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Lesson Navigation IconOnline Guidelines for Academic Research and Writing

Unit Navigation IconThe academic research process

Unit Navigation IconOrganization and project management

Unit Navigation IconLiterature research and application

Unit Navigation IconWriting an academic paper

Unit Navigation IconHow do I create a good poster?

Unit Navigation IconPresentation skills

LO Navigation IconIntroduction: «Presentation skills»

LO Navigation IconPreparing for a presentation

LO Navigation IconGeneral information on presentations

LO Navigation IconDiscussion

Unit Navigation IconLearning techniques and exam preparation

Unit Navigation IconBibliography

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General information on presentations

Establishing rapport with the audience

It is important to establish a relation to the audience to grab its attention. You should maintain eye-contact with different persons and avoid wandering eyes (to a window or a door, etc.), gazing indifferently into the distance, or staring at your paper or the projector permanently. During a seminar, it is best not to speak only to the instructor.

remark

You should address the audience and not talk to yourself.

Body language and posture

It is important to pay attention to your own body language when making a presentation. We recommend considering if you tend to move too much or too little, and how you react when being nervous (where to put one's hands, etc). Your body language has a great effect on the audience; its attention can easily be distracted by peculiar movements, right away from your topic. It is best to avoid nervous twitches, pacing around, bouncing up and down, or putting your glasses on and taking them off constantly. However, we don't recommend being rooted to the spot, keeping your hands in your pockets, or neglecting your gestures. The more natural the movement (pointing to a slide or the blackboard, explaining something by using your hands, etc.), the better the quality of your presentation.

You should also pay attention to the fact that the audience should always be able to quickly follow your train of thought. This is even more important when writing a presentation. The audience should have the opportunity to sum up what it has just heard. It is therefore necessary to use clear, short sentences, to rephrase complicated issues several times, to explain technical terms, and to provide enough conversational gaps. Such gaps are breaks for both the speaker as well as the listener and should therefore not be spoilt by fillers such as «ah». Sometimes it makes sense to provide an intermediary summary in order to focus and structure all the information obtained.

remark

Your body language should be natural; any ticks should be identified and then avoided.

remark

Negative example: a professor (emeritus) in Zurich used the filler «ah» about 200 times in less than 90 minutes.

How to give an interesting speech or presentation

Academic papers as well as presentations should impart knowledge as interestingly as possible. A speech therefore has to be not only appealingly arranged; it should also be easy to follow. It is generally advisable to use various stylistic devices to grab the audience's attention. Its ability to concentrate will quickly decline when listening to extensive arguments or long-winded explanations. You should therefore divide a speech into distinguishable sections, for example, as regards derivation, explanation, and exemplification. A transition from one section to another should then be indicated by using proper stylistic devices (cf. fig. 19).

Fig. 19: Phases of presentations. Source: Diagram by author.Fig. 19: Phases of presentations. Source: Diagram by author.

We recommend communicating complex and less complex issues alternately, if possible; ambitious content should be presented in a concrete manner. In addition, it is helpful to vary your speech rate and make use of other rhetorical devices such as interposed questions or short discussions. Little anecdotes, exemplifications, charts, or comparisons make a presentation livelier and can help to avoid boredom. It is also advisable to use different devices such as slides, blackboards, pictures, samples, and transparencies. However, you should show only a few slides since activating a projector always takes some time while having to block out the light with curtains.

remark

Variations make presentations interesting.

actExercise: Preparing a Presentation
Prepare five PowerPoint slides. Try to let images speak for themselves before clarifying them with concise sentences.

Hint: Consider the following examples at ‹http://www.slideshare.net›.

When creating transparencies or a Power Point presentation, one should consider the following: transparencies and slides are used to impart knowledge in keywords or to exemplify subject matters by means of illustrations or charts. They should not be overloaded or give an account of the contents of the entire presentation. As a general rule, one should only use six words per line and not more than six lines per slide. A projected text has to be clearly recognizable at all times and from everywhere in the room. The sentence «You'll see—unfortunately not now» is very common but should be avoided. The question «Can everybody read this, even in the back?» is also well-known because one tends to use a font size that is too small. It should at least be 18 and 20 in larger lecture halls.

Sometimes it is refreshing to be off the beaten track as regards well-established forms of presenting and writing a paper. However, one should always think things through and plan thoroughly, down to the last detail.

While the use of overhead projections is increasingly rare, new forms for presenting content emerge i.e. Prezis. For them basically the same rules apply as for other computer-based presentation. A prezi should moreover not be too «nervous» by swirling and zooming in a too rapid pace that makes the audience dizzy.

remark

It's not the quantity but the quality that counts when using transparencies.

Stage fright

Stage fright is a fear of failure (or a loss of face) in front of an audience. A stressful situation causes your body to release adrenalin, a hormone, to be ready for combat or flight. An option would be to run away from what is causing fear: the audience in the lecture hall. However, such reaction is not acceptable in society; you therefore have to stay and see it through. It is always possible to turn nervousness into something positive, something that will power your presentation and take away the fear. Stage fright can be transformed into a loud voice and sweeping gestures, which will then have a soothing effect on the speaker. In the end, it's the presentation's topic that counts and not the presenter.

You can take comfort in the fact that almost everybody gets nervous when having to deliver a speech. Being a little nervous does not hurt; it helps to tap your full potential. However, when being overpowered by stage fright, you have to do something about it. One option could be to practice in front of just a few friends or siblings. Most of the time, it is the unknown that one fears. Another option could be to consider that the most important thing is to impart knowledge and not to use a presentation as a tool for self-promotion. It is not the impression others have that counts but the speech and its content. People suffering from stage fright should therefore always try to talk about topics they can embrace wholeheartedly (Schräder-Naef 1988: 190).

remark

Stage fright can indeed be transformed into positive energy.

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