“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”
– Walt Whitman
I had a public speaking teacher in college who used to sit in the back of the classroom and start to moan when the presentations got to boring. If the presentation didn’t improve she would crumple some paper and start to throw it at us, we all knew she was a total nut-job, but the cool thing was that she was always right. When she started to complain, it was only mirroring what the class was already thinking. When she was completely fed-up, we were completely bored. If the internet and the laptop had been invented yet, we would have all wandered away, instead we just stared blankly, hoping it would be over soon.
There are a bunch of things that you can do to engage your audience. Try all of these things, remember, SCIENCE IS TOUGH, GIVE THE AUDIENCE A BREAK!
- Start off the right way. Introducing yourselves is always smart, even if everyone knows you. A presentation is just like welcoming someone into your house, greet those who are in the audience as you would a guest.
- Try not to refer to other speakers with pronouns. Use names, it puts your audience at ease. Each time you introduce someone, say “[Name] will tell you more about [topic]. It let’s the audience know what is going to happen next, and who will tell them about it.
- Talk to the audience. It is good to have reference cards or screen notes, but you must engage the audience. This can be very hard and it takes practice, as you often want to have reference cards to keep yourself on task. Practice reading a sentence or two and then looking up to make sure that your audience is with you.
- Don’t read directly from the slides. It turns your back to the audience and worse often seems like you have never seen the material on the slides before.
- Speakers should come out from behind the podium. The podium and all that stuff on it often acts a crutch, it lets the speaker hide behind a protective wall of wood, glass, metal, and technology. Don’t use it this way. Move around, use your body language to make points and engage the audience. Look at them, use their faces to gauge wether or not they understand (or care) about your topic.
- If you are not presenting. Have a seat, you don’t have to stand there and feel funny. It looks odd to the audience.
- If you cannot sit, them move off to the side and look interested in what the presenter is saying. Do not engage in side conversations or distract the audience in any way.
- Watch out for “you knows”, “ahs”, “likes” and “ums”.
- These are unavoidable when you first begin speaking in front of audiences, it will pass. Just be aware of it, and each time you speak it will become less frequent.
- If you get nervous or confused about what you want to say next, take a break and have a sip of water. Ask if the audience has any questions while you think and get back on track.
- If you want to take a quick audience survey, use a show of hands. An audience will often raise their hands before they speak.
- Don’t throw questions out there and then wait for someone to answer as this gets awkward quickly. Have a backup plan, “let’s see a show of hands…”, often works.
- Practice the entire presentation with all of the presenters there. Look for redundancy and remove it from the overall presentation.
- If you are nervous when giving a presentation be sure to separate nervous laughter from actual laughter. The audience does not see the difference, so if you talk about robberies where people are killed, and you laugh, even if it is just nervous laughter, it will be misinterpreted.
- Never guess at answers to questions you don’t know. Just admit you don’t know and you will look it up and get back to them. There is no way that you can know all the answers, the audience will understand.
- If you feel it is something that you absolutely think you know, but are a little unsure, tell the audience that you are speculating, and you and they will have to check your answer.
- Restate questions; it give you time to think and also let’s the questioner know that you understand what they are asking. This way the the whole audience understands both the question and your response.
Presentations are hard work and in allot of ways you are out there alone in front of a group, opening up in ways that can be difficult for you and the audience. The challenges and mistakes that I see are pretty common and I have identified some of those. With a little preparation and review you can avoid most of these issues, and present difficult material in a way that engages your audience. Most of the items below really boil down to the trust between you and your audience. A presentation is an agreement between you and them. You promise that you understand and have researched what you are presenting and they give you their time and attention.
It is a great opportunity for you and them. Don’t waste it.
- Use standard referencing. Each slide’s contents must have a small, but identifiable reference on it. At the end your last slide should be the list of all of the references used throughout the presentation. This way you only need author year, on the individual slides.
- Use this site as a guide for how references should be formatted: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/public/InstructionsForAuthors.aspx#References
- Break up complex items into smaller diagrams, tables or slides. You are asking the audience to digest lots of information at a time. Break complex ideas down into understandable parts.
- Avoid spelling errors in slides. It just puts the viewer off; they immediately distrust you if there is sloppy unchecked work in the presentation.
- Any visual, chart or graphic must have the reference directly on the slide. If you took the material from somewhere else, then be sure to give them credit. This way you do not get into trouble.