Structuring your presentations at University

The best way to structure your presentations at University

There’s nothing worse than being bored to death by someone mumbling behind a pre-prepared script, or endless slides of text on a PowerPoint presentation. How you structure your presentation will impact on its overall success – follow these five tips to avoid any car-crash moments.

Assess the Presentation

Having selected a topic, allocated tasks and drawn everyone’s slides together in a PowerPoint presentation (if you’re using it), do a run through your presentation from beginning to end. Is it long enough? Does it have an introduction? Does it have aims or objectives? Is each speaker introduced by the previous speaker? Is each section concluded, or does a general conclusion or summary appear at the end? Does it flow? Is any of it irrelevant? Or plain boring? Are key quotes or statistics highlighted? Does it achieve any stated aims? Involve your teammates – what do they think?

Student using powerpoint in a presentationUse Powerpoint to Prompt

Rather than reading from a script, or using cue-cards, consider using Microsoft PowerPoint as a prompt for each speaker to follow. These prompts should only a sentence used to prompt the speaker – don’t cut and paste massive chunks of text and read them out – everyone in the room can read. You might also use PowerPoint to highlight key quotations or relevant statistical information. Someone speaking for three minutes might require just one slide to bullet point the information they’re going to explore, or reasonably, up to three, but try to keep the number of slides limited.

Don’t Rely on Powerpoint

Be wary of animated features in PowerPoint – an animated mouse randomly popping up on the screen may prove to be more interesting than what you’re saying, and you may be penalised for this. Try to keep it simple, so that one slide follows on from the other by simply pressing the space bar or clicking the mouse. The more animations you have built in, the more there is to go wrong, so much more time will be required when practising. Also be cautious of using too much colour – this is, after all, an undergraduate presentation, and should have the feel of a professional presentation. Too many bright colours can be patronising, or childish.

Alternatives to Powerpoint

Not all good presentations rely on applications such as PowerPoint. It is just as reasonable for five people to stand up and deliver from cue-cards alone, so long as their subject matter is relevant and it is delivered in an engaging. Media might be streamed for part of the presentation, or graphics used to illustrate statistics.

Show of hands - studentAvoid Involving the Audience

Unless you’re feeling brave. If you’re attempting to change people’s minds, gauge their opinion at the beginning of the presentation, through a show of hands, and repeat this at the end. Don’t ask rhetorical questions – someone in the audience may provide the answer as you pause for breath – and don’t question people either, unless you say in the introduction you’re going to be doing this. Ultimately, you have a limited amount of time to display your knowledge on a specific subject and you shouldn’t be relying on the audience to do this.

Check your work

Before handing in any presentation notes or powerpoint slides, make sure you check your work carefully by running it through, the free plagiarism scanner.  This will ensure your work does not contain accidentally copied material from the Internet!

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