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How to get top marks in your oral presentation

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Not everyone was born with amazing public speaking skills, but like it or not the chances are in your adult life you will have to make oral presentations on a regular basis, or at least from time to time. Presentations don’t have to be a nightmare though, if you know how to tackle them.

With the end of term and deadlines approaching, it's likely that your oral presentation skills are going to be put to the test sooner rather than later. Here's how to get over those nerves and bag yourself a top grade.

1. Before

Prepare. The more you know on the topic you’re presenting the more confident you will feel, but don’t learn the entire presentation by heart (unless you’re really nervous and there is no other way). It’ll take a lot of time and you’ll sound unnatural.

Instead, prepare little cards with main points (not the entire script!) to keep yourself on track. There is nothing worse than people reading presentation off their notes.

Make sure the content is well-researched, relevant and informative. Your presentation needs a structure: an introduction, arguments and a conclusion, and there should be a logical flow between one and another. You can use some anecdotes and ‘real life’ examples to make the complicated concepts more comprehensible and to win a smile or two from the audience. But remember: jokes and stories are to be used only when relevant.

Think about your audience and adjust your style. Should it be formal/chatty/academic? Getting the tone right is essential.

Use visual aids whenever possible. Power Point is always welcome. Slides help you remember the main points (like notes, but do not overload them with text) and you can make your presentation look pro by adding charts, graphs etc. - not excessively though, and only if necessary.

Practice makes perfect so practise your presentation a day or two beforehand. Use your friends, housemates or parents as audience. Ask them for feedback. If there’s no one useful at hand you can record yourself and try to evaluate your own presentation.

2. During

First of all introduce yourself. Smile; they are not going to eat you alive. One piece of advice I was given at school was to imagine the audience in their underwear to overcome stress. As disturbing as it might sound, it could actually help. If it’s too much though you can try imagining them as the Ninja turtles or something. Just try to chill.

Show enthusiasm. Reading off your papers in a monotonous voice, with no intonation, looking more bored than the audience is not the right approach, unless your task is to put people to sleep. In which case perfect, go ahead. If you want to nail your presentation though, remember to engage the audience: talk TO them and keep an eye contact. You can just choose a couple of familiar/pretty faces to focus on.
Make sure people sitting at the back can hear you clearly but don’t shout. Control your pace and body language: no maniac gestures, no back to the audience, don’t play with your hands/pens/notes, don’t hide behind desks/projectors. It’s your time to shine!

3. After

Congrats, you’ve done it! After a presentation there’s usually time for questions. Don’t be afraid of those. They are not malicious attacks from your classmates/colleagues, but a chance to show off your explicit knowledge of the topic.

And remember: the more presentations you do, the less stressful they get!

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