Effective presentations – Some tips that help you deliver high quality presentations at university


All of us know that speaking and presenting in front of other people is never easy, yet when studying at university this is something you will most likely have to do over and over again. While I believe it is true that some people are naturally born public speakers, there are a few things you can do and learn to make you perform better, especially when you have to present as part of a marked assignment.

First of all, think about what medium you want to choose. The most widely used one is PowerPoint and my design tips are based on the assumption that you will use PowerPoint slides to present. Yet there are other tools such as Prezi that are increasingly becoming popular, so if you want to be a bit more unconventional try out other formats (but check with your lecturer if these other formats are acceptable!).

I’ll start out with some general guidelines on how to design your slides and will continue with tips on how to structure your presentation and how to organize information and finally I will end with some general presentation tips.

Layout & Design:

  1. Have a master layout that you stick to throughout your presentation but create your own (avoid PowerPoint templates, they are overused and boring).
  2. Use appropriate visuals such as images, short videos or even cartoons where appropriate, but only if they are of high quality. Avoid using the typical clip arts provided by PowerPoint. They are overused and not particularly innovative anymore.
  3. Keep it simple: Always keep in mind that the best slides are the ones that support your narration as presenter not the ones that contain the most text. Ask yourself, how much detail do I need to contain on the slide to make the audience get my point?
  4. Avoid too many animations; they make your presentation look unprofessional. Imagine what you would think if you watched a presentation and every single word flew in…
  5. Choose the right graphs to represent your data. More on this can be found under point 6 on this website: http://www.garrreynolds.com/preso-tips/design/

Presentation Structure:

  1. Hook the reader and get their attention through e.g. storytelling, shocking facts / statistics etc.
  2. Once you have grabbed their attention, explain who you are and what the purpose of your presentation is and show why there is a need for your presentation.
  3. Next you should quickly explain the structure of your presentation so that your audience already knows what’s ahead and can more easily follow
  4. And then, stick to this structure once you are presenting, but allow yourself to play around with it privately until you have found the most logical and easily presentable order that works for you.

Conveying Information:

  1. Think about the information you want to convey: This is important and the Rhetorical Triangle is an often used tool that is quite useful to cover the most important aspects to consider: You just need to think of …
    1. The audience: Who is it and what do they want to take away from your presentation? Does your message fit with your audience’s beliefs? How can you connect with your audience emotionally?
    2. The context: Is it a marked assignment? How many presentations have preceded yours (if there have been many, maybe include some humor along the way to wake up the audience again)? Are my arguments and my slides appropriate for the situation?
    3. You as presenter: Who are you and why are you presenting this? What is your key aim e.g. call for action / education / persuasion etc.? What format are you good at presenting in (formal/informal) and how can you make it work for the occasion?
  2. Another useful way to structure information on your slides is the Message Triangle: It is a very simple concept. When you have a certain message to convey you simply imagine a triangle and along each side of the triangle you place one key aspect of the message you want to communicate. The beauty of the message triangle is that it really makes you think what your key message is. And since a triangle only has 3 sides, it forces you to think about what the most important aspects of your message are. Try hard to fit your message around the triangle but don’t take out key aspects when you really can’t narrow them down to the top 3. More often than not though, it works well to limit yourself to the top 3.
  3. Finally, when designing slides the following should be your motto at all times: Be concise yet complete and clear!

And here are some final tips that make presentations truly interesting and lively:

  1. Present freely and slowly (you may use Q-Cards if necessary but please don’t read)
  2. Watch yourself while presenting and identify your personal marker of nervousness: Some people step from side to side, others touch their faces over and over again, and again others shiver with their hands. There are endless ways to show that you are nervous and it is a good idea to identify what you do as the audience will pick it up quickly as well. Once you know what it is, you can actively work against it. E.g. if you keep stepping from one foot to the other, you may want to stand with slightly straddled legs to give you a firmer stand, or you may want to stand behind a podium so that have something to hold on to. These are just a few examples and there are many more.
  3. Engage your audience: Ask the audience a question, look them straight into their eyes and smile at them, try to trigger reactions, be spontaneous with it (e.g. you can pick up on something that someone in the audience has said earlier or what has been said in an earlier presentation).
  4. Practice, practice, practice: And not just once prior before the presentation is due, instead public speaking should be something you actively seek to do. The more you practice the easier it will get.

All that’s left to say is good luck presenting!


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