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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Oral Presentations

A topic guide to help you create and deliver a successful oral presentation

Are You Still Nervous?

Keep the following strategies in mind to help control your nervousness:

  1. Be well-prepared. Practice giving your talk more than once. Practice in front of a mirror so you are aware of any unintentional body language [e.g., swaying back and forth; not looking up to engage your audience, etc.] and practice in front of someone whom you trust will give you an honest assessment of your delivery.
  2. Be organized. If you are well organized, your task will be easier. If your presentation slides are out of order, or your notes are disorganized, you will likely get flustered and lose focus, and so will your audience.
  3. Remember: The way you perform is the way your audience will feel! Giving an oral presentation is a performance--view yourself as an actor. If you act the part of someone enjoying themselves and feeling confident, you will not only communicate these positive feelings to the audience, you will also feel much better as you proceed with your presentation.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Even the most accomplished public speakers can feel nervous before and during a talk. The skill comes in not communicating your nervousness and in not letting it take over from the presentation. Over time and with repeated practice, you will feel less nervous and better able to control your nervousness.

Here are some things to consider doing to help ensure that nervousness does not become a problem during your presentation:

  1. Smile! Your audience will react warmly to you if you smile and at least look relaxed.
  2. Treat your audience like friends. Think of your presentation as a welcomed opportunity to share the research topic with the audience.
  3. Breathe deeply. It will help calm you down and help to control the slight shaking that you might get in your hands and voice.
  4. Bring a water bottle. Constantly sipping water can be a distraction to your audience but, on the other hand, if you feel yourself getting a dry mouth while speaking and you begin to show it, you'll be glad you have some water on hand. Taking a sip of water also gives you a chance gather your thoughts.
  5. Slow down! When people are nervous, they tend to get confused easily. So your mind may start to race, and you may feel panicky. Make use of pauses; force yourself to stop at the end of a sentence, take a breath, and think before you continue.

Involve the Audience!

  • Be aware of how your audience is reacting to your presentation. Are they interested or bored? If they look confused, stop and ask them [e.g., "Is anything I've covered so far unclear?"]. Stop and explain a point again if needed.
  • Check after highlighting key points to ask if the audience is still with you. "Does that make sense?"; "Is that clear?"
  • Do not apologize for anything. If you believe something will be hard to read or understand, don't use it. If you apologize for feeling awkward or nervous, you'll only succeed in drawing attention to the fact you are feeling awkward or nervous. Your audience will begin looking for it rather than focusing on what you are saying.
  • Be open to questions. If someone raises their hand, or asks a question in the middle of your talk, answer it. If it disrupts your train of thought momentarily, that's ok because your audience will understand. Questions show that the audience is listening with interest and, therefore, should not be regarded as an attack on you, but as a collaborative search for deeper understanding. However, don't engage in an extended conversation with an audience member or the rest of the audience will begin to feel left out. If an audience member persists, kindly tell them that the issue can be addressed after you've completed the rest of your presentation and note to them that their issue may be addressed by things you say in the rest of your presentation [it may not be, but at least saying so allows you to move on].
  • Be ready to get the discussion going after your presentation. Professors often want a brief discussion to take place after a presentation. Just in case nobody has anything to say or no one asks any questions, be prepared to ask your audience some provocative questions or bring up key issues for discussion.

Get Physical!

  • Stand straight and comfortably. Do not slouch or shuffle about. If you appear bored or uninterested in what your talking about, the audience will be as well. This is not the time to wear a wool sweater or high heels for the first time.
  • Hold your head up. Look around and make eye contact with people in the audience. Do not just look at your professor the whole time! Do not stare at a point on the carpet or the wall. If you don't include the audience, they won't listen to you.
  • When you are talking to your friends, you naturally use your hands, your facial expression, and your body to add to your communication. Do it in your presentation as well. It will make things far more interesting for the audience.
  • Don't turn your back on the audience and don't fidget! Neither moving around nor standing still is wrong. Practice either to make yourself comfortable.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets. This is a natural habit when speaking. One hand in your pocket gives the impression of being relaxed, but both hands in pockets looks too casual and should be avoided.