Victoria, Student Intern, shares her advice on preparing for a presentation…
Most students experience a bit of presentation panic at some point. Your stomach drops, your mouth goes dry, your knees wobble beneath you and a lump forms in your throat. It can be especially terrifying if it’s marked.
However, burying your head in the sand and panicking are the worst things you can do! Take a deep breath, make yourself a brew and settle down to read my advice on university presentations – everything from preparation to delivery to extenuating circumstances. Most people get nervous. Even Queen Bee, B(a)eyonce herself gets nervous. Remember that the more planning, preparation and practice that goes in, the calmer you will feel on the day and the better both your presentation and delivery will be.
Planning, preparation and practice will help you perfect your presentation!
Planning and preparation
Planning and preparation are vital, so give yourself as much time as you can. Making yourself a schedule with realistic aims could help you feel immediately calmer. Break the presentation down into manageable chunks – things like doing the reading, drafting the presentation, redrafting and practicing.
Tips for planning
- Make a schedule
- Get as much reading/work for presentation done as possible
- Read the marking criteria and get an idea of the things that are expected of you
- Set yourself objectives for the presentation to cover, and structure the presentation based on these.
Does the marking criteria mention visual aids? If it does, or if you’re planning on using a powerpoint or handout anyway, you should get this done well in advance in order to proof read and ensure it matches referencing guidelines ect and looks professional. Remember that as a student here at Cardiff University, you can download Microsoft Office (which includes Microsoft Powerpoint) for free. Find out how to do this here.
Powerpoint presentation tips
- Use a consistent design throughout
- Make sure any text is big enough and visible against the background
- Avoid using too much text – this will detract the audience from what you’re saying, and you may end up just reading from your powerpoint
Practice makes perfect
Now that you have your content and your visual aids, get practicing! Start off by just doing the presentation alone, in front of a mirror or to a muted TV. Once you feel a bit more confident, it’s important to prepare yourself for an audience. Stand up to present and visualise an audience. Time yourself every time and remember that you’re likely to speak more quickly during the presentation.
Some find that visualising a hostile audience can be a good way of preparing for a real audience. When you feel comfortable doing the presentation on your own, try and do the presentation in front of someone else. It’s important to test your presentation in front of someone to make sure you don’t overrun or underrun your time limit. Marking criteria are often very strict about doing the presentation in an allotted time. Do it in front of family or friends, or you could book a group study room at one of the libraries and practice with course mates – this would also be an amazing opportunity for you to get feedback on both your presentation and the delivery! Ask your peers to be honest, or make them a feedback sheet to fill out.
When you’re practicing, think about your delivery. Some mark schemes award half the marks based on how you deliver the presentation, so it’s important to try and deliver it as best you can. If you struggle with nerves, the best thing you can possibly do is to practice the presentation as much as possible beforehand. You should practice until you are sick of doing it – this will help ease your nerves on the day as you’ll know your script really well.
When you are practising, don’t focus on the negatives. Treat yourself for doing it, and be proud that you’ve done it – remember that you have time to improve! It can only get better. It’s completely normal to stumble or stammer the first few times of doing it, and even during the real thing. Try and stay as calm as possible by taking a deep breaths. Some people find it helpful to write down when to take a deep breath, or to take a sip of water, to ensure they don’t rush through it at breakneck speed.
Tips for good delivery
- Try your best not to just read from a sheet. Keep one there for peace of mind and in case you forget, but try to look up as much as possible, or use flash cards with word prompts or the beginnings of sentences. Rely on your sheets as little as possible! If you practice enough, you won’t need them.
- Be careful not to speak tilted towards your powerpoint presentation. Face your audience for as much as possible.
- Make eye contact with different members of the audience. Some say it’s best to try and make eye contact with each person in the room. If looking at people makes you feel anxious, look at the tops of people’s heads, or at their ears.
- Speak as though you’re speaking to the person at the very back of the room, that way you can be sure everyone can hear you. It might be worth introducing yourself at the beginning, and asking ‘can everyone hear me?’ It’s best to start off as strong as you can. Start at a loud volume and try and keep this up all the way through.
- Most people speak far more quickly when nervous, so try your best to conscious of your speed. If you can feel yourself speeding off, take a deep breath and try and slow down.
- Vary your vocal tone. Imagine you’re doing the presentation to a group of your friends. You wouldn’t just speak in a monotone – sometimes it’s best to imagine the presentation as a kind of one sided conversation or to ask and answer questions to yourself. For example, ‘So how do I plan to tackle primary evidence? Well I plan to…’
- Try and answer questions (if there are follow-up questions) as best you can. If you’re presenting on a future topic and the question isn’t something you’ve considered, don’t panic and be honest! Answer with something like, ‘That’s a really interesting question, and something I haven’t considered – I’ll definitely consider adding this to my research questions.’
Feeling Stressed? Watch our Video, ‘Relaxation Techniques’
The pressure of presentations and other exams or deadlines may lead you to experience more stress than usual. Read our blog on managing chronic stress, or try some of our relaxation techniques to wind down after studying or when you feel the stress mounting.
The day before your presentation, make sure you have your flashcards or notes and any handouts at the ready. Make sure you have your powerpoint on a memory stick – don’t rely on online systems such as google docs as you might get flustered logging in if you have forgotten a password or if you have a bad internet connection.
Make sure to get a good night’s sleep before your presentation. Practice good sleep hygiene (not watching TV or looking at your phone before bed) and play some relaxing music when you go to bed if you think you’ll struggle to nod off.
Going for a morning walk or jog or doing yoga may help you relieve any muscular tension. On presentation day, dress in something relatively smart, but something you feel comfortable in. Spending some time on your appearance may help you feel better when you’re presenting. Practice breathing exercises or just take deep breaths to keep calm. Some also find that relaxing music helps.
When it’s time to take your turn, take some deep breaths, smile and give it your best!
If you have a mental health condition, suffer with glossophobia (severe fear of public speaking) or experience extenuating circumstances, let your tutor know as soon as possible. They may be able to accommodate for your needs, give you extra help or aid you in applying for extenuating circumstances.
Check out more of our exam advice and tips
Contacting Counselling Health and Wellbeing
If you are finding things difficult at the moment and you would like further support, please know that the Cardiff University Support Services are here for you – there is no problem too big or too small, and we offer a range of flexible support options including:
- Self-help resources
- Peer Support
- Wellbeing Workshops
- Courses and Groups
- Wellbeing Walk-in: Drop-in Service running Monday- Friday, 15:00-15:45, and Wednesday, 09:30-10:15
- Counselling and Wellbeing Appointments
- Face to Face, Online or Telephone
- Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire.
Watch our video to meet our friendly and approachable staff, who will listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options.
Good luck everyone! Pob lwc pawb!
Victoria, Student Intern.
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