At several points during your academic career, from high school to college and beyond, you will be asked to give a speech or presentation of some type. Not only will public speaking affect your grades in various classes; you will need this skill in the workplace someday, too. So you might as well master the art of speeches and presentations now! It’s a bit nerve wracking at first, but after getting through a few presentations you’ll feel like an expert.
Think about your audience. Giving a presentation to a room full of high school students will feel very different from going before the board that will grant your PhD. Both of these situations differ significantly from giving a speech at a wedding, delivering a eulogy at a funeral, or teaching the alphabet to a room full of kindergartners. See our point? Consider your audience when choosing your language, mannerisms, dress, humor to include in your presentation (or not), and so on.
Master the art of note cards. Jot down just one main point, and a few supporting points, on each 3×5 note card. Resist the urge to write your entire speech on the cards. It won’t sound natural, and your audience will be able to tell that you are simply reading to them.
Make eye contact. Speaking of note cards, try not to stare at them throughout your speech. It’s fine to focus on an object toward the back of the room, but try to pause occasionally to make eye contact with audience members near the front. This will make you appear confident and professional.
Visualize. Once or twice per day, leading up to your big presentation, close your eyes and picture yourself giving the speech successfully. Positive energy goes much farther than you would think.
Slow down, speak clearly, and enunciate. We tend to rush when we’re nervous, but you will sense your audience’s discomfort and only become more nervous. Keep it slow and steady, and enunciate your words clearly. Remember to speak loudly enough that people in the back of the room can hear you.
Take a breath. Remember to take a breath, pause, and smile at appropriate points during the presentation.
Practice. Practice giving your presentation to a group of your family members, friends, or neighbors. Ask them sincerely for feedback and constructive criticism, so that you can hone your skills.
Remember… you’re all in the same boat. If the presentation is a class assignment, then everyone will be taking their turn. There’s really nothing to be nervous about, because you’re all in this together. Speak to your audience as friends (which they probably are), and allow yourself to sound upbeat and conversational. This is really not much different than explaining an important topic to a friend; you’re just explaining it to a bunch of them at once!