The ability to communicate well is an important graduate attribute. This is why, during your studies, you may be asked to present to an audience in a number of situations.
Undergraduate students may be asked to present individually or as part of a group or to lead a tutorial discussion on the weekly readings.
Postgraduate students are required to present more frequently and in more advanced genres of presentations (such as seminars, forums, PhD confirmation, conference papers, and academic posters) as part of the formal communication of their research.
At either level, giving a presentation requires you to prepare and structure your talk, manage anxiety and present confidently, respond to questions effectively, and use visual aids such as PowerPoint slides. You may also need to become familiar with advanced types of presentations.
The purpose and content of your talk needs to be carefully considered. How much detail can you cover in your allotted time?
Always consider the needs of your audience:
- What does your audience already know about your topic?
- What do they need to know?
- What is the take-home message? What do you want them to remember?
All presentations, whether 5 or 45 minutes in length, need an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It may be useful to think about your talk in terms of these sections:
The Introduction: What am I doing?
- Introduce yourself, your topic and the broader context of your research, if relevant.
- Tell your audience what you will cover in your talk.
The body: What have I found?
- Include key points, new knowledge, trends in your data, or progress to date. The level of detail may depend on the task and time available.
- Indicate your structure to your audience by using signposting language such as ‘the first point I want to make concerns…’ .
Conclusion: Why is this important or relevant?
- Highlight the implications of your discussion or possible applications of your findings.
- Make recommendations for further research.
- Finish with one or two ‘take home messages’.
Many people feel anxious about speaking in public. Your stress may be reduced if you think about your presentation as having a conversation with a group of people rather than talking at your audience.
Regardless of the type of presentation you have to deliver, the best way to relieve anxiety is to prepare for your talk thoroughly. You may use the following useful preparation strategies:
- Practice your talk in real time to a friend or Academic Skills adviser, ensuring that your talk fits your timeframe.
- Practice words, phrases, or technical terms that may be difficult for you to pronounce. (Please see the Pronunciation section below).
- Anticipate and prepare for questions in advance. Formulate some likely questions and practice answering them.
- Familiarise yourself with the room and equipment.
- ‘Warm up’ your voice before you start your presentation. Drink some water and then try repeating some of your key words/phrases. The main point is to articulate clearly and vary your pitch.
Even if you feel nervous about presenting, you can use the following strategies to help you appear confident in front of your audience:
- Know the beginning of your talk off by heart.
- Make eye contact with your audience to maintain their interest.
- Stand straight and raise your chin .This will help to project your voice and allow you to be heard more clearly.
- Keep your hands still. Try to avoid fidgeting and excessive movement.
- To trigger your memory, write down the key points of your talk on cards or PowerPoint notes.
- Pace yourself. You tend to talk faster if you are nervous; try to talk at your normal rate of speech.
- Breathe. If you begin to feel anxious, pause and take some deep breaths for relaxation.
- Use furniture for support. It can be helpful to stand behind a podium or a desk. You may even sit down, if appropriate.
- Consider using PowerPoint slides to direct your audience’s attention away from you.
When you prepare for your talk, you should also prepare and rehearse some sample answers to likely questions. A good presentation will naturally encourage discussion and questions from the audience.
The following strategies may be useful for responding to questions effectively:
- Listen attentively to your questioner.
- Paraphrase the question to clarify it for both you and your audience. This also gives you some thinking time before you respond.
- If you don’t know the answer then simply say so or offer to research the question. You may even ask suggestions from the audience.
- Respond to all questions respectfully.
PowerPoint slides can complement most presentations if they are simple, well designed, and appropriately integrated.
Crowded slides which are not clearly relevant, or do not fit the sequence of your talk will detract from your presentation. Overuse of multiple fonts, colours, or animated effects may also distract your audience.
A PowerPoint slide must be discussed and integrated into your presentation so the audience knows exactly why it has been used. A good guideline is to spend two to three minutes talking through the points on a slide.
In addition to the generic academic presentations, you may be required to present advanced presentation genres.
Particularly at the post-graduate level, you may be required to present your thesis proposal or current research project at a departmental seminar.
If you are a PhD student you must present your research report during the conversion or confirmation process and verbally defend your proposal to a confirmation committee. You may also have to present papers at conferences or to present submissions for research funding.
In addition, you may be asked to present your work as an academic poster. A poster is a visual presentation of a project, a service, or an outline of findings. It needs to be simple and visually appealing and can also include charts, graphs, photographs, or artwork.
Posters are frequently displayed at conferences to give a quick overview of a research project.