Generic Presentation Guidelines
- Practice the timing of your presentation.
If you only have x minutes for your presentation, make sure that you practice your presentation and can say everything that you want to say in x minutes. It is a skill and a talent to be able to adjust your presentation to fit external time requirements. If you were invited as an expert to a TV program, you might have only 1 minute to summarize the essential issues in a complex dispute. On the other hand, if you were invited to be a keynote speaker, you might have 90 minutes. This is the most important part of effective presentations: practicing and timing your presentation.
- Make sure that your dress does not detract from your presentation.
The appropriate dress for a presentation varies depending on the audience and the presentation. However, in any presentation, the audience will judge you and what you have to say based on how you dress. If you do not want people to take you seriously, wear shorts, thongs and a T-shirt.
- Do not read your presentation.
Practice so that as you talk you can engage your listeners. It might be a good idea to write out your presentation, but you must practice the presentation sufficiently so that you can talk while only occasionally glancing down to your notes. Ninety percent of the time you should be making eye contact with the audience. If you fail to do this, your audience will stop listening to you.. Look at the audience, not your overhead, the other presenters, or your notes.
- Do not grope for words or stumble on phrases.
If you decide to talk off of notes rather than writing out your speech, make sure that you practice making your speech off of those notes enough times that you are comfortable and have the set phrases in mind that you will use. Do not grope for the correct word while you are doing your presentation. Make sure that you know how to correctly pronounce all the words that you are going to say. Practice your speech so that you use powerful, concise phrases. Think through how you want to say things and then practice saying them that way.
- If appropriate, liven up your presentations with a visual aid.
However, make sure that your prop does not detract from your discussion. An example of a bad visual aid would be a presentation on Africa in which a map of Africa is put on the overhead and it is kept on through the entire discussion and it is never referred to in the discussion. Put the overhead up, refer to it, and then turn the overhead off so that your listeners will concentrate on what you are saying rather than looking at some irrelevant overhead. It is also important that your overheads are visually appealing and easy to read. An overhead of an important quote should be much larger than the typical 12 point font.
- Use your imagination and have a sense of humor.
Liven up your presentation with an illustrative anecdote, a provocative question, a joke, a moving photograph, or an illustrative graph or figure. The more interesting your examples, the better your presentation. Remember that your goal in an oral presentation is to engage your listeners and help them remember key points. Do not make the mistake of cramming a ton of information into the presentation. That will just ensure that the listener remembers nothing. It is better to cull out less important information and then use some of your time with illustrations or examples that will liven up your presentation and help the listeners remember the points that you are making.
- Make your points relevant to the listeners by using analogies and illustrations.
Your audience will likely not remember the five minutes of statistics that you quoted to them, but they will remember when you say, "This proposal is just like giving a loaded hand gun to a two year old child. The child may be able to figure out how to pull the trigger, but the child has no understanding of the possible harm he or she might cause." Bring the importance of the numbers home to the audience by making the link to something familiar in their lives. "The poverty rate in Utah is only 7 percent, but in a city the size of Provo, this means that there are 6,500 people living in poverty and 4,800 of them are children."
- If you have a lot of technical or confusing information to cover, outline the information.
An outline or enumerating points helps the listener keep track of your arguments. Overheads, visual aids, or handouts can also help. If you tell the audience at the beginning that you have three main points and then summarize them at the end, I guarantee that the audience understanding and retention of your presentation will double.
- Be prepared to respectfully answer questions.
Never ridicule the question or the questioner. Try to help questioners feel that you appreciate their questions and that their concern or question is natural or to be expected.
- Be aware of distracting habits that you might have.
Do not chew gum. If you always tap your foot when you speak, try to stop doing it. Try to minimize the number of "uh" "kay" "uhm"s that are in your speaking. While other members of your group are presenting do not do anything distracting such as look at your watch, whisper to another member of your group, or stare off into blank space looking bored.
- Begin your presentation at a level appropriate to your audience.
Your audience may include a variety of people with different experiences and knowledge. Begin your presentation at a common level of understanding. Be clear about what your purpose is and what are the issues that you want to address. If you lose some of your listeners at the very beginning, you will never get them back.
- Coordinate the mechanical details of your presentation so that everything runs smoothly.
If you are using an overhead projector or a computer, arrive early to make sure that all the hardware is in working order. Always have a backup plan if something happens to the technology that you are relying on. Make sure that you have your props coordinated so that you do not lose time in the presentation sorting through your slides or overheads. If you are presenting as part of a group, practice transitions between speakers so that there is no dead time as the audience watches speakers play musical chairs at the front of the room.
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