MU-OER Project Soft Skills- Index/Presentation Skills
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Learning Objectives
- 3 Clarity and precision
- 4 Beginning a presentation
- 5 Using PowerPoint
- 6 Interacting with the Audience
A smartly dressed, well-spoken and clear-headed individual impresses an audience with their ideas much better than someone who is shabbily dressed, is unclear in their thoughts and lacks fluency. Whether you are speaking to a classroom full of students or in a board room at a business meeting, it is very important to be presentable -- i.e., to have all the qualities in appearance and verbal delivery required to hold attention and to communicate your ideas effectively.
'Presentation Skills' includes knowledge of etiquette and body language as well as fluency, a good command over language and the ability to think and to present ideas logically in a well-structured manner and to use presentation aids such as slides and charts to your advantage.
1) Structuring ideas logically by using appropriate rhetorical strategies
2) Arranging content concisely using Powerpoint
3) Responding to continuous audience feedback
4) Cultivating the non-verbal skills required to enhance your presentation
Clarity and precision
Knowing your purpose
Foremost of all, you must know the purpose of your presentation. The purpose is not the same as the 'content' of your presentation, but what you want to achieve by communicating your ideas to your audience. For example, if you are giving information about the benefits of donating blood, you might be doing it in order to persuade people to participate in a blood donation camp. Therefore, it is obviously not enough to rattle off the reasons why blood donation is useful to others and also to the donor. The information has to be conveyed in such a manner that people overcome their inhibitions about parting with their own blood and are convinced enough rationally, emotionally and morally to donate blood at the camp. Needless to say, this requires good persuasive powers.
Thus, a good presentation is clear in its purpose and can persuade people effectively.
Organisation of ideas
Read the following paragraph:
"Aerated soft drinks are bad for health. They contain harmful toxins. In my presentation I will show how soft drinks are harmful. Many of them are aerated and these are harmful. A recent study showed how soft drinks can cause digestive problems and loss of appetite. Young people today consume these drinks almost everyday. We will see how this is affecting their health. Aerated drinks are causing even kidney stones among youngsters. We will see the effects."
This is a typical example of the way people tend to speak when their ideas are bumbling upon each other and they are unable to arrange them in a logical manner. The speech is broken and it is evident that the thoughts of the speaker are not flowing fluently. Note that the paragraph is also needlessly repetitive. It is very important that you rehearse your presentation in order to have a good command over your content and the delivery of speech.
Now compare the above paragraph with the one given below:
"Most of us are well aware that aerated soft drinks are harmful for health. Yet, we find many young people consuming them almost everyday. The effect on their digestive system and their appetites is disastrous. The ill-effects range from gastrointestinal problems to kidney stones. In my presentation I will discuss these in detail. I will also highlight the alarmingly high consumption of these toxic drinks."
This is not only a paragraph with a better sense of purpose and organisation, but also sounds adequately formal and effective. For your presentation to make the necessary impact, it must be mature in thought and expression. This maturity can be achieved only by developing clarity of thought and precision in expression.
One good way of developing fluency is to practise non-stop speaking before a mirror for five minutes everyday. Initially, you may begin without any topic and just let your ideas flow. After practising this for a few weeks, you could assign yourself a topic everyday and speak on it impromptu. If you have a device with which you can record your voice, you could review your own speech by suggesting to yourself ways of organising better what you have said in the five minutes allotted.
You may use these pointers to check the fluency of your speech and to evaluate yourself periodically (every weekend, for example):
1) How many times do you find yourself repeating an idea? Is the repetition necessary in the context of the speech?
2) How many times do you repeat certain phrases/expressions? How can you avoid the repetition?
3) How often do you add filler words like "err" and "umm"?
4) Are you able to move from one thought to the next without encountering 'blocks'?
Speak for 5 minutes on "News in the last one week".
After you have spoken, jot down comments about your performance in the following categories:
1) Recalling content -- how easily you could remember news from the past one week
2) Fluency -- what kind of stumbling blocks did you encounter while trying to remember words, construct sentences and keep the flow of your speech?
3) Organisation -- How logically did you organise points? Did your speech have a clear beginning and conclusion?
After you have carried out this self-assessment, prepare a draft of the speech on the same topic in about half an hour, carefully collecting information and writing it down in clear, flawless language. Now rehearse your speech again.
Beginning a presentation
Well begun, as they say, is half done. During a presentation, you must make sure, first of all, that you have your audience’s full attention. Your body language and your opening words must therefore make people sit up and listen to you.
- Greet your audience
Your greeting can be a formal “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen” or a simple “hello” followed by an introduction, depending on the context. To seek the audience's attention, you might precede your greeting with a polite expression like “May I have your kind attention?” or even “So, let us begin”.
- Introduce yourself
If you have not been introduced already by someone else, you must introduce yourself with your name, designation and the capacity in which you are making a presentation to a given audience. For example, if it is a classroom presentation, you might just mention your name; if it is an academic conference, you might mention your class/specialization, institutional affiliation, etc.
- Introduce your topic
Don’t beat around the bush. Spell out your topic clearly and unambiguously. “Today we shall look at how wars impact economies” or “I am here to introduce you to the fascinating world of underwater photography” immediately conveys to the audience that you know exactly what you are going to say, so it’s time to tune in.
- Give a brief outline of the structure
Highlighting the main parts into which your presentation is divided helps the audience align their expectations to what follows and ensures that they do not miss your train of thought. Similarly, you may also state right at the beginning whether you would like questions to be asked at the end or you would like the presentation to be interactive by allowing your listeners to stop you in between with queries.
Very often, the tone in which you begin – the clarity and confidence it reflects, for instance – can establish right away how effective your presentation is likely to be. Some presenters seem lost or confused in their own thoughts and are seen to flit their gaze unsteadily or glance straight at their notes or fiddle with their laptops even as they begin the presentation. Remember that any evident restlessness on the part of the presenter or a visible mark of him/her not being in complete control over the situation can put off an audience by testing their patience too far or by distracting them at a crucial moment.
A PowerPoint presentation helps you focus your audience's visual attention to details from your presentation that you wish to highlight. This ensures that they are with you throughout the presentation and that they are able to keep with the flow of your speech. A PowerPoint also helps organise your points and divide them into chunks represented by different slides. Graphs and pictures are particularly useful in making your presentation more concrete.
Arrangement of text on slides
Very often we find that presenters cram slides with words. What they are saying matches word-for-word with the matter on the slide. In such a situation, the reader either loses interest in the cluttered slide choosing to concentrate on the speech or is trying to catch up by straining himself/herself to read all that is put up on the slide.
Remember that a slide is used to help the listener grasp better what is being said. As such, it is a presentation aid and not a substitute for the commentary. Hence it must present data concisely and effectively. A reader is not expected to 'read' the slide but to quickly take in highlighted points with just one glance at the slide.
Suppose you are saying the following in your presentation on 'The Role of the Press in a Democratic Country':
"Journalists must have a sense of responsibility towards society and should avoid all practices that are directly or indirectly harmful to the welfare of the people. Although independent, the press should exercise its freedom with care. The people depend upon the media for truthful information about the events that take place around them. If they are well informed and well balanced in their opinions, they can fight the evils around them and live in harmony. It is the press that shapes popular opinion, thus playing a constructive and formative role in society. A good journalist is not a mere passive onlooker, reporter or recorder of events, but is a vehicle of a thought, an ideology and an attitude that brings about social change.
In a democracy, the press has great freedom of expression, which gives the journalist the liberty to criticize people and institutions, especially the decisions and actions taken by the government. A socially responsible press would, however, be cautious about offering healthy criticism to help the government as well as the people. It should be careful not to misuse its freedom by publishing any matter that is harmful to the progress of society. It should also not stoop to thriving on news about sex and crime. It is the responsibility of the national press to create a taste among its readers for a deeper and more meaningful order of things. For instance, a newspaper can increase its sales by highlighting details about bride burning, prostitution, juvenile delinquency or political corruption. Yet a responsible press would probe into the socioeconomic and other reasons behind such practices and probably inspire its readers to think of a possible solution to tackle them. A good editorial on drug addiction, likewise, should not only describe the phenomenon but also emphasise on its capacity to invalidate the society by paralyzing the young generation."
This is a long and a somewhat complex argument. If key points from these paragraphs are put on a slide in bullet form, they can serve as a foothold for the reader in grasping the entire matter. A slide based on the content above would look something like this:
Quotes, names, titles and statistical data must also be put up on slides.
Dos and don'ts for using PowerPoint
- Have a different slide for each sub-topic
- Change the slide just as you talk about the next point
- Except in the case of important quotations, do not read out from the slide. It's not a good idea to turn away from the audience and stare at the wall for a long minute.
- Give a brief summary of graphical data represented on slides highlighting what is relevant to the point you are making.
- Use visuals where you would like to make an abstract idea concrete, specially when it is complex or needs emphasis. For example, you could emphasize the message "save the fragile earth" with a visual of the globe held securely by a pair of hands.
- Keep font size and type consistent. Try not to use more than two font types unless necessarily.
- Use animation sparingly. If overused, it causes delays and breaks in the flow of the presentation as well as the attention of the audience.
The 'help' menu in Microsoft PowerPoint will give you a lot of tips on using PowerPoint effectively. Explore the options available to you in terms of slide design, additional features, etc. As with many other activities like cooking or painting, the more you experiment, the more you will improve!
Prepare 8-10 PowerPoint slides on any one of the following topics:
1) Media and Society
2) Eating Healthy
3) Environmental Pollution
Note that while preparing your slides, you must clearly outline the scope of your presentation, i.e., you must state what aspects of your chosen topic you will include in your presentation.
Interacting with the Audience
During a presentation, you need to constantly respond to audience feedback. Verbal feedback of course comes at the end of the presentation in the form of questions and -- at times -- criticism. However, there is a lot of non-verbal feedback flowing in even as you are presenting. Just as you yourself must make effective use of body language during the presentation, you also need to interpret the many subtle signals you receive in the form of nods, frowns, yawns, wandering gazes, quizzical expressions and so on.
- Pause for a couple of seconds after every point to let your content be absorbed. This time also helps you glance quickly at your listeners to gauge if the scenario looks encouraging.
- Never gloss over a point or get too entangled in its details. In other words, don't skip something or say it too quickly and don't make any point too long-drawn or repetitive. This will confuse or distract the audience.
- If you see your hold on the audience's attention loosening, pause and gently bring back their attention by modulating your tone, giving an example, asking a question or narrating an anecdote.
- Maintain eye contact and make sure you cover the entire audience with the range of your gaze.
- Use pleasant and assertive gestures. They make the entire presentation 'come alive'.
- It is not a bad idea, especially in a long and complex presentation, to invite the audience to ask questions during the course of the presentation itself. This breaks the monotony, brings in variation and facilitates the smooth transfer of ideas.
For more tips on effective non-verbal communication, go to our module on the topic here.