A Last-Minute Students’ Guide To Presentations
Making your presentations count!
I feel you. I’ve been there. You (and your teammates) have poured your heart and soul into this project; spending an excruciating number of hours on vigorous team discussions, crunching the numbers, contriving the final report. With all the tremendous effort expended, it all culminates in this – the final oral presentation. It is typically a sharing of your findings and analyses to your colleagues, peers and that discerning professor who will be passing make-or-break judgement on your substance & delivery.
As you plonked down on your chair, gazing at your laptop with the dreaded Microsoft PowerPoint staring back at you with un-inspiring and morale-shredding blank slides, you mused “Why must oral presentations take up such a huge chunk of our grades? How can I squeeze all the content in the 12-page report into a 25mins report (sometimes that amount of time is further divided by the number of team members – amounting to 5-6mins for each presenter!)? How can my oral presentation stand out from the rest who are competing for that GPA? How can I impress my audience?”. At this time, it seems like your world stopped spinning. Everything went still. You could hear the rattling of your air-conditioner.
With a deep breath, you made up your mind – to turn to your best friend for help. Google. And that’s probably how you got here!
Below are three quick pointers that you can apply to give yourself some last-minute boost in terms of your delivery and mental fortitude:
Tip #1: How to be calm? Focus on your audience.
It is human nature that when we ruminate, when we allow speculations and spectres to gnaw at our minds, our vision/ perspective becomes narrow and starts revolving around ourselves. Will I be able to cramp everything into my speech/ Will I be able to rehearse enough to memorise everything/ Will I fluff my lines during the actual presentation/ Will my delivery be outstanding/ Will my grades be affected/ What if it drags down my overall GPA/ What if… …realise how everything becomes a little self-centric?
Don’t beat yourself up, be kinder to yourself, it’s normal. What can you do to feel less nervous and catastrophise less? Shift your focus to your audience. It is always useful to continually try and bring the focus back on “Who will be listening & watching your presentation”. Be audience-centric. Consequently, that will mould your speech structure and content.
Your audience can typically be categorized into “experts” and “novices”. It is a common misconception that the former is the hardest to please and presenters should fear them more because they are familiar with the subject matter, they are the experts in the same field, you can’t “smoke” them. Verily, you shouldn’t be “smoking” any of the two types of audience anyways 😊
One public speaking heuristic is – “Relevance is the Enemy of Confusion” – if you want your audience to be engaged at what you have to share, if you want your audience to be receptive to what you say, and if you want them to take action after listening to your presentation, you have to create RELEVANCE. One might ask, “How am I supposed to create relevance for audiences who are novices/ laymen?”. Weave analogies, case studies and stories into your presentations to pique audience members’ interest and tell them why they should listen to you (uses & benefits of your sharing).
To explain Blockchain technology (most people sweat upon hearing that term), make it relatable to laymen:
“Many of you have watched Harry Potter movies, right? You know about Voldemort and his Horcruxes right? Basically, splitting his soul into fragments and hiding them in different locations. Think of your private information being Voldemort, now being fragmented and stored in separate locations. Harry Potter had a bl**dy tough time trying to destroy all of them, right? A hacker who wishes to invade your privacy now has the same nigh-impossible task to locate and hack all your “Horcruxes”. Worse still, hackers will have a tougher time than Harry Potter because Harry had the luxury of hunting down each Horcrux one by one whereas hackers will now have to hack all of them simultaneously!
In essence, the act of Voldemort (the centrepiece) breaking himself into fragments is analogous to Blockchain’s undergirding concept of “de–central-ization”.
*** Catch me if you can ***
To explain, say, 5G (it’s all the hype now):
“5G is basically 4G on steroids. With 4G, downloading a 2hr movie will take you 4 minutes. With 5G? 4 seconds.”
As you can see, you just made two terminologies – that strike fear in your aunties and uncles whenever they hear them – much more relatable.
With experts, that doesn’t mean you should inundate your more knowledgeable audience (“experts”) with heaps and heaps of statistics, verbiage and jargons. Think about it. If you’re rushing through all the content in a 15mins-20mins presentation, those hard-to-digest data and incredibly detailed analyses probably shouldn’t be on your slides in the first place, right? If your expert audience can digest and delve deeper into your research through their own perusal of your published report or scholarly journal, they probably don’t need you to reel it off to them, isn’t it? What they want from you is VALUE. They may know some of your content well, but your unique way of delivering it, packaging it in riveting case studies, analogies or stories, is something they can learn and adopt. That’s VALUE.
However, let’s face it, if you’re a student, most of your audience are going to be your classmates + one professor. You only have to contend with three types of student audiences:
- the empathetic lot – knowing that you will be their audience next, they will be attentive and encouraging, probably hoping for some “quid pro quo”.
- the apathetic lot – either busy with their own last-minute presentation tweaks or don’t really give a s**t.
- the “class participation” enthusiasts – probably the only group to watch out because they will be listening attentively, taking down notes and pose challenging questions during the Q&A sessions after the presentation.
Tip #2: Turn heart-thumping Q&A segment to your advantage!
That brings me nicely to the second tip – handling the unnerving Q&A segment. It strikes fear in most students (and frankly almost all presenters) because of its unpredictability. You can’t control WHAT questions are going to be asked (thesis-unravelling or hole-poking?) and HOW questions are going to asked (cynically or aggressively or persistently?).
The first thing to do is not to make it personal. Be non-emotional. Instead of having your mind being occupied with thoughts of how revolting this questioner is, HONOUR the question! Yes, you heard me. Honour it, find the positive side of the question or legitimacy of the skepticism.
When someone refutes, “Your conclusion is based on a (certain) assumption. What if you’re wrong?”.
You can reply, “I can understand why there’s a strong case for that argument/ opinion. Of course, we’re not clairvoyant. Our group’s assumption may have a small chance of not being right on the money. However, based on the overall trend of the market, the strong foundation that the company has, as well as the illustrious track record of the company in adapting through innovation and upgrading, it is primed to take advantage of automation and digitalization of the economy.”.
Rather than seeing it as acrimonious, see it as an opportunity to reiterate your main points to the entire audience and demonstrate that you carry yourself well, you take criticism and you know how to handle doubts and skepticism.
Tip #3: Slides…funky, creative, awe-inspiring or keep it simple?
There are two diametrically opposite schools of thought:
1) PowerPoint slides are the bane of presentations as they rob the presenter of his/her audiences’ attention
2) PowerPoint slides are the saviour of presentations as they enrich audiences’ understanding of the topic
Truth be told, it’s both. The challenge is to strike a fine balance between having slides but yet not let it completely replace the need for the presenter. Your audience have eyes and are capable of reading on their own; they don’t need to be spoon-fed verbose content verbatim by the presenter. In short, PowerPoint presentation slides are there to help you link your content with illustrations (some audience members are more visual learners, that would be very helpful), yet concealing a good amount of your content because that’s what you’re there for!
Audience members want varied interactions too. Sometimes, they want to focus on the presenter – his/her emotions, tonality, charisma, choice of words. Sometimes, they want charts, models, video storyboarding etc.
Here are some examples:
For our law students, please don’t do this:
*** NO ***
You can’t just slap a lengthy case study on a slide and expect it to aid you in your delivery. Flash succinct points for YOU to elaborate so that it is more inviting less intimidating to your audience!
*** YES ***
For our librarians, please don’t do this:
*** NO ***
*** YES ***
“Perfect Practice Makes Perfect” – Tony Robbins
You don’t have to have everything figured out and be an éminence grise at class presentations at the outset of your tertiary educational journey (or even earlier as nowadays students are exposed to oral presentations even at the secondary/ junior high level). It’s about taking in the best practices around when it comes to delivering riveting and contemporary presentations (why I use contemporary because some of our esteemed Professors are erudite and extremely well-versed in their academic fields, no doubt, but their drab, platitudinous, eyelid-shutting presentation slides don’t do them justice…), adapting it in your own presentations and keep clocking the stage mileage/ stage time.
Not to worry, whether you like it or not, you will be furnished with the countless opportunities to present (mid-term presentations, final presentation, proposal pitches to Professors to get you the go-ahead for your project at the nascent stage, report presentation to your internship supervisors etc.). Keep learning, keep growing and keep shining! Good luck.
Tip #1: How to be calm? Focus on your audience – Be audience-centric
Tip #2: Q&A – Honour the skepticism, stand firm on your analyses
Tip #3: Slides – Illustrations + Succinct Points + Elaborate Verbally
On a side note, if you wish to acquire presentation skills in a guided, systematic and safe training environment, so that you can present eloquently, confidently and impactfully – we can help you with that!
For more about Public Speaking Courses for Kids:
For more about Public Speaking Courses for Adults: