Prepare in Advance
The first and most important thing you can do is prepare in advance for your presentation. Select a topic that is interesting to you, and if a particular topic is assigned, take a unique approach to the subject that coincides with your own interests. The goal is to be excited about your topic so that your own interest will rub off on your listeners. Continue your initial preparation by making an outline of what you want to talk about and what types of aides you'll be using during your presentation, such as web tools, graphs or flow charts. Small clips on the internet can also work wonders in terms of grasping the attention of your audience and linking the information with something funny and tangible.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once everything is in place, you'll want to practice your presentation as much as possible. There's no need to make your practice sessions formal, either. The objective is to retain the information so that you're not just reciting it during your presentation but understanding it. Practicing in front of a mirror is a great way to rehearse the tone and volume of your voice and take note of your posture and facial expressions. If it's okay with your instructor, have a set of note cards on hand or rely on presentation software (such as PowerPoint) to highlight your key points.
Include Visual Props
Many presentations in today's classrooms include some type of technology. When used properly, technology can be a wonderful way to make your presentation more engaging, outline important information and be able to connect with your audience. For some, basic props like diagrams and poster boards may be the preferred method for visually displaying ideas.
The Introduction: Starting Your Presentation
When it's time to deliver your presentation, it's not uncommon to feel nervous or anxious, but with proper planning and rehearsing, everything will fall into place. Stand up tall in front of the class and be sure to keep relaxed and confident. Taking a few deep breaths before starting can help since this gives you a chance to collect your thoughts, take in the audience and regroup your confidence level. You may want to have a quick introduction that will ease your way into the presentation, such as a visual diagram or a short introduction of yourself.
The Middle: Smile, Make Eye Contact and Get Moving
During the presentation, it's important to connect with your audience. Too often, students stare down at their note cards and never take a second to glance up. Worse yet, if they do look up and everyone looks bored and disinterested, this can be a complete shutdown to their self-confidence, making it difficult to continue the presentation. Fortunately, there are simple, effective ways to connect with the students in your class. Start by asking a question at the beginning of the presentation. This will help listeners connect with the material right off the bat and encourage them to be active participants instead of passive ones.
If it fits, include a trivia game or ask questions throughout the presentation. Smile and make eye contact with your classmates so that they give you the same respect back. Another smart move is to walk around. Many students freeze in their spot, which adds a mundane tone to the presentation. Also be sure to change the tone of your voice at various times. If you find something interesting, it's okay to let your voice show it. People who deliver professional presentations in front of large audiences do these things best; they walk around the stage and are constantly changing the volume and tone of their voice to reflect their own emotions.
The Conclusion: Answering Questions with Ease
The beginning and middle of your presentation are critical to your success, but the conclusion shouldn't be skipped over. Many students spend so much time perfecting the beginning and middle of their presentations, they forget to write up a decent conclusion. In fact, many presentations end with a simple, "And that's the end.” The conclusion is a powerful portion of your presentation and should be used to bring your ideas together.
Treat the end of your presentation the same as the other parts, and be sure to ask your classmates if they have any questions. If they do, handle them graciously and be ready to answer them. Also have a response ready if you're not sure what the answer is. It's never a good idea to make up a response as your classmates and teacher will surely know. It's okay to say something like, "That's an interesting question, but I'm not sure what the answer is. I'd be happy to look it up and let you know tomorrow.” We can't be experts on everything, but showing that you're willing to investigate the issue displays professionalism, accountability and maturity.
Leaving an Impression
To make a lasting impression, leave your classmates with a handout that recaps the important points from your presentation or hand them an index card with websites listed for more information about your topic. Walk back to your seat with a smile on your face, and be sure to give the other students in the class the same respect they gave to you. Remember that no matter how nerve-wracking a presentation can be, practice makes perfect in the long run. You'll surely thank yourself when you're delivering your next big presentation in the workplace.