(Moving on swiftly..)
So Dr. Fran-Kenstein’s already addressed quite a few practical presentation tips, and I won’t labor the point! Instead I’m going to talk about a couple of secrets I’ve learned from my experience giving multiple types of presentations, and evaluating my fair share too, in the hopes that I can alleviate some presentation jitters.
During my undergraduate course we had to attend a class, led by a fellow student, whose sole purpose was to enable presentation and public speaking practice in an academic environment. I spent two years leading some of these classes, and I can easily name the one thing that stands out to me as the most hair raising, cringe worthy faux-pas a presenter could ever do. Cue the “I’m sorry I’m just a little nervous”. STOP right there. You NEVER start a presentation by telling your audience that you’re nervous. The same goes for nervous fidgeting, sighing, or any overt behavior that displays nervousness. It is completely unnecessary to inform your audience that you are feeling nervous. I can tell you there is not a single person out there that doesn’t know what it feels like to address a room full of people, and the terror it can induce! Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t be feeling nervous, it is a completely natural and justifiable experience in this context. However, this is precisely why when you tell your audience that you are feeling nervous; it’s like admitting that you are more nervous than is expected. And this can easily be interpreted as lack of preparation, a lack of practice, or a lack of confidence in your abilities. And if the first thing you do before you’ve even started, is tell your audience that you’re going to try to convince them about something you can’t even convince yourself about, you’re not getting off to a great start. “But I hate public speaking!” I hear you cry. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to love it, you just have to BLAG it!
B: Be Prepared. If you’re a nervous speaker, you want to make sure you know your presentation like the back of your hand! If you don’t rely on cue cards, you can move around freely, look at your audience, point to the screen, and generally allow yourself the freedom of being fluent in your topic so as to create a more confident appearance.
L: Leave Room for Error. Sometimes, things just go wrong, and it’s important that you don’t let technical errors, word finding problems, or a difficult question spin you into an irrecoverable panic. Again, your audience is not alienated from you, they have all been in the same position as you, and they have all probably encountered some issues whilst presenting before. They really are more forgiving than you give them credit for! Smile, laugh it off, take a deep breath, apologise for the error, just say if you don’t know something and carry on with your presentation.
A: Act Confident! Don’t tell your audience that you are nervous or unprepared or insecure. Don’t fidget, stand your feet comfortably so that you have a firm base on the ground. Make sure your hands aren’t wringing together, or playing with something while you talk. Speak loudly, clearly and at a good pace (practice at home, film yourself and nail your presentation voice!). Look at your audience, and don’t worry, this doesn’t actually have to involve looking at anyone specifically! Scan your eyes over the room slowly and make sure you’re paying equal attention to every part of the audience, and focus your eyes on items that are in between speakers or to the back wall of the room. Engage with them!
G: Gesture, Gesticulate and Gesture Some More. Body language matters! Making sure your hands are free is important not only because it will stop you from fidgeting nervously, but also because you can then use them to emphasise your points, by employing useful, informative movements. On the other hand, don’t let your nervousness or excitedness get the better of you, if you’re flailing around the room like seaweed in a whirlpool (how’d you like that metaphor huh?), this will have the complete opposite effect, and detract from your presentation instead of add to it.
And with that I leave you with the ever inspirational Ron Swanson and his words of wisdom:
More information on giving kick-ass academic presentations: