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Don’t panic!

Most subjects will at some point require students to make a presentation to their tutor and classmates; and many subjects now include presentations as a component of final year marks. Public speaking – presentations are a form of public speaking – is a huge source of anxiety for many people. Some people get so anxious they have panic attacks and others literally run out of the room saying ‘Sorry, I just can’t do this’. However, there is no reason to let anxiety get the better of you. Here are some useful things to remember about speaking in public:

First, nobody is born able to do it. Successful public speakers will either have had training or will have learned from experience i.e. practice makes perfect.

Second, nobody wants you to fail. There is nothing more embarrassing than being in the audience when the person making the presentation is really struggling.

Third, you only have to be effective not perfect.

Fourth, planning and rehearsal will make you effective.

Key points

Here’s some key points to think about when planning and rehearsing your presentation.

Time, audience & words. How much time do you have? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? Think about what you need to say in that time and who your audience is. Work out how many words you can say in your allotted time if you speak in an even, relaxed manner. Time yourself. You don’t want to end up with too little or too much to say.

Get their attention. You need to get your audience’s attention right from the first word. There are a number of ways you can do this. Start with a surprising fact or statistic: “Did you know…?” Ask them to imagine themselves in a particular situation. Start with a little story that has a surprising twist in the tail that demonstrates the subject of your presentation. Remind the audience why they are there. “Today we’re going to talk about X and I’d like to start by asking you to imagine…”

Avoid handouts. Don’t start by handing out pieces of paper to your audience. It takes up valuable time that you should be using to talk to them. Handing them out will cause noise and distraction in the room. People will read them instead of watching and listening to you. They will rustle them while you are speaking which is distracting for everyone. If you feel you must give out papers do so at the end so people can take away a set of useful reference points.

Use visual aids. Anything you can put on a piece of paper will work much better on a screen, either an OHP slide or a PowerPoint projection from a PC or laptop. Slides are a great way of getting people’s attention and they help you too. For example, a list of bullet points gives your listeners a structure and reminds you what to say next. Similarly, a list of clearly visible points or facts or figures helps you to avoid long-winded explanations.

Relax, smile & look at them. Practice standing in a relaxed manner. This will help your breathing too. Don’t stand with your hands in your pockets – it looks like you’ve got something to hide and you need your hands to gesture at your slides or to emphasise what you are saying. Move around when you are speaking – you don’t have to stand rooted to the spot.

Make eye contact with your audience. Most communication isn’t verbal and good non-verbal communication makes your verbal communication more effective.

And, finally, smile. Look as if you are pleased to be speaking to your audience.

Clothing. You will probably sweat a bit so wear comfortable clothes. If you are wearing a jacket, start by taking it off. If you are wearing a shirt, start by rolling your sleeves up. Both these gestures will tell your audience that you are relaxed and ready to get down to business.

Don’t wear a t-shirt that has a bulldog on the front and the slogan British Overseas Drinking Team, Faliraki 1996. People will be looking at that – not looking at you and listening to what you are saying.

Prepare the room & check your equipment. If you can, get to the room first and organise it how you want. Do you want the chairs in rows or in a semi-circle? How many lights do you want on? Do you want the windows open or closed?

If you are going to use visual aids, make sure the equipment works.

Have a back-up plan. If you turn on the OHP and the bulb blows, what are you going to do?

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