How to Survive a Presentation

In a few weeks I will be starting to teach at a college for the rest of the school year. I do this a few hours once or twice a week, so I have plenty of time left to teach my other students and to do some writing. One of the subjects that I teach my students is presentations. Students ask me sometimes how they should prepare for presentations, because they get nervous before them. I do get nervous too, but it seems to get better as you do it more. The students have presentations at work or at a congress where they present their research, their company, their art project or their cool new product.

I consider these business presentations to have many things in common with lectures. In fact, I think they are so much the same that I’m going to give you a few tips to make your presentations better. By the way, I know there are also a few readers of my articles who are teachers. So hopefully they will profit from this article as well.


Rule no. 1 Be Entertaining.

What do you need for this:

You must prepare your presentation really well. Even if you are a natural clown, actor or entertainer, at least write down or prepare in your head exactly what you will say for the first ten minutes. If you’re speaking to new people who don’t know you, you must make sure you have a strong opening. It’s up to you to open with a joke, something upsetting or with an intriguing statement that makes your audience think. What you choose depends on your style. In most cases, something funny will work really well. Of course it would be nice if your joke were connected to the rest of your presentation, but just a good laugh is the first step to winning people’s hearts.

Rule no. 2 The screen or video or whatever technical equipment you use needs to work.

Nothing is as frustrating for people to watch as a speaker whose microphone or slides fail to work. Of course it’s easy to blame the equipment or the technical staff of the venue (= building). The only person who really is responsible for the failing equipment is you of course! You should come early and check that the equipment is working. In many places that I’ve been the chance that the equipment isn’t working is as high as 30%. You must leave enough time before your presentation to try the screen, the video, the speakers, opening your software programme and even the lights, and also to be able to call a technical staff member to help you. Why is this so important? It’s not only important to prevent wasting valuable time off your presentation, but also you’ll get very nervous when things that you touch break down. As most people who have to speak in public are stressed out already, you don’t want to add to the stress.

Rule no. 3 Always bring notes

You wouldn’t be the first person who gets a blackout when the lights go on and you’re on stage. Some speakers may get nervous when they see bored and disinterested faces in the audience, or the opposite, everybody eagerly staring at you may feel as if you’re shrinking to the size of a mouse. You may also have sudden power shortages in your brain where you suddenly forgot an important name of something or other that you want to discuss in your presentation. Happens to anyone. You need to have your quick notes with exactly those names and little details that you’re apt to forget (= often forget). You don’t want to have to look through pages and pages of dense writing, though. That’s why you need a nice piece of paper (only one) with those reminders on them. Of course, besides that, you can write your whole presentation on as many papers as you like; this is for people who like to read their presentation rather than tell it. It works well for people who tend to lose the point of their presentation.

Rule no. 4 Always prepare much more material than you really need

Why? For several reasons. Your presentation is finished much earlier than you thought and you need to fill the rest of the time. Your audience may be bored with some of the subjects that you prepared for them, so you decide to skip them. Or you’ve decided that the things you prepared for them are too easy or too hard. You need a Plan B for these events. Here is a remark by a well-known speaker that I admire, the marketeer Drayton Bird, about that. He says that he has “been doing talks since 1978 and still find it terrifying. But one thing I simply cannot predict is the audience’s reaction.” It’s true, you know. The audience may be different on different days and hours, or after a small coffee break. You need the extra material so you can choose what to tell your listeners.

What can you do about butterflies?

Lastly, I’m assuming that you probably want to ask whether I have any ideas what you can do to abate (= make less) the butterflies in your stomach. I’m not sure. I heard a psychologist on the radio who advises taking a tranquilizer for people who can’t control their nerves during a presentation. She recommends seeing a doctor or psychologist to get a prescription. Don’t just buy something at the drugstore. Otherwise, I find that the butterflies never completely go away, even if you get more experienced as a speaker. There are experts who say that it’s good to feel nervous when you need to perform, because the added adrenaline makes you perform better. Anyhow, the only thing that really helps to become confident and relaxed is knowing that you’ve done everything you possibly could to prepare an interesting, entertaining and professional presentation.

Wishing you luck with your next presentation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s