PhD Survival Guide; How to prepare for a presentation

Oral presentations terrify many of us. Even confident extroverts would often avoid presenting a long speech. However, for better or worse presentations are a key part of a PhD and academia. These presentations include proposal discussions, conferences, three minute thesis, and the big one… the Viva! At the start of your PhD you will likely have a decent amount of time to prepare for presentations (don’t take this time for granted!). While you have the time it is useful to prepare for presentations as this will help you practice skills for future presentations when you are much more time poor. So these are my tips for preparation…

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3/4 weeks before- Write your presentation out. Word for word. A general rule of thumb is to 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. I find it is useful to write it out exactly how you want to say it rather than just dot points. Although you will not likely remember it word for word, this provides a good basis. During this week you could also start creating your powerpoint slides if you are using them.

2 weeks before- Make cue cards by printing out the word document and glueing sections onto system cards. Then use the cue cards to start practicing the presentation out aloud. After practicing a couple of times you can record your presentation using the voice recorder on your phones. Recording yourself allows you to time how long the presentation is and to listen to the recorded speech so many times that it will become ingrained in your mind. My favourite places to listen to the recordings are before bed and in the car. Also, the iphone voice recorder displays vocal frequencies which will show you if your voice has variance throughout your speech. Also don’t worry, everybody hates their recorded voice- it isn’t just you. 

1 week before- Practice the presentation in front of someone else- your partner, parents, friends, dog, fish, plants etc. Then keep practicing to yourself, in front of a mirror, in the shower, in the car. 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 feel when you are presenting in front of the audience.

 2 days before- Practice the presentation in front of colleagues. Also read the presentation before I went to sleep- again this helps it get stuck in your brain. Try to not make any large changes to the presentation this close to the day. 

Day before- Practice once or twice more, that is it. Try your hardest not to think about the presentation before going to sleep. 

On the day- Get up early and put on a professional outfit. Try to keep your morning habits the same as you normally do to trick your mind into thinking that it is just another day. Arrive to the location of your presentation early. Then, just before your presentation do some power poses (these are poses similar to what Superman or Wonder woman 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!

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