“Content” refers to the structure and organisation of the information, as well as the actual ideas themselves.
First your presentation needs to have good structure. It should be divided into three sections: introduction, main body, conclusion. In a 20 minute presentation, the introduction should be about 3-4 minutes, and the conclusion should be about 3-4 minutes. This should leave about 12-14 minutes for the main body. (The main body should be divided into three or four sub-topics.)
Also, you should try to put some impact into your introduction. The introduction is the most important part of the presentation because it captures the audience’s attention. A good movie director always tries to put some impact into the introduction and likewise you should try to do this with your presentation.
Finally, your presentation should have a central message. This will be a key idea or message that the audience takes away with them from the presentation. If they only remember one thing about your presentation, then it should be the central message. Presentations that don’t have a central message lack focus.
Structure and Organisation
A presentation that is well organised and structured will communicate its message. Structure is an essential part of a presentation because it enables the audience to compartmentalize the various parts. A novice presenter should aim for a simple structure of:
- Main body
Take your favourite hamburger as an analogy. You expect the hamburger to have a piece of bread on top, some meat in the middle and a piece of bread on the bottom. If it came without any bread on the top it wouldn’t be a hamburger. Similarly, if it came without any meat in the middle it wouldn’t be a hamburger. And so the audience the expects your presentations to have three parts.
The introduction is the main part of your speech. If you do a good introduction then (1) you will get the audience’s attention (2) you will feel more relaxed. Here are some ideas for the introduction:
(a) Get some impact into it:
- Play some music
- Quote a famous person
- Show some wonderful pictures
- Bring in some 3-D objects
- Tell us an amazing fact about the topic
- Make the audience laugh
(b) Make the audience participate:
- Ask a question e.g. “Have you ever been to X?”, “
- Play a short game with the audience
- Have a quiz with some chocolate as a prize
(c) Signpost: Tell the audience what you will talk about and why.
Simplicity and Explicitness
Content is one of the most critical parts of your presentation. Experience shows that it is better to make your content simple rather than complex. This is because of the “gap” in knowledge between you and your audience. You have been working with the content, perhaps over many weeks and months, and have been designing the presentation, perhaps for many days. This means that you understand the content (the words, ideas, evidence, arguments) intimately. Your audience, however, will only be hearing the content for the first time. Even if it is an area which they have some knowledge about, it will be unlikely that they have intimate knowledge of the subject you are talking about or the particular thesis you are putting forth.
One of the biggest mistakes students make is to assume their audience understands everything they say, and thus they “load up” their presentation with information. This is not effective. A skilled presenter recognizes the “gap” between herself and the audience and tries to “bridge” it by simplifying, making more explicit and by repeating information and summarizing at key stages to ensure the audience is following. The gap situation in a presentation is exacerbated by the fact that a presentation is a one-to-many situation. That is, one person is trying to convey a message to many people. While some in the audience may understand a particular point, other may need it repeating or expanding.
In order to deliver a useful presentation, observe the following principles regarding content:
- Principle of simplicity: Always try to simplify the content. Keep information on visual aids very simple (a few keywords and phrases only) and get rid of redundant phrases and terminology.
- Principle of explicitness: Always try to be explicit. If something needs to be said, say it. Don’t leave it for the audience to infer it. If needs be, say it twice or more times. Put key information up front, don’t leave it to the end. For example, the main thesis should be clearly stated in the introduction.
- Principle of repetition and summary: Don’t be afraid to repeat a point if you don’t think the audience has fully grasped it. At key stages in your presentation, summarize what has been said so far.
All content has to be relevant to the discourse topic. But this does not mean that you can say anything as long as it is loosely connected to the topic. Relevance is a matter of degree, and the more relevant content appears the better the audience will be able to understand. For example, let’s assume your discourse topic is recycling. Your introduction makes this clear to the audience but then in the first section of the main body you talk about pollution in general (air, sea & land). This move from the specific to the general signals a lack of relevance to the audience.
A script is a written text that is meant to be spoken. Some presenters read from a script when making a presentation. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Here are some:
|You don’t have to think too hard
You don’t make grammatical mistakes
|You lose eye-contact
You use fewer gestures
You don’t use your space
You sound like a robot
Your speech is not flexible
There is no audience interaction
There is no impact so there is no communication
As you can see, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Therefore, it is not recommended that you use a script.
You need to practice many times before the presentation to make it smooth. Start practicing well in advance of the presentation. You should practice the introduction at least ten times since this is where the biggest impact will come from. Make sure that you practice as a group a day or two before to make sure the transitions are smooth.
Questions at the end are part of the presentation. Stay professional. If you don’t know the answer then tell the questioner that you will find the answer and give it to him /her after the presentation. Don’t just say “I don’t know.”
Here is a simple way to handle a question from the audience:
- Receive question
- Compliment questioner
- That’s a good question
- Relay question to audience
- Pause (in case they didn’t hear it)
- Give answer
- Ask if answer is acceptable
- (If you cannot answer, tell them you will try to answer after the talk)
Most people get nervous before a presentation, even experienced presenters. Here are some tips to help you overcome these nerves. (PDF document here.)
- Before the presentation, talk with a friend. Don’t stop. Keep talking until your presentation starts.
- Before the presentation, take deep breaths. Clench your fists.
- Practice the introduction as much as possible. If you do a good introduction, your nerves will disappear.
- Prepare well.
- The more experience you get of making presentations, the less nervous you will become.
- Think positive. if you believe that you can make a good presentation, then you will make a good presentation.
Don’t expect the audience to smile or nod their heads when you are doing your presentation. Even your best friend will not smile and may even look away from you. This is normal! Most students who do presentations can get despondent when they get up to do a presentation and within a few minutes it appears as if the audience has “switched off”. Don’t take this personally. If you think about the communication situation then you will understand why the audience appears to be so.
In one-to-one communication, there is frequent eye contact and backchannels (um, er, yeh, mhm). In one-to-many communication, eye contact and backchannels are less frequent – it is just the nature of the communication situation. So when you get up to do a presentation and the audience appears to be sitting like a group of disinterested robots, keep going – keep smiling, talking, keep trying to engage them. Inside they are listening and hopefully you will bring a smile to their face at the end.