The ability to prepare and deliver an effective presentation is a useful skill for your academic research and for the workplace. You will most likely have delivered presentations before starting your research degree, but it's always worth refreshing yourself on the basics.
The Graduate School offers specific courses in relation to presentations, which can help you to develop your skills in this area throughout your time at Imperial. The Centre for Academic English also offers a range of workshops on delivering presentations as part of its Communicating Science Successfully boxset.
It is important that you check with your Department to see if there is any specific guidance or requirements you need to follow when giving a presentation as part of your markers of progression, such as your ESR/A and LSR.
The key to giving a good presentation is preparation. Below are some important aspects you may want to consider:
What are you trying to achieve with this presentation? Think about the key points you want your audience to take away with them – how can you make sure that you get your message across?
Who are you delivering your presentation to? How many people will you be addressing? Do you know anything about them that could help you tailor your content to them? For example, some audiences might be well versed in the technical jargon of your subject, where others may need more plain language.
Plan how you want to engage with your audience - this might depend on the number of people you're presenting to. Will you encourage questions throughout the presentation, or will you ask your audience to wait until you have finished? You might also want to think about a strategy for dealing with difficult questions - your supervisor should be able to help you with this.
Think about the venue where you will be delivering your presentation. What facilities will be available? How will the seating be arranged? A lecture hall could make the atmosphere feel very formal, whereas a seminar room might lead to a more conversational approach.
You may have been provided with guidelines you need to stick to as part of your presentation. You might need to deliver your presentation within a certain time limit, follow specific style constraints, or if use a set number of slides.
A clear structure to your presentation will provide you with a clear outline of how you will convey your information to your audience. You should think about:
- The main points you wish to make
- Any supporting information will you include to make these points
- Linking each section of your presentation to the next
- How to open your presentation
- What points you will emphasise in your closing statements
Feeling nervous before a presentation is natural. There are some things you can do to calm your nerves before a presentation.
One of the key things is to practice, practice, practice. Rehearse your presentation with your supervisor, with other members of the research team, friends or in front of a mirror. Knowing that you’re prepared will go a long way to calming your nerves.
A good night’s sleep before a presentation will help you to concentrate better, which in turn will alleviate tension.
Work out what is causing you the most anxiety and devise a coping strategy. Are you worried about forgetting something? Make some cue cards. Do you think you might fall over? Plan your presentation so that you don’t have to move often.
Take a few deep breaths before you start your presentation. Make a conscious effort to slow your breathing during your talk. When you reach the end of a section, pause for a moment so you can maintain a comfortable breathing pattern.
Remember your audience
Your audience is not your enemy. They are interested in what you have to say, and they want to see you do well.
Delivering a presentation
- Try to smile when delivering your presentation to help you feel relaxed.
- Make eye contact with your audience. Avoid simply reading from your notes. It can make your delivery sound monotonous and affect your pronunciation and fluency. Only look at your notes or prompt cards when you need to.
- Pace the speed of your delivery. Speaking too fast can affect the clarity, but speaking too slowly may mean you run out of time. When delivering a presentation many people inadvertently talk faster than normal, and end up running out of breath.
- Vary your tone of voice to keep your audience interested and use your body language to emphasise points and appear confident. Try to interact with your audience if appropriate to show you value their opinion.
Build on your performance
When your presentation is over, think about what worked and what didn’t – what could you do better next time? Did the audience seem interested? What made you feel nervous? Actively ask for feedback from your supervisor and other colleagues to ensure you get helpful comments.
Evaluate your presentation so you can improve your confidence and your overall performance.