A Few Tips on Giving Presentations

By Christopher Valencia |

During my first quarter here at UCR, along with several other students, I was asked by one of my professors to give a class presentation on a set of readings for one of the designated weeks of the course. The presentation was on a theoretical textbook, around 250-300 pages, and my presentation had to be less than 10 minutes. Besides being up until 1 AM the night before planning the presentation, this was one of the first times I was asked to simplify a great deal of complex information into a 10-minute presentation.

[Image Description: Leti Lewis from Lovecraft Country working over some papers and drinking from a mug]

Caption: Cranking out a presentation is hard work]

Perhaps many of you are still taking coursework and have been asked by your professors to present a paper you have written for their course. I encourage you to take these class presentations as small learning experiences to prepare you for future presentations. The small things you learn now can be in your favor in the future. 

Perhaps some of you are great at public speaking. You are an extrovert, and you do not mind taking center stage. Maybe some of you are more introverted, and you would rather keep your thoughts to yourself. Being asked to speak in public (which terrifies you) and present your work requires double the strength. When asked to speak in public, you may be the first one out the door. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, both have their strengths regarding presentations. However, if I can borrow these terms, a practical presentation needs both extroverted and introverted qualities.

[Image Description: A cartoon parrot dancing next to an owl standing still]

Caption: An extrovert versus an introvert]

On one hand, you need to have some sort of stage presence (i.e., you need to speak up and speak clearly). On the other hand, you need a lot of mental reflection and internal preparation in advance to ensure your presentation goes smoothly. Of course, you will develop your style in the end, but hopefully, you can strike a balance between qualities like these.  

Here are a few short points to remember as you practice giving presentations in your seminars. Hopefully, they are constructive and help you in the long run as you give more talks and presentations in your academic journey. 

1. Preparation is Key!

Someone once told me that public speaking involves 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. In other words, when the hour comes, you do not want to wing it. In the end, it all comes down to practice. Before your presentation, take some adequate time to review your slides and notes. Create an outline of the key points that you are going to cover. Ultimately, the best way to prepare is to practice the actual presentation. Spend some time going through each slide and speaking the points as if you were standing in front of the audience. This will ensure a high level of success. 

2. Synthesize, Synthesize, Synthesize

I believe it is Albert Einstein who said something like: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Often, we have to use academic jargon. Of course, terminology is necessary, and we should use the proper terms in our respective fields. However, at the same time, to balance this, we should make sure we are communicating the central point of our argument, its main findings, and important evidence that supports it. Most times, we will not be able to cover every point due to time constraints. Thus, we need to synthesize our argument and select appropriate evidence. Unless you are given enough time to cover a great deal of information, for the most part, we need to learn how to present information clearly and effectively under time constraints. Make sure your presentation stays within the time restriction. If you only have 12-15 minutes to present your paper, ensure you can cover the whole presentation in that allotted time. 

3. Practical Handles

As you manage the presentation's time, you want to be aware of how fast you are talking. Sometimes, some presenters speak so fast that it is difficult to understand what they are saying. They may feel that they need to get through every slide, but if people need help to process what is being spoken and shown to them, how effective is the presentation? Some parts of the presentation need to be explained more slowly than others. Try to maintain a medium-pace speed while speaking.

Another point involves using notes. On one hand, having an outline at hand can be very useful to help you stay on track. But, if possible, try to avoid reading off your notes. Present the information and look at the audience as you speak, which requires memorization and practice. The more you practice, the easier it will be to recall the key points during your presentation. 

Though your seminars may be small, here are some minor points to remember when engaging a larger audience. As mentioned earlier, people develop and have their styles of presenting. So, I do not want to advise you on deportment or body gestures that make you feel too restricted. Nonetheless, useful or not, some suggest making eye contact with your audience. Others suggest pacing around to engage the surrounding audience (in other words, do not just focus on the left side of the audience). 

4. Visuals

The old saying, “A picture is better than a thousand words,” holds to be very true when it comes to giving a presentation. When a slide goes up with too much information, it can be overwhelming for the audience. Unless the quote or information is crucial to your main point, a few bullet points and images will keep your audience engaged. For font size, I recommend 20 pt. Anything smaller may be challenging to read. Of course, many presentations in specific fields require certain illustrations (i.e., STEM fields require graphs, charts, etc.), so follow the protocol in your field. We can learn something from the STEM fields, specifically how visuals can communicate complex data or ideas in general. Our visuals do not need to be limited to graphs and charts. We can rely on several images to communicate our ideas to an audience. Let your creativity come forth here.  

5. Learn as you go!

In the end, we can only learn as we go. If you are still in coursework, please see all your class presentations as a learning opportunity. Try to learn how to condense large amounts of information in a limited amount of time (without sounding so rushed), and in the process, try to develop your style of presenting. See what works for you!