Having to stand up in front of the class and give a presentation for the first time can be pretty scary! But it's also really useful to pick up presenting skills while you're at college. If you're getting ready for your first college presentation, try out these tips to make it as smooth as possible without being too nerve-wracking.
1. Think of it as a learning experience
You know that you'll present better if you're not panicking - but yeah, us telling you “don't be nervous!” isn't very helpful. But here's something that might help: try to stop thinking about your presentation as a test, and start thinking about it as a learning experience. Your first presentation is a chance for you to practise and get better, so it's okay if you make some mistakes or if it doesn't go perfectly – that means you can get better next time.
2. Do make slides or notecards
One common worry is that you'll forget what you were saying half way through your presentation. To ease this worry, use slides or notecards to write down a basic outline of what you'll be talking about. If you forget what you were going to say, you can check your notes.
3. But don't use too many slides
A really common mistake in presentations is to use far too many slides, which is boring and difficult to follow for the audience. You should only need one slide per minute of presentation time, at most.
4. Keep your slides simple
Another issue with using slides is dumping too much text onto them. You'll see this in plenty of your lecturers' presentations, but don't pick up this bad habit! A slide should have one to three bullet points on it, and each bullet point should have just a few key words. The purpose of the slide is to give basic information about the topic at hand, not to describe in detail every small point you're making. So cut the text on your slides ruthlessly, and your audience will appreciate it.
5. Keep it general
When you have to present information which you've been researching, you might feel like you have to give a really deep analysis of the topic to show that you know what you're talking about. But actually, a good presentation should be informative to your audience, not confuse them. Keep your material simple and easy to follow, so that someone who doesn't know about the topic at all is able to follow what you're saying. The best presentations are those which the audience can understand, not those which are the most complicated.
6. Practise beforehand and time yourself
You probably have a time limit for your presentation, and if you haven't presented much before then it can be hard to know how long your material will take. So once you have your outline sorted, you should practise your presentation out loud at home. Time yourself and see how close you are to your target time, then adjust your material accordingly.
7. Speak loudly, clearly, and slowly
When the time comes for your presentation, you'll probably be a bit nervous and this will make you speak more quickly than you usually do. Try to make an effort to modulate your voice to keep it slow, clear, and loud enough for everyone to hear.
8. If you're feeling overwhelmed, take a minute
When you're about to start presenting or during the presentation, you might feel panicked, overwhelmed, or even dizzy. If this happens, stop for a moment and take a deep breath – it'll feel to you like you're standing there in silence for ages, but to the audience it'll only be a few seconds and they won't mind. It can help to have a bottle of water with you, so you can stop and take a sip if you need a second to regroup while you're presenting.
9. Invite questions at the end
When you get to the end of your presentation, you should thank you audience for their attention and then offer to answer and questions that they might have. Try to smile while you do this – you got through your presentation, so you can feel happy now!
10. Don't panic if you can't answer a question
Having to answer questions makes some people worry that they'll get a question which they can't answer. But if this happens to you, it's okay to say that you don't know the answer. “I don't know the details of that, but I'll look into it” is absolutely an acceptable thing to say.
Good luck with your presentations!
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