Giving a Talk:

Other Useful Tips

Try not to be nervous or intimidated by your audience.


Try not to be nervous or intimidated by your audience. Give the appearance of calm confidence, and focus all your energy and concentration on the message in your presentation. If you are focussed on your talk and not your nervousness, so will your audience be.
     Some inexperienced speakers will attempt to memorize their talk, or read it from a prepared text. One word of advice: don't! If you need to refer to a set of notes, put them in point form, not in complete sentences, or you will find yourself reading them out. The best method is to use your viewgraphs or slides as visual cues as to the points you would like to make. If you keep each slide simple---one idea to a slide---nothing will be forgotten.
     At the start, determine the best place to stand so that you are not blocking the projection or somebody's view. When placing a slide on the projector, make sure that you look back at the screen to see that all is visible, and adjust the slide if necessary. It is best to point at the screen, if possible, rather than at the projector. The projector moves if you get too friendly with it. If you must point at the projector (if the screen is too far away, for example) be sure to keep the pointer steady. Also, don't fiddle with your pointer, as telescoping it in and out really detracts from what you are saying. Don't fumble with your slides. Throw away ``tissue paper'' separators before your presentation.
     Remember to focus on your audience, not on the projector. Aim to speak slowly and with enough volume to reach the person in the audience who is farthest away. Look around, they won't bite, and you can see whether your points are sinking in. Interact with the audience. Ask them if they are following you, or ask them simple questions to see if they are. Liven them up a bit.
     Take control of the questions, during or after the talk. Try to steer the topic back on track, otherwise audience participation can drive things far away from the main points of the talk. Take discussions off-line if they are consuming too much time or will not readily be resolved. Feel free to interrupt debates among audience members; after all, it's your talk!
     Humour can make a big difference, especially in dry technical talks. Try to lighten it up a bit; especially after some particularly heavy going. Cartoons can be an effective way to draw parallels with points you are trying to make. Even short verbal asides, rhetorical questions, or anecdotes can go a long way to keeping up audience interest.

Learn by observation.

In university, you are in a particularly good position to observe others giving presentations. Take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that others make, and borrow (steal) techniques that you find effective. Watch carefully for methods used by your lecturers that improve your understanding. Be careful, though, that you don't pay so much attention to the medium that you lose the message.

Further Reading

There are dozens of books in libraries and bookstores that cover effective oral communication. The IEEE Trans. on Professional Communication is a good source of articles, especially the March 1980 ``Special Issue on Public Speaking for Engineers and Scientists.'' Another good way to get public speaking experience of all kinds---not just technical---is to join a Toastmaster's Club.

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Frank R. Kschischang, September 4, 1995,