“Do I have any volunteers?” Ugh, that dreaded question. Projects can be a lot of fun because they allow for creativity, yet many students cringe at the word “presentation”. This situation happens in nearly every class. Some students are naturally great public speakers and have no problem standing in front of a class, but others have trouble finding their voices and staying calm. Public speaking is a necessary skill to have because you never know when you will need to take charge and address a large audience. Instead of nervously avoiding a teacher’s gaze when he or she is deciding who goes next, consider these ways to rock the podium!
Procrastination is okay when it is relatively undetectable, but it would be quite embarrassing to stand in front of a class or on stage and have absolutely no direction during a speech or presentation. The most important aspect of a presentation is the topic. Knowing your topic thoroughly will give you more confidence in yourself. Take the time to learn enough about your topic that you would be able to answer questions about it on the spot.
Even when you know your stuff, stage fright can cause you to be forgetful. Notecards are helpful in providing direction during a presentation. They are small enough to fit in your hand; you can glance down without drawing too much attention. Use them for keywords and short facts, not full sentences. Prepare them early enough, so you have time to review them and practice presenting
Practicing is useful for working out the kinks. There may be certain words you get hung up on, or a better way to phrase a fact. Gather a group of friends or family members to be you “audience” and give it your best shot. They can provide constructive criticism for you to make adjustments. If no one is available, the handy dandy bathroom mirror can be your audience. Mostly, practicing helps reassure yourself that you can do it!
Standing on stage can be fairly intimidating. Combat the powerless feeling with power posing. TEDTalks have valuable real-world knowledge. In a TEDTalk by Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, she introduced the power of power posing. She conducted a study with a colleague on whether “fake it till you make it” rings true, after convincing a student to act confident and participate to fulfill the participation requirement of Cuddy’s class. She instructed a group of people to take on powerless poses and a group of people to take on powerful poses, both for two minutes. Then participants were given the opportunity to gamble. Saliva was sampled before and after the trial. In her findings, she found that the people who adopted the powerful poses for two minutes were 26% more likely to gamble. Based on the saliva analysis, the power-posers showed to increase levels of testosterone, the dominance hormone, and decrease levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This hormone level is typical of strong, confident, leaders.
How do you use this useful information? Strike a pose before it’s that time! During a bathroom break, pose it out in a stall. All it takes is 2 minutes. A common power pose is the “Wonder Woman” pose with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips, and chin slightly up. Avoid constrained poses such as crossed legs or crossed arms, as they cause the opposite effect.
Engage Your Audience
The most boring presentations are the ones that are monotonous, robotic, and plain. A key aspect of a great presentation is body language. Not only does it affect your own attitude, as Amy Cuddy discovered, but it affects how receptive the audience is to what you are presenting. A shy voice and little eye contact may communicate that you are not sure of what you are saying. Be sure to stand tall, make eye contact, and speak clearly. Most importantly, use your hands naturally as you would speak in conversation. If uncomfortable with that, find a comfortable resting position for your hands. MindTools suggests walking around even if there is a podium to show energy. Who wants to listen to a monotone person standing like a soldier for twenty minutes?
Get Outside Help
If you continually stumble through public performances, it may be helpful to join a speech or debate club. These clubs teach members how to effectively communicate, while providing a comfortable environment to practice speaking skills. At schools where such clubs are not available, joining clubs or extracurriculars that force you to speak to large groups, such as theater, choir, or Model UN.
Even a few of your teachers would be a great resource to use. At some point they had to overcome public speaking woes to be comfortable teaching a class. Speak to a trusted teacher about your concerns and they may have kind advice.
Whether presenting a routine powerpoint or a senior thesis project, using these tips will help your presentation run smoothly. Remember to prepare, power pose, engage the audience, and get outside help! For more tips, check out this article.