Delivering Speeches and Making Presentations

You have to make a presentation or a speech for a class and you are uncomfortable about speaking in public. Avoiding the discomfort is not the answer. Being prepared will make you feel more confident. These tips work for any size audience and any type of presentation short of juggling. If that is what you have to do, you are on your own!

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Preparation – As Mark Twain said, “It usually takes about three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Figure on about one hour of preparation time for each minute of presentation time. Organize your speech or presentation into blocks:
1. Introduction – What is this speech about? Why is the information useful to your audience?

  1. Body – Provide background, if necessary, and draw conclusions based on your research. Give your audience some supporting data to prove or support your conclusion.
  2. Summary – Tell them what you just told them, stress those key points and conclusions and remind your audience why what you just told them is important. your key points again, conclude with how important this issue is and why.
  3. Allow Time for Questions and Answers if it is appropriate to do so. Limit Q&A to a few questions and then tell your audience you will be available after class if they still have questions.

Use an outline for your speech or presentation (put your notes on index cards; DO NOT WRITE it verbatim or you will end up READING the speech). Use your cards to keep track of time by timing your speech and then writing the minutes on each card, so you know if you are taking too long, going too fast, etc.).

When you rehearse your presentation, remember that rehearsal time is about 20% faster than your delivery should be. Try to rehearse in front of other people so they can tell you if you are talking too fast (which most people do when they are nervous and just want to get off the stage).
Don’t be afraid to be light hearted. If you can’t tell a joke and pull it off, don’t try, but don’t be so serious that you put your audience to sleep.
Look at your audience to make a connection. Don’t just stare at the wall or at your notes.
Keep your presentation simple and use your own style. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Don’t use big words. Find a common denominator and use that to get the audience on your side. If you are all students, that should be easy!

Use graphics, PowerPoint or other helpful aids to give your presentation some punch and ensure that your points are made in pictures and or bullet points. Don’t fill your slides with too much detail using a small font. No one can see those eye charts from the back of the room!

Don’t audition for a Tennessee Williams play. Don’t try to act overly dramatic or emotional. Speak in the same tone and style you would normally use when you are talking to one person, but be sure you are heard at the back of the room, if the room is large.

Ask questions of the audience to get them involved. You can ask them to raise their hands or take a vote on something. That way you know they are paying attention. If you screw up, just take a deep breath and keep going. Remember that you are all learning and everyone is going to be as nervous as you are.

Get feedback from your professor and from other students if you feel they will be honest with you. That way you can improve the next time you make a presentation or speech. If you are not comfortable hearing the feedback in person, ask the audience and/or professor to write their thoughts on a piece of paper and give them to you after class.


Katherine Harrison

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