The Art of College Presentations

The Art of College Presentations

Follow these five steps to create better presentations for college classes.

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

When it comes to the college presentation, gone are the days of high school when all that was required was a getting up in front of the room with a decorated piece of poster board.

Instead, the college presentation requires a student to implement a strategy that includes sharing data, speaking louder and delivering information through a number of mediums.

However, that doesn't mean that learning this strategy should scare students. In fact, a successful college presentation can be broken down into a few steps that will help you earn the grade you deserve and make stepping in front of a class feel like a breeze.

Practice

Yewen Shao, a freshman digital forensics major at Defiance College, said a recent presentation helped him understand the steps required to deliver a successful presentation, with adequate practice ranking at the top of the list.

"Practicing is key for the presentation," Shao said. "Try to practice with your friends or parents and write down their advice. That will help you not be nervous about delivering the presentation."

Ignore Anxiety

Dr. Jim Anderson, a communications skills coach at Blue Elephant Consulting , said it is important students realize that everyone feels a bit nervous before stepping in front of a room of people.

"It's actually a good thing," he said. "It means that you are alive and you are ready to give your speech."

Anderson said adhering to our rule number one –– practice! –– will help calm nerves and make a speaker feel comfortable with the speech he or she is delivering.

"The second thing that you want to do is to arrive to your speech early and use this time to meet as many of the people who will be in your audience as possible," he said. "This way, when you give your speech, you won't be talking to a room of strangers, but rather a room full of your brand new friends."

Cherry Sias, a senior digital forensic major at Defiance College, said she also enjoys pretending like she is speaking with family and friends during a presentation. She also relies on notes, so she is sure to mention important points throughout her presentation.

"Don't speed through (your speech)," she said. "Take your time and be open to questions."

Know Your Audience

Dr. David Nelson, a college professor at Valdosta State University in the Communication Arts department, said it is important that a presenter do his or her research about the audience to discover more about them. It is also good to know how long the speech will be, if there will be other presenters, how the room will be set up, and whether or not there will be time for a question and answer session.

"The more you know about the speaking situation the better off the speaker is," Nelson said, adding that it is also important for a presenter to remember that he or she should not "talk at your audience, but talk to them."

Choose Your Format

PowerPoint seems to be the method most college students prefer when delivering a presentation in college. But Chelsea Bell, a sophomore digital forensic science major and criminal justice minor at Defiance College (along with Shao and Sias), said it is also important to design a presentation with an audience in mind.

"For my classmates, I developed a PowerPoint that was very relevant to today’s culture, referencing Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, and so on," she said. "(But) in another presentation for middle school aged students, I had a short presentation, along with a game and a 'make your own poster' activity."

Mark Sapara, an adjunct professor who has taught "Fundamentals of Speech" at Fairleigh Dickinson University's College at Florham for 16 years, agreed with Bell, adding that "there is no one best way to use audio or visual resources to supplement a speech."

"However, I would say that the one critical factor in whatever media are chosen is that the resources help to augment, not replace, the impact of the speaker," he said. "While I do think we tend to overuse PowerPoint, it can be effective if it's kept simple, not filled with bells and whistles, and includes bullet-points or key words rather than excess verbiage. Regardless, any media used should be neat, error-free and easy on the eye."

If you won't remember, then neither will they.

Anderson reminds speakers that most audiences will not remember more than three things they are told during a speech.

"This means that you're going to want to identify the three main points that you'll use to organize your speech around," he said.

Anderson said the one thing that is most important for college students to remember is that, as a presenter, he or she is the "star" of the presentation. "We can all get caught up in creating the best looking slides with animations and such," he said. Yet this approach “means that any slides that you use are only there to support what you say, not the other way around."

Quick Facts

  • Practice your speech several times to avoid errors and anxiety.
  • Squash nerves by keeping in mind that every presenter is nervous about standing at the front of a room.
  • Speak to an audience as if you were talking to friends or family, and avoid sounding robotic in your deliverance.

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