Class Presentation Tips (03/15/2018)

For the past three years, March 15 has been world speech day. While not overly relevant in daily life, it’s a good excuse to cover a topic that has been the bane of the school experience for generations: Giving front-of-the-room presentations in school.

Here are six tips to improve your personal experience, and save your grade.

Embrace nervousness- Public speaking is one of the most common fears in the world. Adults and kids alike toss and turn at night thinking about their presentations the next day. Believe it or not, those nerves can be an advantage if used right. Nervousness can keep your mind active during a presentation, motivate you to prepare more ahead of time, and increase awareness of your posture and hand activity. Alternatively, if handled poorly, nervousness can have a very negative effect on a presentation. Experiencing nerves before a presentation is normal. Focusing on using that feeling as fuel will often prove more successful than trying to make the feeling go away.

Slow and steady- Be slow and deliberate with your words, and steady with your breathing. You want to speak slower than usual to give yourself time to think, and so your mouth doesn’t try and run as fast as your mind. Focus on steady breathing so you don’t run out of air and get lightheaded, or stop after every word to take a breath. This also gives the audience the opportunity to process what you are saying.

Decide on eye contact- A person who prefers one-on-one conversation should start on one side of the room and address each member of the audience individually, but with frequent switches. If that isn’t a stylistic fit, the alternative is to address the room as a whole, never focusing in on any individuals. An added note for classes where eye contact is graded: if doing that is going to make the presentation harder, look at the audience’s forehead instead. They (probably) won’t be able to tell.

Plan for the hands- In anything other than speech class, the use of hands probably isn’t a grading criterion. However, not knowing what to do with them can be distracting and demoralizing. Before presenting, have a “neutral position”. Preferably, by the sides or holding presentation materials. Once this position has been established, think about when in the presentation gestures would be fitting, and decide what those should be. Remember to keep gestures simple and near the body.

Movement- Most presentations won’t afford much room for movement. That's unfortunate because, when the adrenaline gets pumping, moving around is exactly what the body wants to do. For many people, this need for movement manifests itself in swaying back and forth, fidgeting with clothing or hair, rubbing hands together, and other small motions they don’t realize they’re doing. These issues may be avoided by including stage movements that are fitting for the presentation.

Volunteer to go first- To some, this sounds crazy. Really, though, people are crazy for not doing it. The teacher grades easier, the class is sympathetic, there are no comparisons to be made, and after finishing the presenter gets to relax. The common practice of waiting to see other people go first just increases the pressure with each presentation.

Josh Starnes, PSMC, Advisor (Kentucky)

Best of luck to all our students!