How to give a successful presentation

Most students get nervous when they have to speak in front of an audience (who could blame them?) - even if it's only a small responsive group of fellow students. That's why I almost always deliver this presentation to my students before I actually make them give one in class. Here's what I usually tell them:


Follow this easy six-step process and create a presentation that wows:

1. Decide what you want to achieve

2. Decide what form your presentation should take

3. Prepare a script

4. Design and prepare your visual aids and handouts

5. Rehearse

6. (Just) Do it!

Stick to these basic guidelines, put in the necessary time and effort, and you’ll learn how to deliver successful, informative and enjoyable presentations. Lots of people begin their presentations badly due to feelings of inadequacy, of “never having done it before”. Find some friendly faces and maintain eye contact throughout the presentation – this will help to boost your overall confidence. Another tremendous confidence builder is preparation. Prepare as fully as possible, with a tightly edited script, sufficient visual aids and plenty of rehearsal time. This will give you a sense of being in control. In addition, try to have a realistic appreciation of your current strengths. Decide what kind of presentation you are capable of delivering - you’ll feel more confident because you’re not trying to over-stretch yourself. To stage a good presentation, it is vital that you know your audience and their basic characteristics: Who will be attending and what is their level of seniority? (this is usually more applicable in business spheres, but students inevitable think of the teacher as a figure of authority, which is very often why they try to maintain eye contact only with the teacher). ›Is their initial attitude likely to be positive or negative? ›How intelligent and well informed are they? (don't underestimate your audience) ›What will they be expecting from you? ›How can you present your material to encourage a positive response? Every time you accurately gauge one of these factors, and tailor your presentation accordingly, your communication will be much more effective.


The sweet KISS of success…

For the thousands of presentations that go on too long, only one or two will be too short – this gives us a clue to the next secret of producing good presentations:

›KISS: ›In its polite form, this stands for Keep It Short and Simple.

›In 20 minutes, you only have time for two major points

›In 30 minutes you might make three major points

›In 40-45 minutes you might be able to cover four major points, but three points and a longer time for questions would be a better alternative

›Most experienced and talented TV presenters stick to making three points in half an hour - this is surely a lesson for anyone planning a presentation.


Creating a structure…

Having assembled your ideas, the next step is to give them some structure - one very effective way to do this is to write each of the main points on a separate note/slide.

›Make sure you’ve introduced the subject clearly, the presentation follows a logical pattern*, each sub-topic is clarified and the information is broken into ‘digestible chunks’ suiting the knowledge level of the audience. Your conclusions should show how everything fits together. *(more structure-specific patterns follow later on) Scripts, notes or cue cards…? Some people really can produce a speech at the drop of a hat, but most of us need some form of script.

›A full script can be a great confidence builder as there is no danger of leaving something out. However there is the danger that a written script will sound unnatural to the audience.

›Another option is to prepare notes with main headings and sub headings – this allows you to appear more spontaneous. The main drawback is having to remember (or memorize) the things you want to say for each heading.

›If you choose to use cue cards, which are much smaller than A4 sheets of paper, you will need to work with key words and phrases. This means that you have freedom to move around – but again, you’ll be relying on your memory.

›Try each of the above styles – full script, notes, or cue cards – and see which works best for you. Selecting and using visual aids… Why use visual aids?

›Surveys show that as little as 10% of a purely verbal presentation will be remembered 3 days later but as much as 66% of a mixed verbal/visual presentation will be recalled. In short, for a truly powerful and memorable presentation you will need to include some form of visual aid.

›Chalkboards and whiteboards are cheap but both rely on good handwriting and are only really suitable for small, informal groups. Flip charts can be awkward but are cheap and can be used to great effect with groups of up to 30 people, to record lists of ideas or display ‘spur of the moment’ information.

›The main advantages of an overhead projector are its ease of use and the option of switching between various display styles. The main complication can be ensuring that everyone can see the whole screen. ›Slide projection and computer-based displays both add an air of professionalism to the presentation and are suited to large audiences but can be costly.

›Make sure your chosen visual aid matches your needs and those of your audience. Question and answer sessions… You may want to accept questions from your audience to create a positive interaction between them and yourself, to clear up any misunderstandings immediately and to gauge their level of understanding. One simple and very effective way of allowing questions while still keeping the presentation on track goes like this:

›“I’ll take any questions that call for clarification at any time during the presentation, but any questions which require additional information or which relate to anything not directly covered in the presentation will be dealt with at the end of the session.” This approach assures the audience that you will cover all questions before the event is over, and also gives you the option of answering a question or putting it on hold. Tips you want to remember

›Make sure there is time for Q and A session at the end. ›Use the whiteboard, a flip chart or an overhead projector. ›Make sure you don’t talk for too long – conciseness is preferable to long-windedness. ›Rehearse the whole presentation on your own in front of a mirror (this might sound sill and my students often laugh at this, but believe me, it is very effective).

›It’s best to speak from notes on an outline.

›Prepare a handout for each member of the audience.

›Allow people to ask you questions during the presentation if they like (say so at the beginning of your presentation).

›Visual aids (posters, diagrams, maps) give more impact than just talking.

›Don’t allow people to interrupt you during the presentation in case you get put off or sidetracked (say you will welcome questions at the end of the presentation if you don't feel comfortable about being interrupted).

›A spontaneous presentation is more effective than a prepared one. (this might sound contradictory, but the point I am trying to make here is that you need to be aware of the contents of your presentations and how to go about it, rather than learn it by heart and simply recite it (confidently) in front of your audience.

›It’s best to do some research on the topic, rather than rely on what you already know or think you can remember (make sure you do that, information tends to get old all too soon). To sum it up… When preparing your presentation, make sure you: Know your audience Keep your presentation simple Keep to the point Have confidence in yourself and your message

›If you look forward to treating each new presentation as another opportunity to develop your skills, then presenting can become one of the most rewarding aspects of business/academic life. The structure pattern: (the structure pattern of a presentation always makes me think about Will Smith and the movie in which he delivers a very dramatic presentation. The movie is The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) (no spelling mistake here) and the main principle he sticks to is:

1. Tell them what you are going to tell them;

2. Do tell them;

3. Tell them what you've already told them) Introduction - Welcome audience. - Introduce yourself (name, position, function) Tip: Make an effective opening to grab the attention of the audience – start with a rhetorical question, a story/joke, or give the audience a problem to think about. - State your topic - Say why your topic is important to the audience - Describe the structure of your talk (the main points and when you will be dealing with them) - Say how long the talk will be –Say when you will answer questions - Say whether there are handouts Main part - Briefly state your topic and objective(s) again - T

hen introduce your two/three main points and give details -

Main point 1 -Main point 2 -Main point 3 -Signal the end of the main part Remember to: •signal the beginning of each part •talk about your topic •signal the end of each part •highlight the main points •summarize the main ideas •refer to points in the same order •use the same key words and phrases as on your bullet charts •start by telling your audience what the visual illustrates •explain it if necessary •highlight the key points •say why these points are important and explain the cause and effect

Conclusion: Signal the end of your talk Tip:

Remember how to make effective conclusions – end with a question or a quote from a famous person, finish a story you started at the beginning of your talk or call the audience to action. ›Summarize the key points ›Highlight one important point ›Explain the significance ›Make your final statement ›Invite questions ›Dealing with questions: What questions can I expect? How can I answer them? ›Remember, when answering questions during or after your talk: Listen carefully and make sure you have understood the question correctly ›Reformulate the question if necessary ›If you want to postpone a question, say it politely ›If you don’t know the answer, say so and offer to find out ›Answer irrelevant questions politely but briefly ›Check that the questioner is satisfied with your answer ›Go home and be happy! 

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Yearinthelifeof's picture

Hi İva,

just to let you know, you have to be careful about the number of words you write in Blogathon posts!

ivamitreva's picture

Hi, yes, I know about that, but there are so many things to say and include and being laconic has never been my one of my srtong points.