How to Prepare for Oral Presentation
Imagine a scenario where someone is given an opportunity to present a paper and he/she is obviously having a stage fright and can barely get the words out with his low and shaky voice. Without notice, boredom creeps into the audience, the minutes pass by then the speaker comes to the end of his presentation and leaves.
His research may be mind-blowing, but no one will know, because no one was able to follow him beyond the first three minutes. If you can relate to this and you are a shy speaker, then this article is for you.
Often, we are not taught how to be a good orator/speaker, yet this is a crucial skill needed for disseminating one’s work, meeting colleagues as well as defending our project successfully.
A presentation could be boring due to the speaker been shy, scared, or ill-prepared and I have some points outlined to help you present vocally and effectively without boring your audience.
1. Considering public expectations at the preparation stage
Many young researchers are satisfied with working on the content, working their text so that it is worthy of a scientific article, as serious and complete as possible because of the fear of being criticized, but their lack of oral communication skills or timidity will bring about that which they fear the most. The term “communication” indicates that this is an exercise where you must establish a relationship with an audience and be able to hold it for the period of the presentation, hence it is imperative to be good with spoken words as much as written.
Be aware that the audience’s attention span is limited (typically drops at 12 minutes on the same topic).
In a conference, select an aspect of your research that is particularly promising or in line with the theme of the seminar and elaborate on that. You can openly mention: “Today I will focus on so and so aspect of my research.”
2. Make index cards
Listening to someone read a text word for word can get boring and induce sleep, so don’t hang on to your text like a buoy. To avoid this, make index cards with shorthand notes on the key points you are to discuss, this will serve as a guide, and you get to explore words that can hook your listeners. The cards will be enough to guide you and help you speak from the heart and not straight up reading word for word.
Practice aloud at home with your files, at least twice. You will know your procedure better, affords you less stress, and you will know how long your presentation is going to take. Being concise and precise is key.
3. Anticipate questions
Being asked questions after a presentation could cause a lot of stress, but it is better to prepare your mind and note possible questions you would like to be asked and those you don’t particularly want to be asked and practice how you would answer them. Note that, especially for an ongoing research, you can answer “I don’t know” when you don’t know. Your honesty will be appreciated.
4. Work on your anxiety
Everyone has been through stage freight at one point or the other, so prepare for the day by practicing often, and on the night before, do something fun that will take your mind off the pressure.
Practice positive visualization such as setting up rehearsals by thought, close your eyes and imagine the scene, and visualize yourself speaking in front of this audience of colleagues.
You must go deep into the details. Visualize the table, the light, and your own words, with everything going perfectly well and you are congratulated at the end. Repeat the exercise several times. It is simply an autosuggestion method, very effective if repeated, to accustom your brain to success and to make it function more positively.
Breathe while inflating and deflating the belly, it is useful for positioning the voice and for lowering tension and ultimately helps you succeed at your oral presentation.
Experiment and find the natural therapy that suits you, to reduce apprehension, such as homeopathy, herbal medicine, Bach flowers, and essential oil.
Accept temporary discomfort because you will not be able to remove all traces of emotion, has it been natural human emotion and it will subside as you go through your presentation.
5. Establish contact with the assistance
The first rule to establish contact with a person or a group of people is to introduce yourself. Yes, you have been introduced to the audience, nevertheless, it is important that you do this exercise yourself in a more personal way, (I am So-and-so, and I have been working on the B and Z theme for two years now in the 123 laboratories. My fieldwork is gradually winding up and am analyzing the data now. Today I would like to share with you”). If you are very anxious about speaking in public, presenting may be the time to lower the tension.
For example, you are a foreigner, and you have an accent, and that worries you. Say it with a smile “I’m Chinese and as you can see, I have an accent; I will try to express myself as clearly as possible”; you will get cheering smiles and it will start on a favourable note.
Announce the plan of your presentation, this will prevent the audience from feeling lost. Thus, you create an expectation that will maintain the attention.
Make your presentation lively by infusing examples in your text “When I went to my land the first time, I was really surprised by… etc.”. Everyone loves a good story and by so doing the message gets through better if it’s delivered in a personal way. Take note to be modest so as not to make your speech a pool of anecdotes!
Speak calmly and take time to breathe and give the audience time to absorb the ideas.
Take 5 second breaks every time you move to another point.
6. Maintain a good posture
Para-verbal language (speed, intonations) and non-verbal language (facial expressions, postures, gestures) are important to build your confidence and your sense of originality, they are easily identified by an audience.
Be audible enough for the person at the back of the room to hear you. If there is a fixed microphone on the table, do not stoop to approach it; speak clearly and distinctly, that will do.
Watch the audience, not just one person. Let your gaze permeate the room, address yourself to a person on the right for a few moments, then back to the left, then in the middle. Intermittently steal glances at your notes the raise your face ever so swiftly. When you are making a comment about what’s showing on the screen, don’t back your audience, stand at an angle, and turn towards them as often as possible.
7. Straighten your physical posture
Do not cross your legs, keep your back straight, your chest open, and most especially your shoulders should not be tucked in, to breathe well. Posture influences morale in an amazing way.
Do not play nervously with objects, leave them on the table; if you get enthusiastic about your own subject, you will forget your hands and they will start “talking to themselves”, accompanying you without you thinking about it.
If you are shy or anxious, you may find some of these tips difficult to apply, but with concerted effort, it is achievable. Like the saying goes “practice makes perfect”.