Ultimately a Good Presentation Depends on the Script and the Person
Most people hate presentations, whether as a presenter, listener or evaluator. The truth is, this sweeping statement is completely justified. Most of us know how it feels like listening to or presenting boring, incoherent and ‘bullet-train speed’ presentations. Yep - ‘bullet-train speed’ because most of the times, we are given 5 minutes to present our topic in class, so as to accommodate presentations by other students. It is really a nightmare trying to cram a 5 to 10-page report into a 5-minute presentation. But that’s how it is. Oral presentation is inevitable. So what are the keys to a successful presentation?
Two pertinent components make up a good presentation: your speech and your presentation slides. You cannot do without one or the other. Each component complements the other, which means both must be equally effective to ensure the whole presentation is successful. Bear in mind that people, your audience, have 3 different learning styles. Some respond well to visual and aesthetic presentation, some are more alert to auditory style, while others prefer a kinesthetic way of learning. Though you cannot pack all these considerations within the five minutes that you are given, you definitely have to try to accommodate all three as best you can.
Impressive Presentation Slides
One distinguishing feature that differentiates between a good oral presenter and a great one is the presentation slides. You may be an eloquent speaker or an entertaining one, but if the slides behind you are poorly made, they can spoil the whole image of your presentation. Bad slides can not only distract the audience from the main message of your presentation but could actually turn the audience off totally. That is something that you want to avoid, especially if your grades depend largely on it. So, let’s take a look at few tips that can help you to create enthralling presentation slides.
Striking and appropriate slide designs
Avoid using standard templates in PowerPoint. Search hundreds of more professional templates on the Microsoft website by using the ‘Browse for Themes’ tab under ‘Design’ in PowerPoint. If you’re game for something more exciting, try Prezi. Prezi is a web-based software that uses motion zoom and spatial relationships to bring your content to life. I’ve tried it myself and it never fails to awe my audience. It has now become popular in schools and businesses as it is more eye-catching and engaging and it offers unique features that are not present in PowerPoint. The good thing is that it is free and simple to use.
Balanced colour scheme
Choose a colour scheme that is not too gaudy or, in contrast, too pale. Have a mixture and play around with different shades of the primary colours. A balanced colour scheme together with good contrast between text and background not only makes your slides more vibrant and trendier, but also presents your important texts in a more prominent and effective manner.
Suitable fonts and sizes
Depending on the type of presentation, choose fonts which are clear and not too fancy or complicated such that the audience cannot read it fast enough. The size matters too as you have to consider those who sit far away from the screen or those at the corners. Distinguish font size (and colour) for the headings, subheadings and the normal texts. Bold, italics and underlines are some ways to highlight the most important information. You can also animate your fonts and texts by using the ‘entrance effects’, ‘emphasis effects’ and ‘exit effects’ in PowerPoint. Whatever you do, be consistent throughout the whole presentation. Using different fonts for each slide may appear too cluttered and confusing to the viewers.
Amount of Text
Many presenters make this common mistake of putting so much text in one slide. Don’t. It is not only fruitless but, more importantly, such bulky text ‘exhausts’ the audience. When the audience gives up reading your slides, they will ultimately give up listening to you. Multiple paragraphs should definitely be avoided. Using bullet points to convey your ideas is a much safer way than putting multiple paragraphs on your slides. The idea is not to overload the slides with too much information as many people find it hard to read and listen at the same time. Some presenters feel ‘safe’ with lots of texts on their slides so that if they forget any point, they can just refer to the slides, or they purposely do that to avoid talking too much. This is a big mistake. Don’t ever use your slides as your scripts for your speech or to get away from explaining verbally.
Graphics & Animations
Graphics such as pictures, charts, diagrams as well as tables are powerful visual arts that can fascinate an audience. Take care though not to clutter your slides with unnecessary or childish pictures (unless the occasion requires). The key idea is to use the graphics to support or explain more about your idea or text, not to draw attention away from it. Animations and slide transitions often add a little kick to the static display, but again don’t overdo it.
No matter how captivating your slides are, without good, effective speech the whole presentation will still fail because slide presentation is just a tool to aid you in your speech, not to replace it. A good, effective speech depends on two things: the script itself and the person. Let’s talk about the script first:
A good introduction or opening should take only between 30-40 seconds. This the part where you must grab the attention of the audience and engage their interest in your presentation. Give salutations to the audience and introduce yourself briefly. What comes next should be something powerful, yet intriguing. Start with an anecdote, raise a thought-provoking question, recite a quotation or recount a joke. After this attention-grabbing opening, introduce your topic. State briefly what you’re going to cover.
After the 40-second introduction, continue with the body of your script. This is the largest part of your script. There is always the tendency to write a lot but avoid it. Your script should not be in the form of a report. Memorising script is not a good technique in a professional presentation. Use bullet points with short accompanying notes. Stick to the main ideas. Do not digress or add superfluous information that doesn’t add value to your topic. Examples to substantiate your points are always good but keep them brief and precise. Use strong adjectives, adverbs, verbs and potent transitional words and phrases. However, don’t use too difficult vocabulary such that the audience does not understand what you are saying. Vary your sentences and your sentence structure to add emphases to what you are delivering.
And finally, the closing. Like your opening, the closing of your script must contain some of your strongest material. Summarise the main points, inject some intellectual statements or quotations and end with a strong sentiment on the topic. The main idea is to leave your audience with positive memories of your speech.
Once you’ve finished your first draft of the script, take a rest and leave it for an hour or two or even overnight. Seek feedback from 2 or 3 people or from your own group members. Ask them to vet for anything that is inappropriate such as content, use of humour or anecdotes, or examples. Also check for any spelling errors, grammatical and structural mistakes. Rewrite your final draft by taking into account all feedback. Once this is done, start practising.
A lot of people fear public speaking, and that includes even famous people. Warren Buffet, the American business magnate, chairman, CEO, investor, speaker and philanthropist, and whose net worth is 86.9 billion US dollars in 2019, was terrified of public speaking when he first started out. This fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia, if not overcome, can hurt your professional and personal life. No matter what you believe in, speaking skills, oral presentation or public speaking are essential in getting ahead in school, college and professional setting. The only way to combat your fear is to control and manipulate it to your own advantage.
Warren Buffet got over his fears of public speaking by teaching to small groups of people, forcing himself to talk to people and practising speaking skills over and over again. And today, he is such an eloquent speaker that people hang on his every word and make quotes out of his speech. The strategy is mainly to control your mind and tell yourself that you can do it. Such positive reinforcement will eventually tell your brain to stop worrying and to channel that energy to build up your confidence and alertness. The thing is no matter how many times you’ve done oral presentations, you will still get butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety over something unpredictable is always understandable but it is easily managed and overcome.
Here are some techniques to help you overcome your fears. Firstly, practise your speech over and over again. Read and reread or record your speech and listen to it. You don’t need to memorise the speech word-for-word. It will look mechanical and unprofessional. Instead, understand the main idea of your content and tell it as if you’re telling a story. If you feel that you need to have your script with you, then go ahead and have it. Write the main points of your speech on small cards that you can hold in your hand, not on an A4-sized paper. Refer to your script cards only occasionally. Do not read from the card because that would mean you will not maintain eye contact with your audience. If you are uncomfortable maintaining eye contact, at least pretend to be. Swipe your vision across the room and avoid focusing too much on their faces. Unwelcome expressions on audience’s faces can trigger the panic button in you. Speak clearly at the correct pace and tone and use pauses effectively. Hand gestures or bodily movements should be kept to a minimum, only when necessary. But above all, be yourself and allow your own personality to shine through your whole presentation.
The ability to speak in public is something that you need to cultivate inside you. It will not only teach you to muster your courage and confidence but also train your brain to be calm in times of high stress and anxiety. The first time will always be the most difficult, but as you do more and more presentations and allow yourself the exposure to such things, you will get better and better over time.
MBA student Hanna Abdelwahab is a regular writer for our ‘Student Column’ for WUAS News. This column is dedicated to various topics related to student life. Hanna is originally from Singapore but migrated to Egypt in 2011. She has a Bachelor of Accountancy Degree and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education from Singapore, and at present is doing her MBA in Education Management.
by Hanna Abdelwahab