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Oral presentations

Speaking tips

A large part of the impact of your presentation is made by your voice and body language, yet people generally focus their preparation on content. Make sure you allocate some time to considering and practising your speaking skills and body language.

Voice

Good voice control and clear articulation are essential for an effective oral presentation. You should also think about varying your pitch, volume, pace, expression and intonation, to keep the audience engaged.

Your voice can be constricted by tightness in the rest of your body. Try to relax if you notice tension in your body, such as tightness, clenching or locking.

Deep breathing exercises are useful to allow you to relax and develop maximum lung capacity.

If you’re from a language background other than English, making your meaning clear to the audience is more important than correct grammar and pronunciation when you speak. To help clarify your meaning you can:

  • repeat your points using different words
  • use written language for important keywords, for example on PowerPoint slides
  • use visual support such as pictures, tables and diagrams
  • use hand gestures
  • make a list of the most important technical terms for your presentation, and practise their pronunciation beforehand
  • speak more slowly than you would in your first language.

Body language

Your body language is important to engage an audience. If you look confident and comfortable while presenting, you will put the audience at ease.

Think about your stance and posture, hand and body movement, and your facial expressions. Try to make eye contact with different people.

When practising you could try recording yourself. You may notice distractions such as frequently saying ‘um’, annoying body or hand movements, speaking too quickly or obscuring visuals.

Managing stress and nerves

It’s normal to feel nervous or anxious before and during giving a presentation in front of an audience.

Stress hormones (such as adrenaline in the short term, or cortisol in the long term) can be useful as they make you feel alert and energetic. They can also have negative effects too, which make it difficult to deliver a presentation.

To reduce effects such as shaking, sweating and difficulty concentrating, you can try the following strategies.

  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee or energy drinks.
  • Do some vigorous physical exercise a day or two before your presentation. This can lower your levels of stress hormones.
  • Use positive self talk (for example, “I’ve done the preparation and I know the topic – it will be okay”).
  • Visualise the presentation being successful.
  • Think about your strengths as a presenter.
  • Focus on the friendly faces in the audience.
  • Take some water with you in case your mouth gets dry. It also gives you an excuse to take a little break for a sip of water.
  • Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in and that are appropriate for the situation.
  • Practise your talk beforehand with a friend.
  • Make your notes very simple and easy to read, with keywords instead of sentences.
  • Attend a practice workshop on presentations.
  • Join a public speaking club, such as Toastmasters.
  • If you’ll be presenting in a new place, go there beforehand to become familiar with it.

Find more information on overcoming stress and anxiety.

Resources

For more help developing your presentation skills, you could attend a Learning Centre workshop or look at the Learning Centre’s online resources.

Learning Centre (Camperdown Campus)

Address
  • Room 722, Level 7, Education Building, Camperdown Campus
Opening hours
9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Learning Centre (Cumberland Campus)

Address
  • Ground Floor, Building A, Cumberland Campus, Lidcombe
Opening hours
By appointment
Last updated: 19 July 2018

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