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Preparing an Effective Presentation: A Practical Guideline

Parlindungan Pardede
Universitas Kristen Indonesia

A presentation is simply a type of public communication in which the presenter uses words with or without visual aids. The goals of doing a presentation vary from providing information, communicating research results, giving instruction, selling a plan, product or idea, or accomplishing a combination of these things. In a scientific forum, a presentation is used to share, discuss, test research results, or develop idea, or skills.

To perform an effective presentation, you should make a careful preparation. You can do it by doing the following 6 steps.

1. Determine your goal and know your topic
It is said that “Nothing is as necessary for success as the single-minded pursuit of an objective“. Thus, the first thing and the biggest challenge you face in preparing a presentation is to define the purpose of the presentation and determine how to reinforce this purpose. In the context of presenting a research report, you should also make sure that you have really mastered the content of the subject of your presentation (your undergraduate thesis, in the case of making presentation for oral examination). You should also know where to locate certain information in your research report. Suppose an audience would like to know more about the participants of your research, make sure you can directly refer to a specific section (pages) in your report.

2. Know your audience
Please note that you can never speak effectively to people without first understanding their perspective. Therefore, you need to ask yourself the following questions before making the presentation. Who are the audiences? Where are they from? Why do they attend this presentation? What do they expect from this presentation?

3. Organize your materials
Generally, oral presentations should be organized into: (1) an introduction that ends with your main point and a preview of the rest of the talk, (2) a main body, and (3) conclusions (and recommendations). The introduction should clearly tell the audience what the presentation will cover so that the audience is prepared for what is to come. The body should develop each point stated in the introduction. The conclusion should restate the ideas presented and emphasize the purpose of the presentation. It usually answers the questions, “So what?”

4. Choose and design visual aids to reinforce your meaning
Since we live in a time when communication is visual and verbal, visual aids are as important to oral communication as they are to written communication. Visual aids (1) help your audience understand your ideas; (2) show relationships among ideas; (3) help the audience follow your arguments [your “train” of thought]; and (4) help your audience remember what you said. In addition, visual aids also make a presentation more persuasive, more professional, and more interesting.
To help you design your visual aids (i.e.) slides effectively, apply the “Ten Commandments for Making powerful and effective Slides” at the second section of this guideline.

5. Establish Rapport with Your Audience
Building a rapport with your audience is one of the most important things you must learn if you wish to give an effective presentation. When you have established rapport with your audience, your presentation will flow smoothly and effectively because the audiences are now your partners in your presentation. As your partners, they’ll want you to succeed. They’ll overlook your nervousness and lack of polish. They’ll laugh at your jokes though they’ve heard it before. The followings are some tips you can use to build a rapport with your audience.

a. Get to know the audience
If have never made a contact with your audience, it’s very important to arrive early. Spend around 10 minutes introducing your-self to the gathering people. Have a brief talk with them. Who are they? What do they wish to gain by being there today? Or even, what do they do for a living? This is an effective way to put people at ease. You may only speak with 5% of the audience, but they in turn will talk to people there and by word of mouth people almost feel like they know you. This will not only build rapport but help break the ice.

b. Treat Every Person as an Individual
Even if the audience has hundreds of people, deal with each audience member individually. If you’re dealing with somebody in particular in the audience, look that person in the eye and listen attentively. One study has shown that in a presentation the most important word is you. So use it as much as you like. In addition, whenever possible, use names. Naturally, we all like to hear our names because being addressed personally makes us feel valued and recognized. So before starting to answer somebody, ask him/her: And your name is?

c. Use eye contact
Eye contact is essential if people are to feel important. So be sure to look your audience in the eye, especially when addressing a particular person. But also don’t forget to take in the entire group with your gaze. Don’t address only those people in the first row.

d. Speak the language of the audience.
With lecturers, use the common terms used in their fields. Use the word RAM to computer lover and watch their eyes light up. When speaking to associations learn if they are called clients, members, associates, delegates or true believers.

e. Ask rhetorical questions
If you’re dealing with a very large audience, every once in a while ask the audience a rhetorical question. This type of question forces a mental response. So, when not speaking directly to all audience members, with a rhetorical question a presenter can establish a connection with each individual.

f. Ask direct questions
If your audience is small (less than thirty people), instead of asking rhetorical questions, ask specific audience members direct questions. This way one can easily perceive the mood of those individuals while also triggering interest in all. An audience member never knows when he/she may be asked the next question.

g. Smile!
Smiles are universal and very effective means of creating rapport. If you smile, your audiences will naturally smile back at you. Remember that your audiences are a mirror of you, the speaker. If you think your audience looks miserable, it’s because you are making them miserable.

6. Practice! Practice! Practice!
After knowing what you are going to do and have an end result to aim for, it’s time to practice. Arrange some short rehearsals in the run up to your final performance. Remember that every good actor or actress spend a lot of time to prepare through practices before making the performance. It’s true that practices make perfect. Jacobi (in Wallwork, 2010, p. 2) emphasized the essence of practice by saying: “Ninety per cent or more of preparation is typically devoted to content. Countless hours go into creating and fine-tuning the presentation materials, and whatever time there is left over—if there is any time left over—is reserved for practice. Yet how you practice can literally make or break your presentation. Keep in mind that a lot of presentations die on the vine (i.e. are not effective at all) because they aren’t rehearsed properly, or they’re never rehearsed at all.

Ten Commandments for Making Powerful and Effective Slides

1. Thou shall not use a template containing distracting items
PowerPoint is software designed as a convenient way to display graphical information that would support the speaker and supplement the presentation through slides. Remember that you are the presenter, not your slides. People came to hear you and be informed or moved (or both) by you and your message. Slides are merely a visual tool to support your presentation. So, don’t let your message and your ability to tell a story spoiled by slides that are unnecessarily complicated, busy, or full of junks. Wallwork (2010, p. 8) accentuated that you need to create a slide only if it does one or more of the these four objectives: (1) to make an explanation less complicated and quicker; (2) to help people to visualize and recall something better; (3) to make something abstract become more concrete; and (4) to attract attention or entertains the audience (but only in a way that is relevant to your topic). If a potential slide does not do any of the above, then you probably do not need to create it.

—To get the full paper, click here.

—To see a sample of a complete presentation slides, click this Using the Explicit Teaching Approach to Improve EFL Learners’ Pronunciation or to download it, click here.