How to Rock that Presentation

This past Thursday the wonderful and inspiring UA Librarians Mary Evangeliste and Leslie Sult visited SIRLS, facilitating a session on “Producing Successful Presentations.” There was a small student audience, and the session began with introductions followed by a facilitated discussion. We shared our own experiences, talking about what it is we have seen that’s made an impressive and memorable presentation, what it is that terrifies us the most about giving one of our own, and what we can each do personally to make our own experiences a little bit better. A number of things were suggested by the librarians and by the audience, and we walked away with notes on some important tricks of the trade, summarized here:

  • If you’re in control of the topic of your presentation, be sure to pick something you are truly interested in. Talking about something you’re passionate about will create a much more engaging and meaningful presentation.
  • Know your material. This is an easy one, and all it requires is time. But prepare, and really know your material. Know it inside and out so you can jump around, improvise, and respond to questions easily. You can also go off topic and change gears depending on reactions from the audience. Knowing your material will allow you to be more flexible, and flexibility can be a great advantage.
  • Anticipate questions the audience might ask, especially if a topic is controversial. If you can’t answer a certain question that’s ok, just be honest that you don’t have the information at this time to answer it and move on.
  • Feel good about sharing your knowledge and realize that you are doing the audience a favor. The audience wants to like you. Relax.
  • When possible, begin to practice your talk at least 48 hours before you are going to give it. This allows you to get comfortable with your thought process and gives you enough time for the content to process and sink in. It will help you reach the whole “knowing your material” thing.
  • Don’t just memorize. And don’t read from your paper or read from your PowerPoint. Speak like you’re a real person. You can be “professional” while still being genuine. Ideally, you should just have a brief outline to refer to if needed.
  • Keep things interesting and have fun with it. Heck, bring candy or other goodies to throw to people in the audience. Ask them questions at unexpected times. It can be surprisingly effective and will help create enthusiasm among your audience.
  • Do things that make you comfortable to help get rid of the nerves. You can talk to people in the audience before you begin your presentation; get to know them on a basic level as real people and it might make you less nervous. When you are able to, position yourself the way you feel the most comfortable – figure out if you prefer standing up behind a podium, walking around the audience, speaking from the back of the room, sitting down, etc. Find out what feels best to you and make your own style.
  • If you are using a PowerPoint, use it mostly for visual clues. Don’t just put your outline up on your PowerPoint, and you should really only use one if it actually enhances your presentation.
  • Know why you’re presenting in the first place. Think about why what you are talking about is important, and what you want the the audience to walk away with. Don’t try to squeeze in too much information. Present no more than 5 key points. You can always use handouts to give the audience further resources.
  • Feel good about presenting. You are sharing your knowledge with others, and this is a very powerful thing.

The session is now up on YouTube so be sure to check it out. I want to say a big THANK YOU to Mary and Leslie for taking the time to share your wisdom, you are both fabulous 🙂


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