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Delivering presentations successfully

Already at school, we are supposed to succeed with presentations. Some write a text that they read out loud. Others have flash cards, and then there are those who just talk. For some, delivering a presentation is one of the scariest things they can be forced to do. Others enjoy the sensation of being in the spotlight. It would be easy to go on with these kinds of opposites, but whatever our feelings towards presentations are we have to admit that they have come to play an important role in our world. We are always presenting something, whether it is a product, a university project or just ourselves in a job interview and this is why it is very important to have an eye on the most important aspects of delivering presentations.

The first step, is obviously preparation. You must know your audience, your topic and your presentation habits well. With regards to your audience you should prepare the style of your presentation: Is it for children or for adults? Is it academic or for a business? Do you have to observe certain guidelines and must thus put e.g. a business logo on each powerpoint slide or the name of your professor on your opening page, etc.

It is not exactly a secret why one should know the topic well, but even here you can easily score some bonus points or economize your time. The essential question for this is: “will questions be asked to you?” and if yes, of which nature they will be. If there is no chance of somebody asking a question, perhaps if e.g. your presentation is recorded, then it is nice if you know more about your topic than you need, but you cannot profit from it. However, when you will be asked questions on your topic after your presentation, you need to be prepared. In this case it also makes sense to contemplate before which questions might interest your audience. Furthermore, you can hint at things you want someone to ask for, along the lines of: “Fact X results in Fact Y if you use Model Z. Due to time limits I will not explain Model Z further, but if you want to know more about it, please feel welcome to ask me about it after the presentation.”

The last subpoint of preparation consists in knowing yourself. This does not mean that you should find your inner balance or any such thing, but that you have to know what makes you feel comfortable during the presentation: Do you prefer writing down the whole text and will you manage to avoid reading out everything in this case? Can you learn everything by heart without sounding unnatural? Do flash cards help to trigger your memory or will they just be in your way?

Another point that needs to be clear is that whatever you actually present you always present yourself, too. This means you have to think about your own appearance. Make sure your dress fits the occasion. Usually a moderately chic and well-groomed appearance will do the trick. Be conscious of your posture, gestures and facial expressions, they can help you immensely if implemented well, but can just as well be your downfall. Try them out in front of the mirror. In general you should stand up straight and have your arms next to your body, although this often goes against personal preferences.

If you are a high achiever you might want to try for the extra credit. This you usually get by including something ingenious. 10 years ago this might have been a Powerpoint presentation, today, however, this is mostly standard. Try to think of something new or something that only you can provide. You might include a questionnaire or start the presentation with a 5-minute play. Find something that suits you and do not overdo it.

The rest comes with practice. Scarcely anybody is not nervous before a presentation, even famous actors are known to have stage fright. What is important is that you learn to limit it for example by having a certain routine of checking your things over or by humming your favourite song before starting. If you are really nervous it might also help to look at a clock behind your audience or a friend of yours at first, although you should try to keep eye contact with your audience. Try things out in groups in which you feel comfortable, you might start having fun.

powerpoint, clock, songs, stage fright, play, questionnaire, suits, ingenious, you.

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