A presentation is given by a person or group of people for a particular audience or group. There is variation due to the presenters, and variation because of the audience group. The presentation is limited in time (perhaps 15 or 20 minutes) and it differs from teaching because it does not include a methodology of questions and answers (it is one way communication) until a set question and answer time after the actual presentation.
The presentation may or may not be of a report. But should it be like a report? No. There is a difference. A report uses dry, formal language, long sentences and explanations, and highly detailed examples. These should not be repeated in a presentation. A presentation needs:
- Everyday language and short sentences
- Headlines, highlights and rapid points
- Short selected examples only
- Reduced technical language
- Little jargon
- Direct words
- Positive tone
- Consistent tone
- A humorous touch
- Training and development
- Information updates
Faciliating information amongst the group
They are also used to:
- Enhance communication skills
- Give students practice
- Enhance communication amongst students
A good presentation should be:
- Aimed at the level of understanding of the audience group
- Aimed at the type of audience group
- Well sequenced from start to finish
- Involving the audience's interest through visual/ auditory teaching aids
A bad presentation would mean:
- Someone droning on (which the audience suffers)
- Pitched too difficult or too easy
- Entertainment without relevant content
- Slavish dependency on one presentation technique (eg Powerpoint slides)
Obviously there is intended content to the presentation because one is going to be given. A presentation will be best that is interesting to the presenter. This will come over. The question is about how to turn that into material for a limited period, that is logical in sequence and keeps the audience group interested. So there needs to be:
- Research/ gathering
- Presentation method and teaching aids
- Writing it
- Confidence in the preparatory stage
- Room layout
So to tackle these one by one...
It helps if there is an interest in the topic being presented. It will be noticed. If this is too much, then there needs to be enough material to gather to make a good job.
There needs to be research into the topic with material gathered that can be made appropriate to the audience level and time length of the presentation. There needs to be preparatory discussion with other presenters and with information suppliers or guidance people (like tutors) as to the level and appropriateness of the material. There needs to be an economical information search (eg Internet, libraries). There needs to be access to IT to put the presentation together, as usually IT is needed these days to put one together. If there is a group carrying out the presentation the material should be gathered into one place with a meeting to decide the way forward and who should be responsible for which sections.
- Gather plenty
- Remember time constraints
- Gather appropriately and don’t waste time
- Use plenty of sources
- Discuss with those in the know and presenting colleagues
Selection is as much about removing material as keeping it. It is like the editing after the information acquisition. A presentation is never going to do more than touch the surface of content and outline the subject area. It is going to be akin to headlines and first paragraphs in newspapers.
Remove what is excess
Make sure there is enough for writing up and the audience level
This is where the audience group comes in matters a great deal, regarding the choice of terminology and need to retain interest. A presentation method is obviously decided as part of the preparation.
Variety helps. Obviously if the presentation is 15 minutes only then there cannot be much variety. But try a graph or picture, and if this presentation uses an overhead projector, then say use a flip chart once. These effectively teaching aids can be thought of as like punctuation marks. It is important that these should support and not become dominant. For example flashy high tech presentation techniques can end up running the presentation when a simple approach would have been quicker and more communicative. In other words, there is then too much supporting material and diversion from the core need to get across the main points. Not everyone appreciates additional stimulation. Professors need less stimulation than students, for example (although professors are prone to sleep in the afternoon).
Statistics used should be obvious! Diagrams should not confuse. One technique is to make a high point of origin on the graph - curves get steeper! However, here lies another danger. In bending information to make a point, do not be accused of misrepresenting the data. Overhead projector acetates should be constructed so that they are very easy to read and that they do not contain too much information.
- Who is it for?
- What level of technical or “in” language?
- What level of support helps retain attention
- Is the support clear or distorting?
There should be an introduction, the main content and a conclusion. The introduction should be the main idea. This should be crystal clear and said in as few lines as possible. Everyone should know where the presentation is heading. A good idea also at this stage is to write this short introduction in a manner that directly appeals to their interest and involvement.
As people who are likely to work in the tourist industry it is important that we appreciate the particular problems of eco-tourism in regions of the world [pause] and today we are looking at Thailand and its relationship to the rest of South East Asia.
Speech is a notoriously difficult medium to remember. This is why a presentation needs supporting aids. But it also needs to be bite-size in information transmitted followed by recaps. This is called reinforcement. So each important point needs breaking down to be understood and then reinforcing (this sentence reinforces the point!).
One point should lead to another by a bridge technique. This can be a recap, followed by a resulting dilemma in the form of a question, to then moving on to the new point (which will itself need recapping).
So hotels rise rapidly in Bangkok taking away land for local homes. But at least, you may say, that the locals will get jobs. But do they? Well we only need to realise that in Hong Kong workers are already better suited to meeting the international nature of tourism in this area
Hong Kong Chinese people live an international life. Historically, being a centre of finance and trade, and once in the British Empire, they do learn English and orientate themselves internationally. And so they provide a ready workforce for nearby developing tourist areas.
The ending should reiterate every point. It should never introduce new material. It should be quick and come to a clear end.
- A presentation needs a beginning, main part and end
- The beginning must get interest, attention and signpost
- The main part should be bite-size plus recaps
- Each section in the main part should move on with narrative bridges
- Supporting materials must be unambiguous
- The end should conclude only and come to a firm finish
Confidence in the Preparatory stage
The sentences above suggest a presentation written out in full. This can be one method, but it leads to large sheets of paper and bad eye contact with the audience. So an alternative is cards. They can be written as prompts, and if the material being presented is well known the result in terms of flow of speech and eye contact is a great improvement in the presentation. Some people use the next overhead projector slide as a prompt for further words. The danger in this is that one ends up repeating the lines of the overhead projector. It is important for the speaker to look away from the OHP and, with an eye on the clock, to talk!
Check the room beforehand. See if the seating can be arranged the day before. If not, preparation will necessarily be last minute.
Makes sure everyone can see the speaker. A small group may prefer to gather round a table, with one side vacant. Groups may sit at tables, so there should only be three seats in the four spaces (no one with their backs to the speaker). A large group may sit in horseshoe fashion.
Avoid using a lectern if possible and other physical barriers. Lighting should be good. Stand most of the time and avoid twitches and other distracting behaviours. The wiring should be health and safety friendly. Pens should be accessible and flipcharts ready. Nothing should impede the smooth flow of the presentation to come.
Is it possible to rehearse? If it is, only rehearsal will show the pitfalls of the preparation so far and also give the best assessment of the timing. After rehearsal, change things!
It is worth planning ahead for what questions may arise. Some people will ask genuine questions, others think for good reason or other that they know more about the topic than the speaker/s or that they have read more. At least consider answers in advance, for example if they discovered a website or book that has been missed as reply might be, "I'll make a note of that for future work, perhaps you can tell me more about it." Oops, boot on the other foot that way.
Doing the actual presentation raises a number of matters to be dealt with at the time.
Speaking and presenting
Start well and grab attention. This is a matter of preparation of course but also emply a tone of voice that takes command.
Have a good picture in mind what is going to happen just before and while you do it. Public speaking is often a skill of living in the present (the speech) and the future (what comes next) and the skill is doing both at the same time.
- Be clear and logical
- Maintain good eye contact
- Make it look like each person listening matters
- Punch the points and be reasonably dramatic
If there is a loss of confidence or loss of place, try to keep going though some ad-libbing whilst it returns or use a crutch (the acetate, the notes, perhaps a back up sheet of notes was made). Try to get off the crutch as soon as possible. Everyone has stage fright and there is no perfect presentation.
If equipment does not work or stops working, or suddenly you realise that say slides are in the wrong order, can the problem be ignored? Very often it can, as supporting media is just that.
Try to ad-lib anyway to help the flow, but watch the clock.
If it looks like a presentation is going to overrun, then find something to truncate or even cut out. There is a skill in speaking while looking ahead at the content.
Give signals to the presenting colleague whose turn may be approaching, especially if there is a large amount of ad-libbing in terms of speech. The handover should be as smooth as possible.
The presentation should come to a firm halt.
Questions and answers
Let people know before the presentation begins that questions can be asked afterwards. Occasionally they may interrupt, but decide whether this is what is wanted. if not, say that questions will be taken at the end!
Questions help to...
- Involve the audience
- Get their attention in advance for later
- Give them a sense of involvement
- Show the speaker's confident knowledge
- Finds agreements and disagreements
Questioners have several motives, not all of which are pure as the driven snow. So it is quite possible to detect what kind of question is being asked. Some people genuinely ask something simply because they want to know more information or follow up the taster the presentation offered. Some think that they can match the presentation without the preparation, and the questions will be oneupmanship. Some go further and just want to put the other point of view, and then the questions are persistent (one answer leading to another). Others are almost showing off.
So the different motivations behind questions give rise to the...
- Genuine question
- Competitive question
- Oppositional question
- Relentless question
- limelight question
It is professional, however, to regard each neutrally if possible. However, questioners obviously need handling and it is a question of management, so offer the chance to ask questions to anyone else, make the answers shorter, or call time if need be.
Nevertheless questions are likely to be:
- Could you say more about? (genuine)
- Explain more because I don't understand (genuine)
- Where is that information from? (competitive?)
- Is that reliable? (competitive?)
- Do you know this work? (oppositional)
- Have you heard of Mr Very Obscure who says...? (oppositional, limelight)
- You are wrong about... (oppositional, relentless)
- You've not answered my point.. (relentless)
- But that is not the issue is it? (relentless, limelight)
- What is your authority? (limelight)
- This material is available to anyone who looks (limelight)
Handling questions well and answering them from a position of authority by command of the subject enhances and rounds off a presentation, so the questions (which often get the most interest) can be the most successful part of the presentation and round it off well.
The research that went into the presentation, the material in the background, the narrative of the presentation and the issues raised by the questions can all be used towards creating a larger written piece of work.
Eastwood, J. (1998), Presentation Skills, Leicester: De Montford University Library, Student Learning Development Centre.