Deliver oral presentations
Presentations can be positive experiences. There are a few things you can do to ensure that your presentation runs smoothly. This resource has been prepared as a guide to assist you with the planning and delivery of your next paper presentation.
- Know your audience. Pitch your presentation at the right level. Do you want to inform them, inspire them to think about your topic, or convince them of a particular point of view?
- No one style is necessarily the right style, consider the pros and cons of using mediums such as PowerPoint, Prezi, tabletop presentation boards or even just talking. Decide which format will be appropriate for you, your presentation, and the audience.
- Make a plan and stick to it. If you digress you might go over time and miss out on articulating valuable information.
- Identify your key messages:
- look at interesting ways to emphasise the key points
- get to the point early; tell the audience what the presentation is about, explain the key points and then repeat them in your conclusion
- keep in mind that the audience wants to know: Why should I care? How will this improve my life? What must I do with these findings?
- Prepare notes or cue cards so that you can speak freely. If you are using slides, try not to read directly from them or your notes.
I always try to identify one audience member that I know will be supportive of me. That way during my presentation, if I feel nervous, I can look at them and draw strength from their encouragement.
- Get to the venue early to meet and greet your audience as they enter the room. It can help to reduce anxiety and create a positive relationship between you and the audience.
- Be aware of the room size, layout, and equipment you are intending to use before the presentation and adapt the presentation to suit your environment.
- Having a warm drink to sip before you start (and during your presentation) will help warm up your voice. A cold drink can constrict your throat.
- Rehearsing your presentation is an excellent way of checking that your presentation flows well.
- Timing is essential. Aim to complete your presentation within a minute of the recommended length.
- Gain feedback to improve the design, legibility and content of your presentation.
- Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse until your delivery is fluent and you are confident with your presentation.
- Tape your presentation and listen to yourself, it might be painfully embarrassing but it could prove invaluable.
I find the feedback I receive from colleagues invaluable. I always rehearse in front of them now!
- Don't waste time early on. Use your opening line to get straight into your presentation.
- Don't read text verbatim - talk about your work and bring it to life. Put your presentation into context by using stories or examples to illustrate key points.
- Try not to go over the top, or rush the delivery, instead speak clearly and slowly. Vary your pitch and tone to create interest.
- Try to avoid using words such as 'um' and any other word you might overdo when nervous. Make an effort to identify when you use these words and just pause instead.
- Laser pointers can be a hand tool but if you are nervous and your hands shake the laser pointer will bring attention to this.
- Be animated, but don't overdo it. Pacing up and down, and a lot of hand movements can distract the audience.
- Maintain eye contact with the audience; talk to them, not the screen.
- When using visual aids, be careful not to block the audience's view. Stand next to the screen so the audience doesn't have to split its attention.
- Keep an eye on the audience's body language, it will let you know to move on or create more interest and excitement.
I like to start by introducing myself and welcoming the other people there. I find that it makes both me and the audience more comfortable.
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- Relax. Taking regular, deep breaths will help you to avoid gasping for air at the end of paragraphs. In addition, deep breathing will aid in relaxation and help you to overcome nerves.
- Make yourself familiar with the equipment before your presentation.
- Number your cue cards in case you drop them.
- Be prepared for IT or equipment problems. Always have a Plan B.
- Think about the best and worst presentations you have seen and try to identify the qualities you believe made the presentation interesting and memorable, or boring and forgetful, adapt your presentation with these issues in mind.
- Distribute handouts before or after the presentation, not during.
A summary version of this information is available in a two-page colour PHCRIS Fact Sheet
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Useful PHCRIS resources
Easton A, Easton G. (2007). Stand and Deliver. BMJ Careers, 335, 100–101
Greenhalgh T, de Jongste JC, Brand PL. (2011). Preparing and delivering a 10-minute presentation at a scientific meeting. Paediatr Respir Rev. Jun;12(2), 148–9. Epub 2011 Feb 25
Hall GM. (Ed.). (2007). How to present at meetings.(2nd ed.) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd [PDF: 1.2 Mb]
Weeks C. (2010). Handy hints for the novice conference presenter; or, how to avoid throwing up, passing out or just having a nervous breakdown in front of a live audience. The Junction: Char Weeks
Presentation Tips for Public Speaking (A research guide for students)
My Speech Class Public Speaking Speech Topics and Ideas
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Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (2017). PHCRIS Getting Started Guides: How to... Oral presentations: preparation and delivery. From http://www.phcris.org.au/guides/oral_presentations.php (Accessed 23 Sep 2017)