Public speaking is that one topic that causes flashbacks, anxiety, and beads of sweat just at the thought of it. One minute you are one of the students, the next you are fulfilling the shoes of your teacher. Here’s how to not freak out.
Whether you are a student in middle school, high school, or college, at one point or another in your academic career you have been required to do a presentation. Whether that presentation may be in groups or completed individually, the idea of standing up in front of the class and delivering a lengthy analysis of a topic is intimidating. The thought of being judged by other classmates or messing up information are just two of the many factors that cause individuals to sike themselves out. Some students may find presentations as a sort of comfort, while others may perceive presentations as social suicide (jokes aside). By taking into consideration the following steps, you too can change the way in which you view those ever dreaded presentations.
- Do not play with your hair.
The number one indicator of nervousness is when you play with your hair. Twirling, flipping, or combing your hair are all unacceptable ways to convince your audience that you are comfortable and confident in what you are saying. Not only does it look awkward to the audience, but it draws unnecessary attention to your hands and hair, which may be a bad thing if you are not having a good hair day.
Tips: If this sounds like you, wear a hair tie on presentation day so that before you go up, you can easily tie back your locks and prevent yourself from fidgeting too much.
2. Never apologize during a presentation.
From my own experience, when I watch a presentation and the presenter mispronounces a word, loses his/her train of thought, or confuses information, the next few words to proceed are: I’m sorry. Apologizing during a presentation is not necessary, even if you did give the wrong information or completely butchered a word. Sometimes, once you apologize the first time, you pick up a habit of resorting to that some phrase because of nerves and panic. You do not want the audience to feel as if you do not know the information, because just the opposite can be true.
Tips: If you stumble or lose focus, take a breather and turn towards your medium (PowerPoint, poster, etc.) and see where you are in your presentation. Try focusing on speaking slower, so that not only are your words crisp, but your thoughts are delivered in a clearer fashion.
3. If you are not sure where to go next, ask questions.
Often times during presentations, students may feel that they are not sure what to say next, or how to conclude their presentation. The common “So… yeah” or “And that’s it” do not suffice if you want to improve your public speaking skills and show that you can absolutely kill a presentation even if you are naturally shy. Instead, either introduce a question during the parts you feel are lacking or end your presentation on a thought-provoking note.
Tips: Prepare questions for the class ahead of time to add more substance and an interactive element to your presentation. If you did not prepare questions, ask the audience’s thoughts about said topic or what they would do. Any question that encourages thought is a good question.
4. Refrain from commentary.
Those little comments which I like to call “fillers” are not only not needed, but sometimes cringe worthy to the audience. When talking about a historical event that is characterized as extraordinary or unbelievable, there is no need to confirm that even more. For example, if I am delivering a presentation on how the Spartans valued strong babies to the point where frail babies were terminated, it is obvious to the audience that this is an intense thought to grasp. By saying excessively “This is nuts!” or “...which is crazy!”, you are giving a more informal effect than what you are aiming for.
Tips: Do not comment on the obvious. Instead, introduce ideas of substance that reflect how you draw connections between various events or ideologies. Alluding back to the Spartan example, a historical connection that can be made is how in Medieval society, status or success was obtained once you bore a male, proving that male babies were valued over females.
5) Try and have fun.
The best thing to do when delivering presentations or any sort of public speaking assignment is to be confident in the way you speak. This alludes to mannerism, body language, and the way in which you articulate thoughts. If it helps to move your hands a bit, go ahead. If you want to highlight an important piece of information, feel free to point to that part on your PowerPoint or poster. Interacting with the presentation itself is an important component of appearing to be a great presenter.
Tips: Act as if you are having a conversation with the class. Be loose and entertain the fact that you are the expert on your subject! The very idea that you are knowledgable in a subject area that your classmates are not should give you some sense of comfort or even power (good power, of course). Practicing in your bedroom is a great way to develop the personality of your presentation, and how you may want to deliver information. Either prop up your poster or pull up your PowerPoint on a computer, stand in front of it, and start talking to your imaginary class. This way, you are getting a full feel for the presentation.
If you have made it this far, I hope that these five tips have boosted your confidence in your public speaking abilities, and have given you a more positive insight of what to focus on. Presenting does not come easy for everyone, but 99% of the time it is 99% easier than you actually think! These tips may not be conventional, but they are what I have taken away from watching presentations and my own personal experience of giving presentations.
Best of luck!