||Many times, in school, in clubs, in business, in life, you have to
stand up in front of a group of people and make a presentation. You
may be explaining something, selling something, demonstrating something,
teaching something, protesting against something, doing it for sheer entertainment.
Whatever you are doing, you are trying to get a message across.
Presentations are made more interesting and understandable when you
use visual effects to illustrate what you are saying. Powerpoint
(and similar software) have made this a lot easier in recent years.
You can easily add those visual aids, you don't have to spend too
much time creating your graphics and effects, and you don't have to worry
about the mechanics or the technicalities of producing them.
But admit it! You have seen some awful presentations over the
Have you ever stopped to think about what makes them so awful?
You have also seen some excellent presentations.
Have you ever asked yourself, do you do the same things in your presentations?
Have you thought about what makes them so good?
In this guide, we consider several aspects of presentation style and technique:
Is there anything you can learn from the good presentations to make
your own better?
you want to put across,
The Message is Vital!
of your visual aids,
the way you deliver
the message, and
a few other
things to think about.
If you haven't got anything to say, what are you doing up there?
If you have got something to say, then the message is the point, not
If you have the choice, choose a subject which interests you.
Don't be frightened to show your enthusiasm to our audience. If you
let them know you care, they will be more interested in what you have to
Organize your presentation. You need a beginning, a middle, and
should be short. Grab their interest, tell them why they should be or will
be interested in what you are going to tell them, or tell them why YOU
Just think of the three parts of a presentation in this way:
Tell them what you are going to say. Tell them what you want
to say. Tell them what you've told them.
The end should
be short. Make sure they know you have finished - use a signal such
as, "To sum up...." Tell them what you have told them.
The middle part
is where you say what you have to say, explain and illustrate it.
The middle should be the longest part of your presentation.
Make sure there is logical flow to what you are saying. Make a
storyboard to get the points in order. Keep showing how the points
you are making contribute to the whole message.
Consider your audience - how much do they already know? If the
subject is likely to be new to most of them, you may need to set it against
the background of what they probably know already. You may not be
able to go too deeply into the subject. You may need to keep the
language simple and not use too much jargon or too many specialist terms.
Don't forget to explain the specialist terms as you go along.
If the audience already knows something about the subject, you will
be able to go more deeply into it. You can use more complex or more
Consider your audience. If you are trying to change existing attitudes
then you may need lots of examples and illustrations, and need to be prepared
for awkward questions!
Rehearse! Rehearse for length and timing. Rehearse so you
know what you are going to say. Rehearse so you can alter the language
if it sounds awkward - what looks good on paper often sounds wrong when
spoken, it may not even be comprehensible! Rehearse so you know what comes
next. If you can, rehearse to an audience.
What they see is
what they get!
Your message is important. So too are your visual aids.
Give them point, avoid powerpointlessness.
Use the slides to make your message, to emphasize the main points.
(Powerpointlessness: a term made popular by Jamie McKenzie;
it indicates unnecessary use of Powerpoint and its effects in ways which
seem to make the powerpoint the point of the presentation when it should
be your message which is the point!)
If you can, avoid a lot of text on screen. If there is a lot
of text on your slide, your audience won't be able to read it because it
has to be posted too small to read. Your audience won't read it because
it becomes difficult to read for very long. Your audience won't be able
to read it and listen to you. As a rule, avoid text smaller
than 20 point - unless you have made a handout of your slides that the
audience can read as you go along.
Prefer bullet-point notes to make your points, one word or one-line summaries
of what you are talking about.
Use the slides
to make your message, to illustrate your points. Use pictures, graphs,
tables and similar visual visual aids. Don't forget to give
credit to those whose quotes or thoughts or graphics or sounds you have
used; the credit need not use the same size font as the rest of the slide,
but it should be there for those who want or need to know.
the visuals, including the text visuals, add to what you
are saying. Make sure they don't distract or detract from what you are
If you can, get set up in the room you will be presenting in. Check
the projection! Can your slides be clearly seen from the back of
the room? Does the text merge into the background and become unreadable?
Red print on a black background may look good on your computer screen -
but it may be unreadable when projected onto a large screen. Be prepared
to change your background color!
You can create
some wonderful effects with Powerpoint. Avoid the temptation unless they
really do add to what you have to say.
Do the sounds
and the clip art and the transitions and the animations really add to your
message - or do they distract?
which distract. Avoid unnecessary animation. Avoid flashing graphics or
blinking fonts. Use the same font throughout, if you can.
Check your spelling!
A misspelling on the projection screen is much more obvious than one on
your computer screen. What's worse, it distracts from your message,
detracts from your authority.
Check your desktop
(especially if you are using your own laptop). A picture of your
favorite pop star or a picture of your feet may be fun when you turn on
your machine at home - but is this what you want your audience to see?
Turn off your
screen saver, especially if it might distract from your message.
If you are using Microsoft Office, turn off your Help-mate.
Start your show
with a title slide. It lets the audience know you have started. It
may sum up the message of your presentation. It gives the audience something
to look at while you get yourself started, get over your nervousness.
Make sure the
audience knows when you have finished! A simple way of doing this is to
present your title slide again, or to give a short bibliography, or an
URL where more information can be found.
||(Is that a lot of do's and don'ts? Don't forget
the introduction to this piece: think about the awful presentations you
have sat through, think about what makes them awful. A lot of their
awfulness almost certainly comes from the use of FX which are ineffective,
which don't add to the presentation, which take away from it!)
YOU too are part
of the message!
The way you deliver the message is important. If you show interest
and enthusiasm, your audience might be persuaded to share your interest
and enthusiasm. If you sound bored and uninterested you haven't got
time, don't rush, however nervous you are. Give the audience a chance
to hear and take in and understand what you have to say. Try to get
off to a firm start, try to keep your voice firm and steady all the way.
If particular people in the audience make you nervous, avoid looking at
them if you can; if you do look at them, smile - don't let them see
your nervousness. As your confidence increases, look at them more
a few other things to think about.
If the room is
large, look at someone towards the back of the room, and talk to them.
This helps you project your voice, makes sure you can be heard at the back.
But try not to shout! If you have a microphone, you won't need to
speak loudly at all.
Watch your audience,
watch their reactions. If someone is straining to hear what you say,
talk a little louder at that person. If they laugh at a joke, wait until
the laughter dies down before going on.
Stand firm, don't
keep shifting from one foot to the other, don't keep fiddling with your
tie or your hair. These distract, take your audience away from what
you are saying, and what they are seeing on the screen. If you cannot
rehearse in front of friends, try rehearsing in front of a mirror.
Do NOT just read
your slides. You might read the occasional one or two, especially
if there is a lot of text and it is posted small, but these should be the
exception. If the text is large, assume your audience can read it,
is reading it. So don't just tell the audience what they already
know - or can read on screen.
As you change
slides, give the audience a chance to read the slide, then use it as a
prompt or series of prompts to explain how the slide adds to what you are
If you are working
as a team, make sure each member of the team is as rehearsed as you.
Make sure each person knows what they are going to say and when, to avoid
repetition, and to avoid leaving things out altogether.
of presentation may be important, especially if you create it on one computer,
but need to use a different computer for your presentation.
To sum up...
If the presentation
is small, you may be able to fit it on a 1.4 Mb floppy disk. If it is large,
you may need a series of floppies, or even a CD-ROM, to get the presentation
off your computer and onto the projection-computer. Are you going
to transfer your presentation to the computer hard-drive, or will you run
it off the floppy or the CD-ROM?
If you are intending
to transfer it to the hard-drive, a few checks may be necessary.
Check that the computer has the same platform as yours, macintosh or pc
or linux or whatever. Check that the projection-computer has the
software you need. Check that the presentation will - and does -
run on this computer.
If you have your
own lap-top computer, it might be worth thinking about using it on the
If you are using
sound for effects or for illustration, make sure the host computer has
a sound card and loudspeakers.
If you need a
live internet connection, make sure the host computer has one. Make
sure you know how to get connected - passwords may be necessary.
Think hard: do you really need an internet connection? Live connections
can be slow, sometimes they do not connect at all. If the internet
pages make an essential part of your presentation, consider downloading
the pages in advance, or making a copy of the screen and making a slide.
If you are using
other people's work, write to ask for permission to use their work. This
is ESSENTIAL if your presentation will be posted on the internet,
or published in some other way. Whether or not the presentation is
published, make sure you give credit to those who helped you along the
way and gave you your ideas.
Technology is notorious
for letting you down, usually at the worst possible time. Apart from
live internet connections, other things go wrong: the computer won't boot,
the floppy won't load, you commit a Fatal Exception Error. It may
be as simple as a lack of blackout in the presentation room, simple - but
enough to white out the screen. The more important your presentation,
the more important it is to have an alternative means of presentation,
or to be able to continue without any visual effects at all. Just
Don't be so over-awed
by the computer that you forget other means of audio and visual effects.
Instead of, or as well as, the computer, you might use an audio or a video
cassette recorder, or a slide projector or an overhead projector.
You could make your own posters. You can pass objects around the audience
or make a static display.
If you can, have
a buddy on hand, someone who can help if things go wrong (or can go for
help while you continue), someone who can hand out the handouts at the
proper time, someone in your audience who you know is friendly, someone
who can let you know when your time is nearly up, someone who can help
you tidy up afterwards.
If your presentation
is part of a series by different people, and you have a timetable to keep
to, it is especially important that you finish on time. You will
think it very unfair and unhelpful if the speaker before you over-runs,
and you cannot get your presentation set up to start on time. The presenter
after you will be equally upset if you over-run!
Presentation can be great fun. It can be very exciting
and very rewarding.
It can also be a BIG turn-off, for you and for your audience.
Sometimes it takes just as much time and effort to put together a poor
presentation as it does to make a good one.
If you think about the terrible presentations you have had to sit through,
you will realize that many presenters fail because they have not thought
about some of the guidelines presented here.
Think about your own style and your own preparations. You can do better.
Have fun, and good luck!!
1 December 2002