Here's How To Make Your Next Class Presentation Your Best Yet

Public speaking, while a staple of the academic experience and a necessity for the workplace, can be terrifying. And when I say terrifying, I don't mean anxiety-inducing or stressful- I mean genuinely horrific. In fact, among Americans public speaking ranks as scarier than heights, snakes, drowning, needles, and clowns. Glossophobia sufferers would rather go toe-to-toe with a python than a podium. However, here at SMU, you have to get that oral communication proficiency pillar. So here are some tips for presenting if you're one of those who finds public speaking scarier than student debt. 


1. Choose material you care about.  You don't always have free reign over your subject matter, but try to gear your focus towards a topic you actually enjoy discussing. Obviously, you'll be more excited to talk if you have something genuine to say about the issue. Hate your assigned topic? Find ways to make it fun! Use metaphors, pop culture references, and interesting illustrations to flesh out an otherwise boring speech. For example, in your presenation about deficit spending, open with a joke that the U.S  has "more debt than Kanye West." (Obviously match the tone of your course and material, though. Don't force anything that doesn't make sense or doesn't belong.) The point is, if you're looking forward to your presentation, or at least parts of it, you're way more likely to be excited- instead of nervous. 

2. Plan it out. 

Some of the worst presenations fail because of lack of preparation. It doesn't matter that you planned "in your head" what you wanted to say- you should write it out. Even if you can't bring notes on presentation day, you'll be better off for having studied a concrete plan. Writing out which ideas go where gives you a visual notion of the flow of the speech. When you examine your speech from this angle, you can easily identify missing ideas or repeated ones. Also, you'll be able to discern whether the ideas logically flow or not. Plan everything, not just your main points. Plan your transitions as well as time for questions and extra explaination so the whole speech flows seamlessly. 

3. Be flexible. This seems to contradict tip #2, but hear me out. So you have your plan, you're ready to go, and the person before you does a great job explaining an idea that you were planning on discussing in your own presentation. The temptation is to stick to your originial presentation plan, but don't if that means repeating exactly what someone else just said. Instead, respond to their analysis. Far too often, we give presentations while pretending we're in an isolated space. It's okay to acknowledge the audience, the professor, and the presenters before and after you. In fact, this shows that you're listening and responsive, instead of robotic. So say something like, "The group before us explained this concept really well. All that I would add is...." to both add your own ideas and avoid needless repetition.

4. Carry a timer. 

Ok, so now you're excited, prepared, and responding to the changing needs of the audience. Don't let yourself get thrown by the time limit. There's nothing worse than someone getting cut off mid-sentence because they didn't manage their time. Practice your entire presentation a couple of times so you know exactly how long it is. Practice doing it for friends so that they can comment on your speed and demeanor. On presentation day, bring a timer with you to the front of the room. Set it down somewhere easily visible, and keep track of your time throughout your speech. This way, you can pace yourself the entire presentation. If you know a concept should take two minutes to explain, you know when to move on to the next concept. This way, you won't be shocked by the "one minute left" warning.