Caitlin, our student blogger, has some tips for improving your presentation skills

Monday, November 10, 2014 12:00 AM

Many schools now require you to give a short presentation using PowerPoint about a topic either as an individual or as a group. Sometimes these are assessed formally, so it is worth getting the final version as good as possible. If the thought fills you with dread (as it does me!) then take a look at some of my top tips for improving your presentation. By the way, if you think you’ll be done with this stuff when you get into college or university I have some bad news for you - many higher education courses have these kinds of presentations embedded at multiple points in their curricula, so this is a good time to learn some key skills.


  • Don’t put too much text on each slide. Your slides should illustrate your talk, not replace it, so keep them mostly image-based. This also removes the temptation for you to simply read from the screen and ignore your audience.


  • Be mindful of the colour scheme for your presentation. Some colour combinations are notoriously difficult to read, such as bright blue on a bright red background. If the audience needs sunglasses, then you’ve made the wrong choice. Similarly, pale pastel shades on a white background are also difficult to see.  Use strong contrasting colours to allow those at the back of the room to be able to see your slides clearly.


  • Use an appropriate number of slides. If you’re giving a timed talk for ten minutes, there’s no need to have more than five to ten slides. It’s often better to present a few key ideas in a lot of detail, than to skim over points because you’re running out of time. There are no marks awarded for slides that you didn’t have time to show! Remember that sometimes ‘less is more’.


  • Don’t use any slides that you have to give excuses for. If you find yourself having to say “I know this is too small for you to read, but…” or “I know this isn’t really relevant, but…”, delete them.


  • Avoid the trap of ‘death by PowerPoint’ . Everyone loves a bit of variety, but you don’t have to prove to the audience or your examiner that you know how to use every individual animation and transition in your presentation. Fly-in , fly-out, dissolve, checkerboard etc. are all fine in moderation, but too many are often distracting - no, actually they are downright annoying. ‘More’ is not always ‘better’.


  • Get in control of your nerves. Maybe you have been actively involved in drama since you were an embryo and are not at all fazed by an audience snapping at your heels. However, if like me you are self-conscious, you may see this as a form of modern torture. Accept you are going to be nervous and go with it. Don’t turn your back on the audience, and don’t give them the impression that you are more interested in your shoelaces.  If you think you might turn to stone if you make eye contact with anyone, try focusing on a point at the back of the room.


  • Getting the timing correct. Practise, practise, practise speaking out loud with a stopwatch and then practise some more. This is the one time where more is going to be better!
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