Matters to a Degree

We've all sat though stimulating presentations--and we've all had to endure some seriously boring ones. Capturing the attention and interest of your audience is no easy task. But learning how to make an effective presentation, whether it's in a classroom, at a conference, to a legislator or to a group of peers, is an essential career skill for students and psychologists.

With help from the APAGS Convention Committee, we've compiled these tips to aid you in giving a polished and successful presentation in any venue. These suggestions will help you leave a positive impression with your audience, build your skills and enhance your reputation.

  • Know your audience. The more you understand about your audience, the greater your success as a speaker. Offer them practical information so they can apply what you've discussed.

  • Avoid reading your presentation. Know your presentation well enough to present it conversationally.

  • Gear up. Audiences become uncomfortable when presenters are unprepared or anxious. To avoid this, organize your material in a logical flow, create an outline, write a script and have a colleague edit it for accuracy and coherence.

  • Practice. Even the most experienced presenters need to rehearse. Run through your presentation alone, in front of a mirror and in front of an audience. Ask them for feedback--what was memorable, interesting or confusing? Ask them to tell you the most important points of your presentation to determine whether they received your message. Consider audio- or videotaping your presentation to spot improvements you could make and identify unconscious habits you'd like to eliminate.

  • Communicate with enthusiasm. Talk with confidence and passion to add credibility to your message. It will also keep your audience attentive--as long as you're not yelling at them!

  • Pay attention to your delivery. Pace your remarks and monitor your volume. Inflect your voice and avoid monotone. Enunciate correctly, maintain good eye contact throughout the room and use appropriate body language or gestures.

  • Use clear concepts. Audiences retain concepts better than data or facts, so present ideas that will be useful in their daily lives. And remember, people generally retain no more than three to five key points.

  • Tap into your anxiety! Anxiety may boost your energy level, improve your recall, make your speech more dynamic and make you more focused. Of course, too much anxiety can also result in strange habits and be distracting. Control physical manifestations of anxiety by breathing deeply from the diaphragm and sipping water. Reframe your ideas about your anxiety--think of anxiety as feelings of excitement about having this opportunity to share your ideas. You have something interesting to say and the audience wants to hear you, so relax and enjoy the spotlight.

  • Use visual aids when they add to your message. Visuals may keep the audience interested and engaged. The most memorable visual aids are the simplest--make one key point per visual and minimize the amount of text. Use 18-point or larger font sizes for easy reading. Some graphs, tables and charts may be difficult to see, so be sure to make paper copies available. Speak to the critical information on the chart, not necessarily to every detail. Transparencies and handouts should be clear, sharp, legible and high-contrast. Avoid using fancy fonts, small print or dark ink on a dark background. Remember to describe what is on the screen to aid individuals with visual disabilities.

  • Summarize your remarks in handouts. Consider making handouts available on disk or on your Web site, and create large-print versions for people with disabilities. Make transparencies available in hard copy for close examination.

  • Offer a question-and-answer session. When receiving questions, always rephrase them before you answer. This helps those who may not be able to hear the question and lets the questioners know you understood them. If you don't know the answer, say so. If you promise to answer a question at a later date, write down the questioner's name and contact information after the presentation.

Special thanks to Cindy DeVaney Olvey, PsyD, for her original contributions to these APAGS presentation tips.

These suggestions will help you leave apositive impression with your audience, build your skills and enhance your reputation.