This article is about how to make a good presentation. It is also about how to help students to cope with problems they face each time they need to present in front of people. The main points to be discussed are public speaking generally and dealing with nerves.
How to make a perfect presentation is a very important question. We may say that it is even a pressing and urgent point to be touched upon. Many books and articles have been written to cover this topic. And there may appear the question: “One more article on presentation? Why do we need to talk about it again?”
The answer is easy enough. Those books and, partly, articles on presentation and how to make a good presentation have been written by foreign writers and most of the problems aren’t new for them. Probably, the answers are familiar to them as well. But, here, in Russia, presentation as a phenomenon is something we are just getting used to. That’s why, we’re putting the same questions and going through the same ways, only in this case, we’re trying to get the answers ourselves. It is our way and we’re gathering our own experience.
The author of the article is a university lecturer whose primary duty is working with students in trying to help them in every possible way. The idea of this paper originated from a certain problem, the problem to write a good speech, and what is more important – to present it! It would be great to discuss our fears when speaking before the audience! So, this article is designed for those who “find public speaking and presenting in front of others a nerve-wracking experience.” [1, p.4] And we need to talk about it again because our students have to work with presentations a great deal but all the time they face many obstacles. They can’t present their information properly. And not only them! Teachers who teach the students how to make their presentations well meet the same obstacles. They know how to do it; but, probably, knowledge is not the only thing we need when acting as public speakers. What can we do in this case?
- Get more knowledge!
The first thing to consider when accepting an invitation to speak is the nature and type of the function in question and also the type of audience that you will be addressing. Roland Watson, the author of Speech Writing and Presentation, thinks that this point is absolutely essential for anyone who is being called on to deliver a speech. But in our case it is not the question. Our audience is mostly represented by students and university lecturers. The question is to formulate our objectives. They may fall into several categories:
· The need to entertain your audience and to warm them to you
· The need to pass on essential information
· The need to fire your audience, to inspire them
· The need to persuade the audience
· The need to open up debate.
These are general objectives but very complicated ones when taking into consideration our fear to speak before the audience. This fear makes the realization of the mentioned objectives impossible. That’s why, public speaking generally and dealing with nerves will be brought to a focus.
Very often we want to get good or even excellent presentations from our students and it rarely happens. We often feel frustrated; sometimes we are even angry with them. The explanation of all this is in one simple thing: our expectations are too great. Before looking at the crafting of a speech we need to look at public speaking generally. “It is only when you learn the art of public speaking that you can become an accomplished speaker and, by definition, deliver an effective speech. It is very much more than just standing up and talking to others, as you will probably have started to gather.” [1, p.11]
Public speaking is an art and a skill which can be mastered by anyone. Of course, some people may be initially better equipped for the role of public speaker than others. A very important point to remember is that to become a truly effective public speaker who learns the craft and applies certain techniques you need to practice a lot. To become experienced and as a result, perfect, you need to start the whole process. Probably, you have already started, but started unsuccessfully. It influenced on your attitude to the whole process.
The reasons for presentation failure may be of different character. One of them is reflected in the following statement: “For some people, standing in front of an audience, whatever the size, is not a real problem. For others however, the very thought of exposing One-self to a group, and being so vulnerable, is a nightmare best avoided.” [1, p.11] It is fear to speak before the audience and not only this. In fact, it is really not an easy thing to do as, to make “a good impression on your audience, it is not just what you say that is important. The way that you say it is important too.” [2, p. 23]
“You want to walk into a room, comfortable in knowledge that you are happy to be there, that you’re looking forward to meeting some interesting people, and that you can handle whatever conversational challenges come your way.” [3, p.4] So, our single most important element in being the kind of person everyone wants to talk with is … confidence. Why is there usually a lack of confidence and how to gain it?
It is important to remember that, when we communicate as part of a group, we interact through speech and body language. We are often confident within ourselves because we feel secure in that we are part of a group interacting and that all eyes are not on us alone, at least not for a protracted period. And the situation is very different when we are alone and faced with a group of people and have to present material. In this case we can’t help but assume responsibility and take the lead.
There are a number of reasons why we may feel nervous. We need to question ourselves and ask ourselves why. Was it the sight of many faces in front of us that frightened us and made us lose our self confidence or we still remember our previous mistakes? There is one point to be kept in mind: we change and develop as people as we gain more experience and past mistakes do not mean that we will repeat them.
Stressful situations always make us feel nervous, and this feeling is totally normal, more over, it drives us on. So to say, positive fear is good for us but we should be careful as excessive nerves are negative and “can lead to aggression.” [1, p.13]
According to Roland Watson, the key to successful public speaking is the acquisition of confidence coupled with assertiveness which leads to the ability to effectively control a situation. If you know your subject matter you are likely to be confident and in control and less likely to feel nervous.
More than that, you should be prepared! Preparation is everything and to feel confident with your material means that “you are half way there already.” [1, p.13]
There is one more point to remember; you should listen to speakers, good speakers as often as possible in order to gain tips. One of them is to notice the way that good and effective speakers construct their sentences. It is a well-known fact that shorter sentences have a lot more impact and are easier to grasp than long sentences. It is also considered that shorter sentences also act a discipline for the speaker in that they will prevent him or her from straying off the point.
There is another important tip when approaching the day of the presentation. You should prepare yourself psychologically. Everything is sure to be good no matter what. Your firm belief in it will be conveyed to the audience as you open your presentation. Say that you are glad to be with them and it will reinforce a feeling of goodwill and express itself through your body language and your voice.
Finally, one of the most important things for effective public speaking is experience and that only comes through practice so it is essential that you take every opportunity offered you to sharpen your skills in this area.
Another aspect of how to present successfully is dealing with nerves. It is a quite a pressing question. Of course, there are many reasons for presentation failure, for producing bad presentations including the situations when students are just not ready. Very often, ready or not, prepared or not, they feel nervous. How to deal with it?
When the big day is approaching, you may be feeling more nervous than ever.
“In moments of fear it might be difficult to remember why it ever occurred to you to speak in public.” [1, p.55] Many of us stand up in front of audiences every day. We have different reasons for doing it; we are teachers, sales people, lawyers, and so on. When we go out and address our audience we are fulfilling our own and our audience’s needs.
Roland Watson is sure that learning the skills to be a successful public speaker has many advantages:
· You become more effective in your workplace.
· You are better able to recall important facts and figures.
· You are better equipped to research information.
· You become more widely knowledgeable as a result of keeping a close eye on the media.
· You are better able to argue your point.
· You are better able to communicate with people on many different levels.
· You may find that other people consider you more interesting and seek out your
company more often.
· You may have the opportunity to pass on your interest in a subject to other people.
· You may be able to persuade people to a good cause.
· You may find yourself making people laugh – one of the greatest gifts of all.
You are strongly advised to remember all these reasons or just one of them when you are beset by nerves. If you have a good reason to speak in public, you will be very successful in fulfilling your duty.
We all know well how a person feels when he is frightened. There may be sweating, blushing, racing pulse, clumsiness or shaking limbs and a blank mind. To fight this fear we need to think beyond the symptoms to the cause. Our students may think that
· they are inexperienced.
· they do not know enough about the subject.
· they are afraid of the audience.
· their mind may go blank.
· the equipment may go wrong.
· they may make complete fools of themselves by saying or doing something stupid.
The basis for all these worries is in one fear; it is the fear of the unknown.
When considering ourselves in a frightening situation, we should remember that every speaker once made “a maiden speech”. [1, p.57] There will be no fear of the novice as soon as that maiden speech is over. So, pull yourself together and do it.
There may be one more thing to fear. It may be the feeling that you do not know your subject well enough, or that you may lose your thread half way through or that your mind will go blank. The answer is that it is in our power to get rid of this fear by thorough preparation.
If we are not sure of our subject, the best thing to do is to change it. We may do it by narrowing the field by covering only those subjects of which we are certain.
If we think of losing our way, we should take time to rehearse in advance. If we know our subject well, if we have planned our speech logically, and if we have made good memory jogging notes there should be no place for fear of not finding our way back to the right path in case of making it up as we go along.
There should be no place for the fear that our equipment might fail us. There are some general rules or instructions to follow that will help us: familiarity with the equipment we intend to use and thorough checking of that available at the venue.
The biggest fear of ours is the feeling of terror at the thought of our audience. What are the steps to overcome it? – Just think that your audience is looking forward to hearing you. You should remember that you are the one in charge; you are the one who has control and deliver a speech that others will enjoy and remember. Think about it and try to feel right-at ease and relaxed, comfortable with yourself, and in command of your subject matter. In other words, to stop feeling alone and to get rid of nervousness we need to make contact with the audience and establish a rapport. It should be understood by our students that they can become successful public speakers by applying certain fundamental techniques mentioned above.
In conclusion it would be desirable to say that to get good student presentations we shouldn’t expect too much right now, right here. We need to plan a complex of things our students should have learnt and gained by the end of their studies. This complex is better to be divided into several parts. Each term a special goal should be set and achieved, just as a part of the whole. Only experience can make you perfect.
“Relate the art of public speaking to that of an everyday conversation. Very rarely do you lose control of an everyday conversation. There is no reason why you should think any differently of public speaking.” [1, p.58]
1. Roland Watson. Speech Writing and Presentation/2-d edition. Straightforward Publishing, 2002, p-s: 95.
2. Anne Laws. Presentations. Summertown Publishing, 2000, p-s: 139.
3. Rosalie Maggio. The Art of Talking to Anyone. McGraw-Hill, 2005, p-s: 221.
4. Powell Mark. Presenting in English. Boston. Thomson, 2002, p-s: 128.