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Speaking publicly can be quite daunting. Most people find speaking to a group mildly to very stressful, depending on their past experiences and expectations, both of themselves and their audience. Even those who appear confident can find it uncomfortable.
Think about the following:
Now ask yourself, 'Are my expectations realistic?'
Most audiences in fact want you to succeed - they feel sympathetic because they know what you are going through. This includes both your fellow students and your tutor!
Speaking to a group is stressful for many of us because it involves a change of role from being a private person operating mostly in conversational mode, to becoming a public person, speaking openly to a group. This change can mean that you must project your voice or use a microphone, for example, which are things we do not have to do in a private conversation.
Above all, you are projecting a different self from you as a private person. When you are not used to doing this, it can feel like you are exposing yourself to scrutiny, which, of course, feels stressful! If you are being assessed on your performance, this can also increase anxiety. The best remedy against stress is thorough preparation.
When preparing your presentation, you need to consider your audience and the purpose for your presentation. It is important to structure your talk with a clear introduction, and guide your listeners through your presentation until you reach the conclusion. You need to plan your talk keeping in mind the time frame you have. Consider using multimedia to enhance your presentation too.
When planning your talk it is extremely important to focus on your audience.
You need to pitch the level of your talk accordingly.
Be very clear about the purpose of your presentation. Why are you speaking? At university it could be because it is part of your assessment.
All talks should follow a very simple structure - that of an introduction, followed by the main points and then a clear conclusion. Use signposts to cue your audience, such as 'I'd like to start by', 'To conclude then', and similar phrases that signal the direction of your talk. A presentation that misses any steps in the structure confuses the audience.
You may have been given a word length or a time length. A rough guide is:
Do observe the time limit given - it is considered rude and/or badly organised to go beyond the time limit.
Visuals add a tremendous amount of interest to your presentation, so plan them from the outset. Think about which parts could be presented in what ways - e.g. headings, photographs, illustrations, charts, cartoons and the like. Should you use PowerPoint, for example, or have overhead transparencies to give you more flexibility?
All students - particularly those who speak softly - should consider using headings projected onto a screen, as this adds clarity to the talk and is an excellent way to provide signposts and enhance communication with the audience.
You need to ensure that each slide deals with only one main topic, presented in large type that your audience can read effectively. Pay attention to the design and font size of any visual media that you use.
Well, you have done the preparation and the day has come to give your talk. You will, of course, have checked out the venue beforehand to determine what facilities are available. When presenting, you need to have your notes organised, be aware of your body language and maintain eye contact with your audience. Be ready to answer questions too.
A very important consideration is the venue. Determine ahead whether you can in fact use computer-based technology, video and the like and make sure the items you need are in the room on the day.
Hopefully, you will not try to present with a wad of notes that may fall on the floor or rustle loudly in the microphone! Most people prefer to use small cards with main points written on them and then talk to these main points. (The cards should be numbered so that the speaker can get back on track if the cards get out of order.)
Other people use typed notes - again with main points typed on one side so that there is no turning over of pages with shaky hands! You may need to type out the whole talk first and then put it into point form.
Opinions vary as to whether it is acceptable to read a paper. Certainly, lengthy and complex material is often read at conferences. However, for shorter presentations it is preferable for the audience that you do not read your paper because it can detract from what you are saying.
Be aware of your body language and eye contact and practise your talk beforehand - either in front of an audience (a partner, friends, a family member) or in front of a mirror. It is essential to smile at your audience, introduce yourself and make lots of eye contact at the beginning. Try to make eye contact regularly throughout the talk. To do this, you need to know your material very well and have rehearsed and timed it.
Do not forget to conclude the talk and thank your audience at the end.
Do not live in dread of question time! You can prepare by anticipating the questions people would most likely ask. If you can not answer a question, it is acceptable to say so and ask if anyone else in the audience can help, often someone can.
Burdess, N 2007, Good Study, Pearson Education, Sydney.