I was the girl who froze in fear and couldn’t speak. A teacher decided I needed to overcome my fear, so she signed me up to carry out readings at school assemblies. The first few were hard, but it got easier. Today, I’m happy to present, but always nervous. I hope you all have the opportunity to try your hand at presenting because it is a fantastic skill to nurture that will serve you well.
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