Oral Presentations cause stress for a lot of people, myself included. Coming up with an interesting talk which holds people’s attention and runs smoothly is hard enough, but also maintaining a professional composure while in front of a crowd can be just as challenging. This past week, I attended the Chemistry Matters Symposium and watched numerous Chemistry presentations. Some presentations were better than others, but a few of the best ones helped me gain insight on how to give a great oral presentation. Here are a few tips that may help relieve you of stress the next time you have to give one.
A good introduction is key to grabbing the crowd’s attention. At the symposium, one of my favorite introductions was that of Casey Thomson and his presentation on the Chemistry of chocolate. Not only was it a great topic, but at the beginning of his presentation he pulled out a giant chocolate bunny. Having a prop like that immediately grabbed my attention (because I love chocolate). Not all good presentations start with props, but having an interesting or creative start will never hurt the strength of your presentation. If a presentation starts off with the standard, “Today I will be talking to you all about…” at least half of the room will lose attention immediately, which is not what you want. So when you plan your next presentation, be different and start your presentation off with something that will make you stand out.
Speaking clearly and concisely is also extremely important in a presentation. Muzi Yan’s presentation at the symposium on the Chemistry of art was a great example of this. It was clear that she had repeatedly practiced what she was going to say, because she didn’t repeatedly say “umm” or pause to look back at her notes. Instead, she used her power point and the pictures of art on it as her notes. She interacted with the screen and then with the crowd as well in a very professional manner. So how does this come about? Lots of practice is the answer. By practicing the presentation before you give it, you will undoubtedly run into problems that you did not anticipate. You can then fix those problems, thus making your presentation all the more better. Practicing a lot will also relieve stress from the whole process because there is nothing more stressful than going into a presentation not knowing for sure what you are going to say.
Finally, your presentation should be fun to watch and fun to give. It doesn’t have to be a show of jokes and entertainment, but you should try to have crowd engagement and a few light-hearted moments. David Liang’s presentation at the symposium on the Chemistry of peppers did just that. He engaged the crowd with a few jokes about eating hot peppers, a few general questions about our experiences with peppers, and then a discussion on how to actually cool down your mouth when you eat a really hot pepper. This made for a more lively mood in the room and a more enjoyable experience for both himself and the crowd because everyone in the room was involved. If you really don’t like stress, this is the perfect way to take it out of your oral presentation. There is nothing worse than “hearing crickets” in the crowd and seeing people dose off as you talk. Make your presentation fun and you will be amazed at how much easier giving one gets.
These are just a few tips about giving a good presentation, but I think they can help you to become a better presentation-giver overall. Few people inherently love giving oral presentations because they cause stress. However, if you find ways to take out the stress (like using these awesome tips!) then oral presentations can become enjoyable. If a presentation is enjoyable for you, it will no doubt be more fun to listen to from the crowd’s perspective because you will naturally show that you are calm and relaxed while talking. The result will be better feedback and more attention from the crowd, which is exactly what you want. -WH