Stellar Chariot

By Arun Neelakandan

How to Make and Give Quality Presentations in School or University

During my time at school and university, I’ve given and watched a fair few presentations. While I don’t profess to be a great presenter 1, I can proudly say that my presentation skills have improved — particularly my slide making skills — to the point of semi-decency.

This post will discuss delivering a decent presentation in two parts: (1) Preparation and (2) Delivery.

Preparation

Amat victoria curam (victory loves preparation)

Understand the Purpose

Why are you preparing this presentation? What are you trying to achieve? What is your message?

Your presentation should be built with the purpose clearly in mind. Once you’ve understood the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ should follow easily — kind of like a knob of butter on a warm, Teflon-coated slide (for those who like silly similes). Of course, this may involve some research, study, analysis, whatever, but now you’re guided by a rationale.

Make Awesome Slides!

Put some thought into the design of your slides. As with any quality work, craft it with attention to detail and nurture it. Make sure you pay attention to spelling and grammar. And get it proofread — preferably by someone else — if you want to avoid instances like this.

But for a good design, you need to have good content. So get good content! That means doing some solid research (that’s a post for another time).

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.

These resources have helped me immensely with the visual design:

Tools to Make Awesome Slides

Advanced Tools and Methods

In the past, I’ve used these tools to create slides:

You can also use web technology like HTML, CSS and JavaScript to create slides, using tools like:

These ‘advanced’ methods mentioned here are non-trivial to set up and use. They require some prior training to use effectively, so if you’re not already familiar with either of these, then it might be worthwhile considering some friendlier alternatives (given below). However, these two provide some powerful and attractive features to make your slides something special.

Less Technical, Friendlier Options

Here are some friendly tools that you might be already be familiar with:

Whatever tool you choose, pick one that’s comfortable to use and understand well then take your time to construct each slide2.

Avoid Causing Death by PowerPoint

Don McMillan gives an hilarious and insightful presentation about Death by PowerPoint in PowerPoint:

Preparation Tips

In short:

  • Design each slide with a purpose (avoid decoration and low-quality prebuilt templates)
  • Use visuals (e.g. high-quality photos, comic strips, mascots etc.)
  • Don’t pack too much into each slide — if you have lots to say, then spread information across multiple slides as necessary or simply just say it
  • Rehearse, then rehearse some more (try to record yourself or practice with a test audience)

Delivery

There’s so much to consider with delivery. Many aspects can be touched upon: body language, the art of rhetoric and speaking, audience interaction and so on. Most of what you’re after can be found via Google or books.

So, in this section, I’ll provide some general advice and resources that may help you with your goals.

Rather Very Useful Resources

No One Really Cares

Okay, this may not be entirely accurate. But in school and university, more often than not, you’re delivering to a largely uninterested and unwilling audience. It’ll either be a waste of your fellow classmates’ time or it’ll be entertaining. So think of this way:

  1. either you do really well and get rewarded accordingly (with popularity, grades, what have you) or
  2. you do average — which most presentations fall into — and descend into the realm of forgettability (which also isn’t really so bad in the larger scheme of things, maybe except for your ego).

The truth is that most people are not really paying that much attention.

Learn to Speak Properly

A large portion of this is just practice. See the ‘How to Speak: Lecture Tips from Patrick Winston’ link (from above) and also try Google. e.g. learn to speak properly.

Learn Basic Psychology and the Art of Persuasion

Keep learning and reading. Some useful and informative resources to get you started:

Bonus/Addendum

@esusatyo recommends that Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations deserve to be mentioned here.

Footnotes

  1. I’d rate myself as average at best. I still get very nervous when faced with the prospect of public speaking — but then again, most do.

  2. Unless you have a sharp deadline to meet!

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