Tips for Effective Academic Presentations
Grinnell College Writing Lab
1. Prepartion before you speak/present your paper
- Familiarize yourself with the environment of the room in which you will speak (size of the room, quality of microphone, height of the lectern, etc.)
- Dress appropriately for the event and the audience.
- Know whether you will speak seated or standing.
- Make sure all the equipment works and that you know how to use it (VCR, projector, microphone, etc.).
- Do a sound check to know how loudly you need to speak, amplified or not, to be heard at the back of the room.
- If you are using screens of text, check that your font size (at least 28 pt.) makes reading from the back of the room easy.
- Understand that for an audience it's easier to read something than hear it. When we read, we can return to a previous section for review; when we are listening, we have to get it the first time. Thus, anything you can do to give us aural signals and cues about where we are in the speech really helps:
- clearly articulate your research question and/or claim
- clearly move us from main point to main point
- clearly tell us what you have told us (conclusion)
- Consider carefully what you can assume about the audience's knowledge of your topic and what needs to be explained. Are you speaking to a group of experts or a more generally educated audience? Are there terms that need to be defined?
- If you are reading a paper, print it off in a large font, double or triple spaced. Insert directions to yourself such as "pause" or "enunciate clearly."
2. Before you begin to speak
- Adjust the microphone to the proper position (which you will know from previous practice). Be conscious of where the microphone is, but do not lean into it. You should be close enough to get the benefit of the enhanced volume, but not so close that the system gives off feedback. If you hear your p's and b's bouncing back at you, step back a little from the mic.
- Take a couple of deep breaths, look for a friendly face in the crowd, feel encouraged and perhaps try a smile of your own. Assume the persona of "confident, interesting speaker." Yes, much of what you are going to do next is called ACTING. That's OK.
3. Mindfulness as you present
- Be relaxed, but maintain good posture. Stand up straight and hold your head up straight. Try not to shift your weight from leg to leg.
- When we get even a little anxious or stressed, we often start breathing shallowly. Instead, remember to breathe regularly and deeply.
- Use hand gestures sparingly. Too much use of the hands and repetitive motions distract from what you are saying.
- Maintain eye contact with the audience in all parts of the room. If you are speaking to a large group, you might look at various sections of the room in turn. For a small audience, brief eye to eye contact with audience members makes them feel very engaged with you.
- Use your finger or a note card to keep your place while you are reading. Doing so will allow you to confidently raise your head from the page and engage with the audience. Speak slowly and articulate your words clearly. It's amazingly easy to lose an audience because you're going too fast or because they miss key words altogether.
4. Audio-visual supports
- If you are using text on slides, make sure to keep text to single words or short phrases. Follow the 6 x 6 rule: a maximum of six lines per slide and six words per line. Use short, active phrases only, not complete sentences.
- If using graphs and/or tables, keep them simple and uncluttered. Focus on important information; for example, remember to name the variables on both axes of a graph and state the significance of th position and shape of the graph line.
- A-V should support and reinforce what you're saying, not introduce main points for you.
- Follow the general guideline of one slide per one minute of presentation.
- Don't introduce any slide or other A-V support until you're ready for the audience to see it, read it, etc. Their attention will go immediately to that slide or other visual. This is especially true for written handouts.
5. Questions from the audience
- You may have been given a time limit for your preseentation. Honor it.
- Often the audience is encouraged to ask questions following a talk. If they do, answer their questions as concisely and clearly as you can.
- Don't feel that you have to know all answers. "I'm not entirely sure about that" or "that topic was beyond the scope of my research" or "that's a great thing to think about" are all legitimate responses.
- If you don't understand a question, either re-phrase it yourself or ask the questioner to do so.
- Again, honor the time limits for Q and A.
6. After it's all over
- Reward yourself! (And do start breathing again if you've stopped!)
- If you want it, ask for constructive feedback from someone you trust: e.g., tell me one thing (specifically) that I did well and one thing I could do better next time.