Presentation and Speaking Skills for Students

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s an old saying, and it is no more apropos than when discussing presentations and public speaking. Even those people who seem to be able to just naturally speak well often only come off this way because they’ve put in the time and effort to plan and prepare beforehand. There are some good general rules to consider when planning for your presentation.

First thing’s first: even if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in the importance of what you’re presenting. Whether you’re giving a minor work presentation or speaking to a large crowd, someone thought what you had to say was important enough to put you in front of a crowd so they could all learn from your expertise. Know this, embrace it, and believe in the importance of your message.

A presentation is doomed to fail if you don’t pay attention to the little things. Remember, as much as this is about you, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Your audience. It’s about what they can learn, and you are simply the vessel (and sometimes originator) of that knowledge. With that in mind, take the time to design a positive experience for your audience. It’s not just about being engaging, it’s about designing an environment conducive to learning, and that is not something to take lightly.

The first thing you’ll want to do is arrive early. Make sure the technology is working. If you’ve forgotten any materials, arriving early will ensure you can make arrangements to get them to the venue. Further, you can take time to ensure your audience will have a positive experience by arranging the furniture, adjust the temperature in the room, etc. Finally, by arriving early, you are designing an experience wherein your audience sees a prepared, friendly face greeting them. The last thing you want to do is show up with you, watching you fiddle with the technology, and suffer through a presentation.

Some people make speaking look easy, as though they were just born able to engage an audience. While it is true that this skill comes more naturally to some than others, it is just as often true that, the easier it looks the more preparation went into the presentation. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

First, ensure you create an engaging, interesting beginning to your presentation. There are a variety of ways to engage an audience, including ice-breaking activities, funny personal anecdotes, and encouraging audience participation. Regardless of what you choose, consider reducing your entire presentation to a single question: why are people showing up? There is something they are there to learn, a central question. To start your presentation, consider answering that question, and then follow up with the details.

Second, by the time you are halfway through your presentation, you might start to see your audience’s eyes glossing over. Depending on the necessary length of your presentation (and there are always things you can cut to reduce this length) you may need to consider a way to snap them out of their funk. Often, the best way to do this is by encouraging interactivity with your audience.

There are a few ways to encourage interactivity, and they don’t have to be complicated. The most basic way is to ask if anyone has any questions. If they don’t, usually it’s simply that they don’t want to be the first to ask, so one great way to get that first question is by asking a true or false question and asking for a simple raise of hands. For instance, if you are running a seminar on sales, you might ask “True or false: it is more important to get salespeople who can sell anything anywhere than it is to get salespeople who specialize in your industry. Who thinks it’s true?” When you get that initial raise of hands, choose a member of the audience to tell you why they think what they think. This minor engagement can pay major dividends.

Finally, you need to close with a bang. Make sure to summarize all your key points, as this is both beneficial for your audience as they try to recall what you said later, and can encourage engagement when you ask for your final round of questions. Something that many people do not think of is giving your audience the ability to save the presentation for use later. This can be done in a few different ways. If possible, set up a camera or two to film the presentation, upload it digitally, and give your audience the link before they leave. Also, if you are using something like PowerPoint or Prezi slides, give them to your audience digitally as well. They will be able to use them when they need them, and these slides can also serve as something of a business card for you as well.