Chapter 6: Learning & Studying
Think about all the ways you have presented in your College Success course this semester.
What steps did you go through to successfully complete the presentations? Prepare a brief two-minute presentation about any topic in the College Success textbook using the steps you listed. Then read this section and revise your presentation based on the new information you learn.
The very best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance. —Ruth Gordon, actress and playwright
Imagine you are walking across your campus. As you pass the student center, you see a couple of people at a table outside passing out information about the student honor society. Open windows in the music building share the sounds of someone practicing the piano in the art studio. Upon entering your class building, you are greeted by student-made posters illustrating various phases of the process of cell division. An open classroom door allows you to watch a young man in a lab coat and protective gear pour liquid nitrogen over items in a tray while the rest of his classmates look on with great interest. Your own instructor is loading up the PowerPoint he plans to use for the day.
All of these are examples of presentations, and it’s very likely that you’ll be asked to participate in similar activities during your college career. Presenting, whether face-to-face or online, is a skill you will hone as a college student in preparation for your future career.
Presentations can take many forms and potentially serve many purposes. When reading the definitions below, keep in mind that many presentations often combine several elements into a hybrid form. You may have to pick and choose what will work best for you depending on the instructor and the course. Let’s start with the different genres or types of presentations.
Some presentation assignments will ask you simply to deliver information about a topic. Often these presentations involve research, which you will shape and present to your instructor and classmates. Typically, informative presentations ask you not to share your opinion about the subject at hand, which can be more challenging than might seem. With an informative presentation, your goal is to educate your audience by presenting a summary of your research and sticking to the facts.
Unlike informative presentations, persuasive presentations ask you not only to form an opinion about your subject but also to convince your audience to come around to your point of view. These presentations often involve research, too, and the findings of your research will be used to bolster the persuasive case you’re making.
You may be asked to do a teaching presentation, which will require you to specialize in one topic of the course and give your fellow classmates instruction about it. Often your presentation will be the only time that this subject is covered in the class, so you will be responsible for making sure you provide clear, detailed, and relevant information about the topic. You may also be asked to provide questions on the subject to be included in a quiz or test or answer the questions your classmates ask about this topic.
These action-based presentations typically model some behavior or subject matter that has been introduced previously in the class. Unlike the lesson delivery presentation, a demonstration adds a level of performance in which you show and tell the audience what you know. You might perform the demonstration yourself, as a way of illustrating the concept or procedure, or you might provide classmates with instructions and guidance as they do it themselves.
Poster presentations should convey all the information on a subject necessary for viewers to consider on their own. They often consist of short, punchy wording accompanied by strong visuals, such as graphs, charts, images, and/or illustrations. Posters frequently require research to prepare, and they allow for some creativity in design. Depending on the assignment, your poster may be part of a gallery of poster presentations with your classmates. Your poster has to communicate everything that is important because you may not be there to explain it to your audience.
Similar to poster presentations, online presentations are generally asynchronous, meaning your audience will view the presentation when you’re not there. Online presentations often serve similar purposes as poster presentations, but due to the online format, they allow for more interactive possibilities, such as sharing a pertinent video or animated graph. Your online presentation must stand alone to teach your audience everything they need to know.
Presenting Alone or In Groups
You may be asked to present as an individual or as part of a group.
Individual presentations put all of the responsibility for preparation, research, and delivery on you. You rightfully take all the credit for the final product you produce.
Group presentations, in contrast, often involve more complicated tasks or concepts and therefore require more participants than a single person. Your instructor may make suggestions about how the work should be divided, or the group may delegate tasks internally. Grades may be assigned equally to everyone in the group, though many instructors assign individual grades based on some participation-level factor to inspire each member to pull his or her own weight.
Presentation assignments are often open to creative interpretation, which gives the group a lot of room to explore new techniques and add a personal touch.
Like reading and writing, presenting is a form of communication, and your goal is to get your message across to your audience. For that reason, it’s important to remember that they may interpret the information you or your group are presenting differently that you expect them to receive it. It’s your job as a presenter to explain your ideas in an organized and engaging manner using specific details, succinct and clear wording, vivid descriptions, and meaningful images. By being well-informed and well-prepared, you’ll be able to answer any questions your audience may have, often before they even ask.
Basic Speech Structure
All essays, speeches, and presentations will have the same basic structure, including an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Using an outline like the one below can help students keep their ideas organized and supported.
- Attention Getting Device, a.k.a “a hook”
- Preview/Overview of the Speech
- Body of the Speech (should have no more than 3 main points, but you can use sub points)
- Main Point 1
- Sub point 1
- Sub point 2
- Main Point 2
- Sub point
- Main Point 3
- Sub point
- Main Point 1
- Summary Statement
- Concluding Remarks
- Call to Action
Tips for Speaking in Public
- Breathing control: Learn to speak from the diaphragm, not the lungs.
- Pitch Variation: Avoid speaking in a monotone or forced and patterned inflection. Use your vocal range.
- Articulation: Enunciate. Make clean sounds. Use your facial muscles to work your words. Improve by 1) dropping the jaw, 2) emphasizing vowels in words, 3) emphasizing consonants at the end of certain words.
- Voice Quality: How pleasing is your voice to listen to? Aim for a clean, rich sounding tone. First, work on breathing. Next, place the sound in your inner mouth area, not your throat or nose. Practice by humming with your mouth closed and teeth slightly apart. If you feel a “buzz” at the front of your face, you’re doing it right.
Choosing Media and Format for Visual Aids
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “Death by PowerPoint” to explain that all-too-familiar feeling of being slowly bored to death by a thoughtless presenter who’s droning on and on about boring slide after boring slide. If you’d like to know what the experience is about, and you have time for a laugh, watch the following video, starring stand-up comedian Don McMillan. McMillan pokes fun at bad presentations, but he has some very sound advice about what not to do.
You may consider using PowerPoint for your presentation, and that’s perfectly fine. PowerPoint can be a very effective tool with the right organization, layout, and design.
In order to have a successful PowerPoint presentation, avoid the five common pitfalls listed below:
- Choosing a font that is too small. The person in the very back of the room should be able to see the same thing as the person in the front of the room.
- Putting too many words on a slide. Remember it’s called PowerPoint, not PowerParagraph! Keep your bullet points clear and succinct.
- Having spelling errors. Always ask somebody to proofread your slides. Any typos will detract from your presentation.
- Choosing distracting colors that make it hard to read the information. PowerPoint gives a lot of color choices in their design templates. The ideas in your brilliant presentation will be lost if your audience is struggling to read the content.
- Selecting images or visuals that do not clearly align with the content. A cute cat photo may look lovely up on the screen, but if it doesn’t connect to your topic, it’s just fluff that detracts from your message. Every slide counts, so make sure the visuals support your message.
In addition to PowerPoint presentations, you may also be asked to present using video, narrated presentations, as well as other multimedia formats. While the same general presentation tips apply, you may need to reach out for support in creating the presentation. For many college students, this may be the first time you are using some of these technology tools. There are a variety of resources available at the college to support you. A good place to begin is by reaching out to your professor.
Planning and Practicing the Presentation
Once you’ve put together your presentation and have an idea of the audience that will hear and see it, it’s time to deal with the “nerves” that can accompany the performance part of the presentation. Leaving plenty of time to go through the writing process is just as important for a presentation as it is for an essay, Mapping out a time management plan that accounts for research, drafting, practicing, revising, and editing will help students decrease nervousness. Stress management strategies, such as deep breathing, positive affirmations, and visualization of successful outcomes, can also aid in reducing anxiety and increasing confidence about an upcoming presentation, but the best way to avoid being nervous is to practice and to over-prepare.
Breath control exercises
To help with anxiety and voice control, apply the following two strategies:
- Sit down: Lean forward and place your forearms on your knees. Take a slow, deep, and noiseless breath through your mouth. Expand your waistline as you fill with air, but do not raise your shoulders. Sit back up straight again and repeat the exercise.
- Stand Up: Stand straight with arms relaxed at your sides. Inhale slowly through your nose, with your throat open. As you breathe in, count to four slowly and raise your arms until they meet over your head. Lower your hands with a slow count to four, exhaling with a “hissing” sound.
The ideal preparation for a presentation is to ask a friend or family member to watch you present. Request that they be honest with you and give constructive criticism on the strengths and weaknesses of your presentation. If you don’t have anyone available to practice your presentation, you can record yourself using your phone or your laptop. It can be very difficult to listen to yourself, but it’s always enlightening to watch and/or listen to yourself present. Even presenting to a pet or a stuffed animal is a valuable practice that will help decrease stress and increase confidence.
Practicing your presentation will help you reduce anxiety prior to and during your presentation. Remember the sage advice of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Good luck!
Tips on how to give a better presentation
Visit the Ted Blog and read the interview with public speaking expert Nancy Duarte.
Review one of the additional resources contained in that interview and be prepared to share some presentation tips with your classmates.