From conferences to classrooms to job interviews, presentations are part of graduate student life. Here are a few tips from expert presenters on how to avoid going down in flames.
• Practice—aloud, often, and in front of others. Experts agree: Public speaking success comes with rehearsal. "The more you practice, the more comfortable you are with your material, and the easier you'll recover if you do forget something," says Nancy Zarse, PsyD, a professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. "Stand up, speak out loud, hear what you're saying."
• Make one point 10 times, not 10 points at once. Restrict your presentation to a few essential take-aways. "Among the reasons that I failed in my early presentations was my naiveté about how much one could present and communicate in an hour," says Peter Pufall, PhD, of Smith College. To maximize your audience's understanding, he says, "Tell them what you are going to talk about, talk about it and then summarize what you talked about."
• Create backup. Each expert had his or her own horror story about technical difficulties mucking up a presentation—including a possessed slide carousel that advanced on its own. Most presenters rely on PowerPoint and other technologies to engage their audiences—but it's a mistake to do so without anticipating problems. "Technology is great, but you always want to be prepared for what can happen if it fails," says Zarse. "Take along papers, notes, a DVD, handouts, transparencies."
• Calm down. Put your fears in perspective, experts say. "Many errors are fueled by anxiety," explains Patricia DiBartolo, PhD, of Smith College. "To decrease that anxiety, I help my students prepare for the worst, cognitively," she says. "We identify what the worst-case scenario is, and I ask them if they could survive it. It helps to be objective."