5/16/2007 10:56:35 PM
By Sheng Wang
Whether you will be presenting your findings at an upcoming professional conference or are preparing a slideshow for next year's Christmas party, chances are you'll need to give an informative and engaging public presentation at some point in your career. Here are a few pointers to get you started.
Most presentations are done on computers, so make sure you've mastered the basics of programs like PowerPoint and Keynote.
Maintain a logical flow of ideas. Start with a title slide, followed by a summary page. Then present any necessary background information, your data or arguments, and end with your conclusion or proposal. Include a final slide to thank and acknowledge everyone who's helped you with the project.
Keep it short and simple. A general rule of thumb is to spend no more than one minute on each slide. A presentation is not an exhaustive report, and you're required to highlight only the main points of your findings or argument. If your audience wants to know more, they can always ask questions at the end.
With multimedia presentations, choose an attractive layout and include plenty of relevant graphics. You can even add music and video clips to informal presentations, but be aware that more data will increase the risk of computer freezes and crashes. And remember the advice in Hamlet – "More matter, with less art." Don't use pointless flash as a substitute for information!
Pay attention to the details, since small errors or annoyances can make your presentation appear less professional. Make sure that the color of your text stands out clearly from the background and that the font size is easily readable from the back of the room. Check for typos and formatting errors. Use the same layout for all your slides to give your presentation a cohesive look.
Once you've put the presentation together, remember to practice, practice, practice! This will help you build confidence, which is a crucial ingredient of any successful presentation! Enlist a coworker or family member as your test audience, and ask for feedback about your content and speaking style.
Be prepared! Bring a backup disk or USB stick, laser pointer, connecting wires, and any other equipment that you might need. I've seen more than one talk derailed because of minor technical problems, so arrive early to set up and do a quick run-through. If the worst happens, make sure that you know your presentation well enough to improvise with a bit of chalk and a smile. (Another reason not to use flash as a substitute for information.)
The way you present the information is at least as important as the content itself. Speak clearly, make sure that you're audible to everyone, and try to make eye contact with individual audience members. Cracking a few jokes can be a great way to put the audience at ease, but only do this if it feels comfortable and natural. The most important thing is to find a speaking style that works for you.
Many books and websites offer advice on how to give effective speeches and presentations. You can also join your local Toastmasters club to improve your public speaking skills.
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