Oral presentations terrify many of us. Even confident extroverts would often avoid presenting a long speech- but in many subjects, university courses and careers, public speaking is an important component. This is particularly true in academia… I mean we have conference presentation in front of hundreds of people. I already have nightmares about my first conference, although it will probably not be for a few years. As part of my first year as a PhD student I had to present my research proposal in a half an hour presentation. So I thought this experience would be a good chance to reveal how I prepared for the presentation and provide some tips for you all to take on board.
3 weeks before- I was lucky that I had a long time to prepare for this presentation (I know this is not always the case). At the 3 week point I wrote the first half of my presentation (which was an adaption of my written proposal), as I cannot write my second half until I get feedback (a week before the presentation). As a guide write 150 words per minute that you have to speak. Edit the script a few times before you even begin to practice speaking it out aloud. In this week, I also made the powerpoint presentation and spilt my speech up into sections to correspond with the slides.
2 weeks before- I was reasonably happy with how the first half of my presentation was written, so I made cue cards.To make my cue cards I printed out my word document and glued sections onto system cards. I then started to practice speaking the presentation out aloud. When I had practiced a couple of times I recorded the speech using the voice recorder on my iphone. Recording yourself allows you to time the presentation, and to listen to the recorded speech so many times that it will become ingrained in your mind (my favourites are before bed & in the car). Also, the iphone voice recorder displays vocal frequencies which will show you if your voice has tone and depth throughout your speech.
1 week before- I received my feedback and after I was happy with my responses, I integrated them into my presentation and again started practicing the new (full length) script. I did my first complete run through in front of someone else (my mum) on Saturday which was 5 days before the real deal! I impressed myself and knew the speech better than I thought. Every day I have practiced the speech at least once- mainly in front of the mirror, this allows you to see your posture, hand gestures and facial expressions (it is important to try to smile as often as possible- without being over bearing!). Another tip is to practice the presentation whilst wearing the shoes, you will be wearing on the day. This allows you to get used to how you will be feeling when you are presenting in front of the audience.
2 days before- I practiced the presentation with the powerpoint to my two office girls! They provided helpful feedback and I made a couple of slight changes to the speech and slides. I also read the presentation before I went to sleep- again this helps it get stuck in your brain.
Day before- I practiced the presentation to the office girls again- they really are saints listening to my half an hour presentation again without falling asleep! I also practiced the presentation with my partner after dinner. I tried my hardest not to think about the presentation before going to sleep, however I did feel anxious and had less sleep than I would have liked. However, this is normal!
On the day- I got up early and put on a professional outfit. We are not required to, however I feel more qualified and confident if I am wearing professional clothes. I also arrived at uni early to have a coffee and breakfast, like I normally would- to trick myself into thinking it was a normal day. I practiced the speech one last time to my uni girls, AGAIN! (Seriously, they are wonderful). I then did some power poses (these are poses similar to what Superman or Wonderwoman would do). If you are a fan of Grey’s Anatomy you would have seen Amelia Shepherd do them before surgery. A senior academic who ran a workshop about public speaking also talked about the benefits of doing power poses before a presentation to make you feel more confident. Most importantly just before you start the presentation- take a deep breath and smile!
I wish you all the best in any future presentations…remember practice makes perfect!