Speaking in front of others can be daunting, exhilarating, exciting and downright debilitating. Here one of our co-creators will take you on their journey into public speaking and provide you with first-hand tips and tricks to help your next presentation.
Do you remember the first time you had to deliver a presentation in front of your peers? What was that like? How were you feeling the moment before you had to start talking? Allow me to set the stage.
There’s the initial sinking of the stomach accompanying the uncertainty of whether it will be your name that your teacher calls out next on the list to stand before the class, a list that has an unknown rhyme or reason to it. It’s a feeling that surpasses mere anticipation; nervousness isn’t a one-size-fits-all design, nor is it present in everyone’s experience. The moments before presenting can tug along countless combinations of feelings associated with it. For some, that unwelcoming sense of dread feels like a lump in the throat falling into the depths of the stomach, swimming, gurgling, churning out anxiety as the minutes pass. Others may feel prepared, perhaps confident in both their public speaking abilities and with the content in which they’re presenting. Instead of waiting for the moment where you’re voluntold, maybe you raise your hand, volunteering yourself to get the task over and done with. The sooner, the better.
Before you know it, you’re standing at the head of your class.
A stage can look like an assortment of things: a physical stage built for theatrics big or small; stadiums with capacities upward of thousands; the open space in the living room that housed innumerable skits put on by a child and their friends. But for many of us in our undergraduate, our stage may be at the front of a classroom, with our professor and student peers as our audience.
For me—like many others, I’m sure—I’m out of practice when it comes to public speaking. Presenting isn’t always required of undergraduate classes (it often depends on your program of study), and because of this, giving presentations often happens sporadically during the undergrad period.
Regardless of when you may need to give a classroom presentation, the following can serve as a checklist for those feeling stressed about an upcoming presentation, or alternatively, as gentle reminders for those who are more comfortable in front of an audience.
As simple as it is, remembering to breathe before, during, and after your presentation is crucial. For those who are prone to performance or test anxiety, those who may be anxious about public speaking or, frankly, asking why is this necessary for this class? Breathe. Breathe through the presentation. Everything else will come easier through remembering to breathe.
2. Have water handy.
Public speaking can sometimes render one’s mouth dryer than a desert; having water either at your speaking space or waiting for you back at your desk can help to counter this.
3. Remember to project your voice.
Most classrooms are small enough where it’s easy to hear someone from the opposite side of the room, but this doesn’t mean you should speak quietly to yourself. Projecting your voice—as anyone trained in theatre or singing may know—comes from the breath (and here’s another reminder that everything comes back to breathing). Your voice should feel as if it’s coming from down in your chest, not from your throat—and if the latter is true, you’re more prone to straining your voice. (This tip is especially important if you have to present while wearing a mask!)
4. Pay attention to your pacing.
A rate of speech that may feel and sound normal to you is likely too fast for your audience. Slowing yourself down to the extent where your audience is lulling to sleep by the lethargic lullaby of your lecture, however, is too slow. While remembering to breathe, your pacing should feel comfortable and not as if you’re running out of breath. Keep in mind that although you may be familiar with what you’re presenting, your audience likely isn’t, so rushing through your topic won’t allow them to fully absorb your hard work.
5. Similarly, clear enunciation is key.
Remember that not all of your classmates or professors may have English as their first language (neither may you, perhaps, too!). Pronouncing words properly (as opposed to slurring them together) is another tip to aid your presenting skills and improve listening clarity. (Here’s another one that masked presenters should pay extra attention to!)
6. Include your whole audience.
Not looking at just the front and centre-most person sitting before you, but standing tall and giving your voice to everyone is ideal when presenting. Your audience members are like potted plants sitting at their desks, and you must water them with the back-and-forth sweeping of your presentation watering can. Another way of including your audience is to encourage their participation; whether intermittently asking for questions or clarifications, consider it as “breaking the fourth wall,” the ability to momentarily uncloak your professional face and become more interpersonal with them.
7. Familiarize yourself with your topic.
This is another pointer that seems like common sense—but consider knowing your subject beyond what’s in your PowerPoint or cue cards, as questions may arise from your audience or professor for expansion on a smaller point you bring forth.
8. Consider using cue cards.
Not everyone is capable of speaking script-free with eloquence (I’m sure not!). Although reading line-for-line, word-for-word is frowned upon and may alienate your audience from you if you’re more focused on your page, instead, consider jotting down crucial concepts of what you want to remember to cover in your presentation. (And a bonus tip here: make sure your printing or typed font of your speaking notes is large enough to be easily legible by you!)
9. Enjoy yourself.
Everyone in your audience has at one point given a presentation themself, so there’s no need to dedicate time and energy to overexerting your worries. Presenting should be a fun experience where light humour may be incorporated (depending on your situation) to let your personality shine through, or you may allow your graphic design skills to come forth with a visual aid—whether it’s electronic or analog. You should do your best to remain calm and enjoy your experience delivering a presentation on a topic that’s meaningful to you.
Not all presentations will happen in person, but the above advice can still apply to virtual settings. You may not be able to look at all your audience participants if your presentation is happening over a video call; yet, incorporating elements like pacing and pronunciation are just as—if not more—important in an online scenario. And breathing. Please don’t forget to breathe throughout your presentation, virtual or otherwise.
Presenting can come in all shapes and sizes, looking and feeling different for each presenter. I’ve seen some individuals who may fidget more, so they make sure to wear jewelry—such as a ring—for them to keep their hands busy while speaking. I’ve also seen incredibly confident speakers who have beautiful PowerPoint slides and a clear, projected voice—but their pacing is much too fast to listen to comfortably. Maintaining balance is ideal in most life situations, including presenting.
According to the TRU Library (2021), public speaking shouldn’t be overly complex with the help of undergoing adequate preparations. They, too, bring attention to having reference notes and water alongside you, but also include the simple considerations of being familiar with the room in which you’re presenting and the comfort and mobility of your outfit (TRU Library, 2021). Similar to my point on having jewelry to keep your hands occupied, TRU’s Librarians offer the idea of having a good luck charm or talisman on your person (TRU Library, 2021).
TRU’s Library guides have further in-depth pages on the different aspects of presenting—from general speaking time-lengths to the technology behind a fantastic presentation; I recommend searching through their resources! Below are a few places to get started.
Further Presenting Tips
- Structuring a Lecture or Speech
- This first page has a concise list of the more technical, nitty-gritty preparations before presenting. Within it, its topics range from planning for different types of audiences to tips to provoke active listening.
- Basic Presentation Outline
- Within that Structuring home page lies this detailed guide for outlining a presentation; I especially recommend this page to anyone who benefits from looking at checklists or is more detail-oriented, as here, a presentation is broken down into manageable subcategories, comparable to the steps in essay writing.
- Presentation Tools
- Here, this page covers the various platforms or tools when creating a digital presentation. Not only are there descriptions of each creation platform but also tutorials of how to use them, along with directions to access user guides either directly from the platform’s company or TRU’s library itself.
- Images and Screencasts
- Finally, within the Presentation Tools category is this page that showcases sites with available images and screencasts that can be used to enhance your presentation’s visuals.
Think of the front of the class as your stage, in the sense that the world is your oyster: full of opportunity. Presenting can be stressful for many to imagine, but it doesn’t have to be with the help of thoughtful preparation and practice. Like anything, the more experience you have with it, the easier it’ll become; presenting is no exception to this rule.
Want Some Last-Minute Advice?
Loosen the tension from your fists; relax your shoulders; swallow that lump in your throat. Breathe.
TRU Library. (2021, November 30). How to look confident when you aren’t feeling confident, Academic presentation tips and tools. TRU Libraries. https://libguides.tru.ca/presentation/publicspeaking