Presentation woes

I’m sure most people’s education career involved at least one or two PowerPoint presentations. If you’re anything like me, you’d have found them mildly traumatic. After a spate of presentations I’d had to give as part of the Psychology course, I picked up one or two things that I could do next time to make the ordeal slightly less stressful.

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Remember that the slides aren’t the focus of the presentation

So much time is attributed to collating the information and preparing the slides that I often almost forget that the audience’s focus isn’t on the slides, but rather on how I’d delivered the information. It’s all well and good having snazzy, professional looking slides, but most of the criteria I’ve been marked against were around the pace, clarity, body language of the presenter, et cetera, et cetera.

Know the capabilities of the software you’re using

However beautifully constructed, slides full of text and the occasional image might get dry after a while. On a friend’s suggestion, I embedded a clip of a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia in one of my slides (I promise that looking that up on YouTube will be worth your while). My favourite nifty thing that you can do is insert hyperlinks within the document which makes manoeuvring the slides a little more like a website rather than a linear PowerPoint.

Have a run through

If you have willing victims that are prepared to sit through several renditions of the same ten-minute talk, use them! Mostly I just talk to myself in my room with a timer running on my phone. Willing victims are invaluable, however. They’re in a better position to give presentation feedback than you are. I tend to present in a flat, inflectionless monotone which is something I won’t pick up on when I’m nattering to myself.

Consider whether you want notes

I’m one of those let’s-wing-it-on-the-day-and-see-what-happens kind of presenter, but I’ve used notes before to good effect. Consider numbering or stapling them if they’re on cards, because if you’re as co-ordinationally challenged as me you might scatter them by accident (of course I’m not speaking from experience). Cards work better than an A4 piece of paper if your hands tend to shake when you’re nervous. I’ve even presented with copies of the slides on a tablet to minimise the awkward swivel to check what my next point is.

Back things up

As with any piece of coursework, this is an absolute must. Memory stick, emailed copy to self, a version saved on an online drive… You can’t have too many backups.

For all that is good and holy, check which programmes the university computers can run

I got a MacBook (mainly for uni work, I tell myself) earlier on this academic year. They have their own version of Microsoft Office which are pretty sleek but is kinda risky in terms of compatibility. Every single computer in the university runs Microsoft Office and – surprise, surprise – it’s not compatible with the version that runs on my Mac unless you convert the file beforehand.

Of course, I found all of this out as I was about to deliver a presentation on the dissertation module. This module, incidentally, is worth the biggest chunk of credits in the degree. Through a combination of sheer luck (another student happened to have a Mac on her) and computer literacy (somehow a simple file conversion involved updating the Mac’s operating system) I did manage to eventually get the slides up. But for the sake of your cardiovascular system, I’d say it’s not worth the stress.

On the plus side, my dissertation presentation was relatively stress-free compared to the minutes beforehand.

Get prepared on the day

There’s maybe one or two things that you can do to get you in the mindset to give a presentation. Some things that I found useful were:

  1. Aim to leave early. I like dawdling before I have to do something stressful.
  2. Wear lucky underpants. (Kidding. But seriously, if it works for you…)
  3. Bring a drink. I also packed throat lozenges last time because predictably I got a cold a few days before.
  4. Dress in a way that makes you feel confident. Whether that means putting on make-up or seeing how “casual” you can dress and get away with it, you don’t want to be worrying about feeling more uncomfortable than you have to be.

I have to include the clichΓ©… have fun!

Everyone’s at least a little nervous about it. Everyone’s got their own fears about public speaking. Pretending you have more confidence than you do actually works. Trust me.

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