Tips for Presenting Your Work to an Audience
Public speaking can be critical in explaining the importance of your work. Some prep work on the front end will calm the nerves and ensure a smooth presentation.
The first step is to assess who your audience is and what they would most like to know. Consider the following:
Odds are, if someone is attending your presentation, they have some vested interest in you and your work. Perhaps they have a similar background or specialization, and they’re curious as to how your work may impact their own. Or perhaps they are students, and it’s your task to inspire them. Maybe your audience is broad and general, and your work has sparked their curiosity. Whatever their reason for being in the room, it can be both validating and affirming to know that if they are there, they want to hear what you have to say.
Next, you must consider what it is about your work that you think will be most relevant to them. What sets your work apart? What is the one thing you are doing differently from anyone else? More critically, how does your work lead to a greater understanding of the subject matter, and how does that impact those in your audience? If the presentation is niche and you’re speaking to a group of your peers, ask yourself how they may be able to apply what you’re showing them in their own work. If the audience is broader, consider how your work may influence society on a larger scale.
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Sometimes people get caught up in the granular details of our work, which can cloud their ability to see the bigger picture. If you are struggling to capture the most significant aspect of your work for your presentation, dig back to why you started doing it in the first place. It is likely that the underlying significance of your work is the very reason that drives you to do it; the reason you’ve dedicated your career to it.
Now that you know your audience and their expectations, it’s time to craft a presentation. Follow these steps to create a presentation that will resonate, educate, and even entertain.
An outline can be very helpful in ensuring that you don’t miss any critical aspects of your presentation and leave your audience filling in the blanks. A basic structure always involves an introduction, the main points of the talk, and a conclusion.
The introduction is your opportunity to set the stage. Your tone and delivery at the beginning will grip your audience, and keep their attention for the duration of your presentation. Make this part quick and exciting and do not get bogged down with details. Suggestion: Start with the initial moment of inspiration for your work.
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In the body of your presentation you can dive into the main points of your work. Consider how much time you have to present, and don’t try to cram more into the presentation than can fit in the time allotted. Suggestion: Think about the biggest challenges you had to overcome and the clever ways you solved them.
Bring your presentation full circle at the end. Remind your audience of the significance of the work and how it can impact them. Suggestion: Talk about your next steps and future plans for development or implementation.
Now that you have an outline in place, you can begin to develop your presentation further. Consider the following steps to bring your presentation to the next level.
Whenever possible, consider how you can infuse personal or anecdotal information. If your subject matter is complicated or abstract, anecdotes can help tremendously in making your work make sense to those who may not have similar expertise. If your passion and enthusiasm for the work shine through, it is more likely that your presentation will resonate with your audience.
Delivery is key. Make sure your voice is steady and that you do not speak too quickly or too slowly. Reading aloud while timing yourself can ensure that you are on target and help you cut down on unnecessary details in your presentation or areas where you may trip over the words.
It’s also important to consider the language you are using. If your audience is broader, avoid using jargon that will confuse them, even if the terminology is technically more exact. In these situations, being clear and understandable is far more important than total accuracy.
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Remember, you’re not just presenting your work, you’re presenting yourself. Dress according to the atmosphere in which you will be speaking and presenting. If you’ll be standing or moving around on a stage, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. If you’ll be using a microphone, avoid accessories that can jingle and disrupt your sound. Wear lighter fabrics if you know you tend to sweat. And above all, make sure you feel good in the clothes you’re wearing. This can have a huge impact on your self-confidence in the moment.
Lastly, make sure you use all the audio and visual equipment that is provided. If you have access to a TV or projector, provide visual materials like animations and photos. If your audience is broad, avoid research figures and stick to simple infographics. If you have audio capabilities, perhaps share a video of your work so the audience can see it in action. If it makes sense, consider bringing a prototype or sample of your work to show others.
Public speaking is a skill that must be honed over time. Those who appear to have ease and poise when presenting have likely had several opportunities to learn. Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s never too late to improve your skills. Remember, having an opportunity to present your work is an honor and something of which to be proud.
Cassandra Martindell is an independent writer in Columbus, Ohio.