Preparing for Oral Presentations

Preparing for a Presentation

Sooner or later, a lot of us will be faced with the task of delivering an oral presentation. Even if this is not the first time that you are required to do so, you may still feel nervous or insecure in your ability to hold a good presentation.

Luckily, holding oral presentations is a skill like any other. It can be practiced and improved. And the more time you allocate for preparing for oral presentations, the better your presentation will be. If you want to properly prepare and improve your presentation skills, then you've come to the right place! Here's what you can do.

Preparing Your Presentation

People preparing for a presentation.

Preparing for oral presentations begins with preparing the presentation itself. Presentations usually consist of two aspects: the oral part itself, and the presentations made in Microsoft PowerPoint that will help you to illustrate your points.

When it comes to what you will be saying during your oral presentation, you should know that, no matter how charismatic a speaker you are, taking the time to prepare is vital. As you will only have a limited time to speak, any improvisation is likely to eat up precious time. That is why you need to rehearse in advance and have a good idea of which words you will use and how you will phrase your thoughts.

Rehearsing in advance will also allow you to time your presentation. While you can rehearse in front of a mirror, it is definitely better to convince a friend or a family member to substitute for the audience. Without holding such a presentation before the actual presentation commences, there is no way to precisely time your performance. Usually, there will be parts that you will need to shorten (or you will need to speak faster during those parts), or you may find that you don't actually have enough material.

Additional tips

A woman delivering an oral presentation to her friends.

Preparing for oral presentations is much easier
with a little help from your friends.

Here are some other tips that will help you with this part of preparing for your oral presentations:

  • Know your audience! For example, if you're talking to professionals in your field, there's no need to explain the terms you are using mean (and vice versa). Or, for instance, if you expect that your audience not to agree with your arguments, it's a good idea to provide more examples and to go into detail when you're presenting the evidence.

  • The clock is ticking, so you'll want to focus on your main points. Don't waste time on overlong introductions and detailed background information. Rather than that, get to the gist quickly and then elaborate on it.

  • On the other hand, some audience members might be especially interested in the details surrounding the main point. So, notify your audience that if they're interested in such details, you will be happy to answer all the questions they may have. Being prepared for dealing with questions also includes the questions to which you currently don't have an answer for. In such situations, it is best to offer to send the answer later (for example, by e-mail), once you've looked it up.

  • You can also prepare handouts to give out to the audience. Otherwise, the audience members may be too busy writing down notes, and incapable of fully following your presentation.

How to Make an Excellent PowerPoint Presentation

Preparing for oral presentations includes taking the time to prepare a great PowerPoint presentation. However, it is important to remember that such presentations are only there to complement the oral part of your presentation.

Under no circumstances should you read from your PowerPoint presentation during your entire performance. Rather, use it as a tool to reinforce your points in the mind of the audience, and to help you remember the structure of your oral presentation.

A dictionary page with the word ‘focus’.

Use dark text against a light background
if you want your audience to be able to focus.

Here are some more tips & tricks on making an excellent PowerPoint presentation:

  • The font should be large (avoid going under 24 points), and the typeface should be easy to read (as a rule, Sans Serif is better than Serif).

  • Instead of full sentences, use bullet points. Remember, you're the one who's delivering full sentences; bullet points are simply there to underline what you are saying.

  • When it comes to your use of colors, remember that the text should be easy to read. So, if the background is dark, the text should be light, and vice versa.

  • Don't use too many effects. They tend to distract the audience from what you are saying.

  • A website can be a good alternative to a PowerPoint presentation.

Preparing for the Delivery of Your Oral Presentations

Finally, you should also work on your delivery. When it comes to this part of your oral presentation, it is important to have the right mindset. Namely, you are not giving a speech; you are delivering a presentation! This means that you are there to actively communicate with the audience members and to try to involve them in the presentation.

And to be able to do that, the audience must be able to understand you clearly. Pay attention to see if anyone is having a hard time hearing you. If you have any written notes, you can consult them, but don't read from them all the time. Instead, maintain eye contact with the audience members. Basically, if you show an interest in your audience, if you show that you care whether they're listening to you or not, the audience will respond with interest.

The science of fear

Admittedly, this may be hard to do if you're feeling nervous. In such cases, what one suffers is called a "fight or flight reaction", something that can be explained from an evolutionary standpoint. Whenever our ancestors were scared by the dangers lurking in the primordial wilderness, their neural systems produced so-called "fear hormones", urging them to either fight or run away.

Our ancestors were rightfully afraid of lions; however, we still experience a similar fear in physically much less dangerous circumstances.

Today, nothing has changed, only the "danger" that's responsible for causing fear is usually very different (and much less harmful). This is perfectly normal; even experienced presenters may often still feel nervous before delivering a presentation.

Luckily, coping with presentation nerves is indeed possible with some useful tips and some practice. Have in mind that your instincts are wrong in this situation, as there's actually no need for a fight or flight reaction. Focus on preparing oral presentations as best as you can, stand your ground, and simply try to communicate to the best of your abilities in the given situation.

About the Author

Alex Durick has delivered quite a few oral presentations in his life. From college to his previous job working as a marketing consultant, he was at first a reluctant public speaker, but over time, he grew to enjoy holding presentations.

Today, he is a freelance writer focusing on marketing guides, but he occasionally writes about different topics as well.