Speaking skills and presentations
Help and advice
There are many different types of presentation, but the preparation tips and speaking advice on this page apply to all of them.
It is easy to give advice on presenting, but it can be a lot harder to actually do it. To refine your existing skills, or if you are anxious about giving presentations, contact us as email@example.com to arrange a tutorial.
Preparing your presentation
- You have a time limit for a reason. Don’t put in lots of detail or try to cover too much ground to squeeze everything about the topic into the presentation. Be selective and choose your material carefully to fully answer the brief.
- Allow time for questions at the end. Also allow time for slide changes, using visual aids, change-overs between group members, and for speaking more slowly.
- Rehearse many times – and do it out loud. Don’t just think it in your head.
- Don’t use a script: know your material. If you lose touch with the script, you will find it extremely difficult to find your way back to it.
- Use notes minimally. Again, this is about knowing what you are saying and not having to look down at a piece of paper throughout the presentation. If you really do find it difficult to look up, you can briefly glance up and towards the audience between points and during slide changes.
- You are the 'face' of the presentation, so don’t deliberately try to distract the audience from you by preparing excessive audio-visual aids. Use them for their value to the presentation, not as a distraction from you. The focus for the audience should be the content, not you.
- Use diagrams, images and other visual aids to enhance your presentation: a picture can speak a thousand words, and images are often more interesting than words.
- Use clear signposting to take the listener through your presentation. This includes letting the audience know that you have finished and that they can now ask questions (if this is required for your presentation).
- Lubricate your voice before public speaking, including rehearsals. Plain, still water is always best; caffeine is best avoided.
While you're speaking
- Face the audience while you are speaking. However, try not to plant yourself to stand solidly facing them throughout. This would mean turning about 180 degrees to look at the screen, and thereby turning your back on the audience. Instead, stand at about 45 degrees to the screen, so that you can turn slightly to glance at the screen or draw the audience’s attention to it, and so that you can then easily turn back to face them.
- Move your gaze around the audience when you introduce yourself. Also do this while you are speaking, to avoid staring at one person - but don’t continuously sweep your head and eyes back and forth in a steady rhythm. This would look a bit odd. If looking at the audience is difficult for you, you can glance at them periodically. This is not best practice, but it goes a long way to helping engage them. If making direct eye contact is difficult for you, find the person who is farthest away and look at the top of their head. Make that your eye line. You can move your gaze around at that level to avoid eye contact. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t make eye contact, but it significantly reduces the likelihood of it happening.
- Speak more slowly than usual. Adrenaline can make us talk faster than we realise.
- Pause at the ends of key points and slides. This gives you time to gather yourself and prepare for what comes next and, perhaps more importantly, it gives the audience time to engage with your content and help them to remember it afterwards.
Signposting and what to say
When speaking to an audience, we need to give them a path through our thoughts, ideas and explanations – just like an essay.
These examples provide examples of signposting your thoughts, from the introduction to the conclusion, and tip for interacting with your audience. They are divided into 12 sections.
- I would like to start by…
- First of all…
- Hello and/or good morning/good afternoon, my name is...
- The topics I will be covering today are...
- The issue I would like to investigate today is...
2. Setting the agenda
- I'd like to leave questions to the end.
- I, or we, will take questions at the end of each section.
- We will take a break after about (x) minutes, or after about one hour.
3. Moving on to the next point
- Secondly, thirdly…
- The next point I would like to consider is…
- I’d like to move on to…
4. Linking to another speaker
- Now X will tell you about…
- Now I will hand over to X, who will…
5. Getting a reaction from the audience
- I’d like to ask/pose a question…
- Would anyone like to comment on…?
6. Getting the audience to participate in an activity
- Now I’d like you to…
- At this point I am going to set a task for everyone.
7. Getting the audience to look at something specific
- I’d now like to draw your attention to… (this diagram)
8. Summing up key points
- I’d like to sum up the main points.
- Just to sum up…
- To recap…
- Thank you for listening…
Now pause before prompting for questions.
10. Prompting for questions
- I’d now like to give some time for your questions.
- We now have time for questions.
- Please feel free to ask questions.
- I/We will now take questions (from the audience).
11. Ending the question section
- That’s all we have time for.
- We now need to wind up.
- There’s time for one more short question, or we can end there.
12. Concluding the presentation
- Thank you for listening