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How to ace a presentation

Presenting to an audience can be a daunting task, and it’s one that many people struggle to master. But, armed with the right tools, it’s something that anyone can do and excel at. Most university degrees will ask you to present your ideas, research or work as part of the assessments. Plus, once you graduate, you might find that the career you want to get into will involve giving presentations to your team, your manager or clients. So, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to ace a presentation and develop those presentation-giving skills as they could get you far.

So whether you’re new to giving presentations in front of anyone or you’re an experienced communicator, here are our 7 key tips on how to ace a presentation.

How to ace a presentation?

TIP 1: Ask questions

Understanding the brief will help you prepare in the most effective way. So before you even start working on your content or how you’ll communicate it, make sure you understand what exactly is being asked of you. To do that, make sure you have the answers to these questions:

  • How long should the presentation be? Is there a minimum time limit as well as a maximum one? Does that include time for questions or is question time separate?
  • Who is the audience? Is it just tutors and your seminar group or are you presenting to the whole year? Knowing your audience means you can tailor the level of detail you go into to their existing knowledge.
  • What software can you use? Are you confined to PowerPoint or can you present in a more creative way? Other software like Prezi might keep people engaged, Or, can you present without a screen backdrop and rely solely on your voice?
  • If it isn’t obvious what your topic is on, what question should you be answering with your presentation? This will help keep your content focused.

TIP 2: Keep it clear and concise

Once you’ve established what you need to communicate to your audience, the best way to keep them engaged is to avoid giving away too much detail. This is a trap many people fall into. You can include all the essential information on your slides and supporting documents, but remember that the point of the presentation is for you to verbally communicate those ideas. So, keep them engaged by including the most interesting nuggets of information that will keep them wanting to hear more. There will often be question time at the end if more clarification is needed, so try not to focus too much on the detail that takes up lots of your allocated time.

TIP 3: Structuring your content

It can be tricky to start – so, set up your presentation with an opening title slide, then a slide that roughly outlines the rest of the content. Then, add your final slide which should be a thank you and a backdrop for any questions. Now that you have your bookend slides down, plan out your content. 

If you are covering 5 main ideas in your presentation, try using only 5 slides. Using a slide per idea, or sub-topic helps your audience to group the information nicely and therefore makes it easier to digest (in the same way chapters of a story do).

Remember that your audience may be sitting through presentations all day and might be getting a little bored, so try to vary your pitch and pace as you go through your content. This will help prevent their minds from drifting and keep them focussed on what you’re saying.

TIP 4: Simple visuals

Your audience should be focused on what it is you’re saying, not distracting visuals going on behind you. So unless the visuals are particularly relevant to your course or your topic, keep the slides to text-only or a clean visual per slide. Just remember that visuals should only be used if they help illustrate what you’re saying. 

When it comes to text, avoid garish colours that might be difficult to read on the big screen. Keep your text large enough for everyone in the room to read.

TIP 5: Practice more than you think you need to

It might be an obvious one, but doing a complete run-through of your presentation is a must. Aim to do this in plenty of time, so that you can make the necessary changes and have time to practice the revised versions. It’s impossible to know how long it will take to get through your ideas or research out loud until you do it. Do this more than once and ideally with a friend or family member to give you the most presentation-like experience. The benefit of doing this is that they’ll be able to tell you if you went way too quickly, too slowly or didn’t make any sense at all. 

As well as a few run-throughs, take some time to prepare a list of all potential questions that might come up and prepare some answers. It might be a good idea to get your friend or family member to ask you some too.

TIP 6: Consider body language

If you’re not overly comfortable standing in front of a room of your peers, prepare for your presentation by working on your body language. When practising your talk, imagine your audience there and practice how you will stand and move when presenting. Stand up straight and face them to demonstrate your confidence. Use your hands to help illustrate your points. If your hands tend you shake when you’re nervous, try putting them on your hips or keeping them behind your back to help with your relaxed and calm demeanour. The phrase ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ very much applies when it comes to confidently presenting to a crowd. 

Eye contact is also important. Try to make eye contact with as many people in your audience as you can early on. When you really need to focus on what you’re saying, it can help to pick a few points around the room to look at, moving between each of them alternately. 

TIP 7: Use prompt cards sparingly

We have all witnessed talks where the person speaking has resorted to reading their notes instead of presenting to their audience. This is unengaging and something you want to avoid. Instead of using prompt cards, try to use the title of each slide to prompt the points you need to make. This is something you should do as part of your practice, rather than trying to remember a whole script that you’ve written.

If you do need to use prompt cards, keep the prompts to one or two words rather than whole sentences, so you don’t resort to having to read your cards in front of your audience. They’re much more likely to remain engaged when they see you try to link your points in a conversational way rather than remember a script.

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