If you’re anything like me, the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people and actually speaking makes you want to throw up. Unfortunately for every introverted student out there, presentations are an integral part of most university classes and you’re often graded on them. This means that we have to come to terms with our anxiety or at least fake it until we make it. To this end, I’ve compiled a selection of advice on seeming more confident when presenting to a class. Perhaps you’ll even be able to fool yourself!
- Body language
Even if you’re quaking in your boots, it’s important not to let your audience see this. Your body language always provides the first impression of you. If you’re hunched over and wringing your hands, your audience and the tutor will know that you’re terrified and this will often make you seem unprepared, even before you open your mouth. Instead, keep your posture upright, shoulders back and chin raised. Moreover, a presentation is meant to communicate to your audience, not despite them, so it’s important to angle your body towards them and make eye contact. I always choose two or three friendly faces at various points of the room and alternate the direction of my gaze between them. This gives the appearance of engaging with the entire room but on a more manageable scale.
- Don’t fidget
Linked to my first point is the rule on fidgeting. In short, don’t do it. If you’re anything like me, this will prove almost impossible. When I’m nervous, I play with my jewellery or my sleeves or I just rub my arms. Now, while I’ve gotten into the habit of removing all jewellery before a presentation and wear short sleeves whenever possible, I can’t go so far as removing my arms. Instead, I make sure that I’m standing next to or behind a desk. This gives me somewhere to place my hands if I feel them getting restless. Another technique is to practice hand gestures to go along with your presentation. While flapping your hands about willy-nilly is perhaps as inadvisable at toying with your watch, a few meaningful hand gesture (for example pointing to a graph on your PowerPoint or extending your hand to people if you ask them a question) may be enough to cure your desire to fidget.
It’s important to be aware of the speed and intonation of your voice while presenting. If you speak too fast, not only will it clearly demonstrate your nerves, it’ll make it hard for your audience to understand you. As someone who speaks quickly anyway (a necessity growing up with an older brother or I would never have been able to get a word in edgeways), this has always been a problem for me. Practicing speaking slowly has helped somewhat but, if I have a friend in class, I always ask them to signal to me if I’m speaking too quickly. If you feel like your words are running away with you, stop (preferably not in the middle of a sentence), take a breath and continue. To your audience, if you time it right, it’ll simply look like you’re pausing for dramatic effect, but it’ll give you a chance to regain control of your nervous babbling. Secondly, the pitch of your voice is important. If your voice gets higher at the end of every sentence, as though in question, it’ll seem like you’re unsure of your own information. So, speak slowly, clearly and at an even level.
- Be prepared
So, this is a piece of advice that seems to pop up in all the ‘how to’ blogs that I do, unfortunately for those of us who would really just watch another episode of Greys Anatomy. However, it’s tried and tested. The simple fact of the matter is that the easiest way to make it seem like you know what you’re talking about is to actually know what you’re talking about. This means doing the research on your topic until you know it inside out, back to front and round and round the garden. Read the suggested reading, drag yourself through the bibliography and it’ll pay dividends. The best presentation grade that I ever received was in a class that I enjoyed and, therefore, made the effort to do further research for when it came to presenting on it. Not only did I get higher marks in the content section, knowing that I knew what I was talking about gave me the confidence boost that I needed to nail the presentation. Preparation also means practicing; read the presentation through to yourself a few times and then practice it with a friend. This way you can work out the best places to pause, to gesture and catch any small lexical or structural errors that might have slipped through the gaps.
With all things anxiety related, it’s very easy to blow the matter completely out of proportion and this only leads to you being more nervous. The best way to break this vicious cycle is to try to keep everything in perspective. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen? Getting a low grade is better than getting no grade. Making a mistake isn’t going to destroy your degree. You’re very unlikely to be laughed out of the room. The likelihood is, if you say the wrong thing or stumble over a word, people won’t even notice. Often, the rest of the class isn’t really listening anyway.
So there you have it, five tips for seeming more confident during class presentations. There’s a good chance that you’ll never really enjoy doing them, honestly who does? But they are, unfortunately, part of the university experience and (unless you decide on being a hermit as your career of choice) for life out in the adult world. Practicing these now will help you in the future. As always, if you have any suggestions or questions on this topic, drop me a comment below.