For my students: How to give presentations

This post is mainly for my students since a big part of their grades in most of my classes comes from presentations. Before we start with ‘how to give presentations’ a word of advice though: Even if you are a great presenter, content still matters! And working all night long one day before due date does not equal hard work and preparation, it’s stupid. Keep that in mind. Now, however, let’s get started with ‘how to give presentations’.

1.) Be nervous!
A lot of my students are scared because they are nervous before giving a presentation. That’s no problem at all! Being nervous is totally fine. I’m nervous as well, your professors at Uni are nervous, everybody is nervous! If somebody is not nervous before giving a speech, presentation or talk, then he’s ignorant. Being nervous means you care about the subject and the audience and that’s a good thing!

The thing you should work on though: Don’t let the audience know that you’re nervous. And no, this does not mean you should ‘imagine everybody naked’. There’s no need for such tricks. Simply try not to stutter and to be well prepared. That’s all. Practice your stuff before and you’ll be fine. If your audience is having a good and interesting time, they won’t realized that you’re nervous.

2.) NEVER read!
That’s what kills grades in class and attention on the bigger stage. I can’t say it often enough: DO NOT READ. NEVER! You are young and vital you don’t need to read from a card or a piece of paper. And no, it is not necessary to memorize everything. You need to know your stuff, know what you are talking about and present it in a natural way. Don’t read the presentation word by word or from a card and do not use a presentation from somebody else. It will be very obvious that you simply read from someone else’s work. Use your own work and don’t read. You’ll be fine!

3.) Be prepared for Murphy’s Law
Murphy’s Law = Everything that could go wrong, will go wrong. Be prepared for the worst case! You should be able to give your presentation even without slides. Just imagine your laptop crashes. Furthermore you should always have backups available. Save your presentations on your hard drive, usb and in the cloud. Make sure you don’t use live videos – download them before so you don’t have to rely on a working wifi connection. In case everything goes wrong it all comes down to yourself. Once again: Know your stuff!

4.) Learn from Stand-Up comedians
Yes, I’m serious. Those people do an awesome job in giving engaging and interactive talks on stage. It can’t be done any better. Listen and learn from stand up comedians like Dane Cook, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman and a-likes. Seriously. Nah, I’m joking. Seriously!

5.) Keep it short, simple and interactive
That’s a short overview of how you could structure a presentation:

  • Opening story (something to get started. Could be done like on a late nite show. best practice: be controversial or state a question that you later solve)
  • Something about you (I prefer to introduce myself after the opening story)
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Closing (tied thematically back to the opening)

Clearly, you can do your own version of this structure – this is just one way of thinking about it!

6.) Introductions suck
Hello my name is student XYZ I study ABC and I will talk about UVC….seriously that’s annoying! I know your name, I know why you are here and so do your friends and later on the people in the audience. That’s boring!

Start, like mentioned above, with a nice cold opening story and then, once you grabbed everyones attention, introduce yourself in greater style and tell them what makes you able to talk about this topic.

7.) Create WOAH and AHA moments.
Which lectures from the past term do you remember? See! You remember the ones that make you say ‘ooooh, understand’ or ‘woah, really?’. Think of that when preparing your presentation. Make your audience go ‘WOAH’ or ‘AAHAA’ and they will remember you for longer than just the 5 minutes after the lights went on again.

8.) Swear
There is a good reason why I give a ‘swearing lesson’ in most of my classes – but woah! I know you read the headline and think ‘haha…next time I’ll swear all the time’. That’s not what it’s thought to be. Use this very very wisely. With swearing you can wake people up and make them interact or engage. If you use it to often it loses it’s power and you’ll be considered impolite. So be aware, young padawan.

9.) Check on your audience
Nowadays it’s not always a bad sign when people look at their mobile phones or iPads. They might be tweeting about you. However when they start to look bored, fall asleep and yawn you know you have to work on your presentation skills! So be aware of that!

10.) Be healthy, rested and fit!
That’s kinda obvious but it is amzing how many people don’t think about it. You need to eat at least 90 minutes before your talk, but don’t eat right before or risk a sugar crash (or high). You need to be well hydrated, but don’t do a caffeine/water combo that will leave you needing to go to the bathroom mid-talk. You need to be super well rested — do not party hard the night before. And leave yourself plenty of time to get to your talk, get set up, etc. Don’t drive on busy roads right before the presentation plan everything on the last minute. Unnecessary adrenaline will only make you flub your lines and miss your key points. Be relaxed, well fed and water balanced and you’ll be set for success.

11.) Power Point….sucks too!
YES you NEED to have a presentation and yes, power point is free and we all have it and everybody knows it. But seriously, do you like it? Does it look good? Really?

NO! It looks boring, old school, annoying. As soon as I see power point fonts I get bored. Try to use something different. Use Keynote! Or some cloud based (I can’t tell you everything here since that’s part of your class to find some cool cloud based solutions) services. Make it look good, compelling, fun! You spend hours in styling yourself, spend half the time (actually it should be way more of course) to style your presentation as well and you’ll be fine.

Presentations are about SPEAKING.
Once again: It is not about reading your content. It is about speaking, understanding and interacting with your audience and make them understand what you are talking about. Everybody can read stuff he finds on the internet. It is your job to make your content compelling and understandable. That’s what will get you grade 4 in class and applause on the greater stage later on. Go out there and don’t hide. Have fun. Entertain!

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