Recommendations and prerequisites for a successful (oral) presentation

Author: Ulrich Schiefer, Aalen/Tübingen

Basic considerations

  • Do not exceed scheduled duration of the presentation.
  • You have always too much topics.
  • Nobody knows, which topics/slides you have intentionally skipped
  • Practice, practice, practice! Present your paper orally (i.e. speaking loudly) several times (for rehearsal: start with self talk and then switch to a well-known test audience → feed back/coaching). By doing so you will detect flaws of your presentation and will estimate/correct for the duration of your presentation. Be sure that especially the first (introduction) and the last (conclusion) minute of your talk are concise.

The inherent strain energy of your talk

The start and the end of your presentation are decisive: you should tailor the thematic scope and the difficulty to the audience. The beginning and the end should be understandable and fascinating even for a cleaner who is just incidentally present in the lecture hall.

A hard fight: questioning/challenging each slide

You should schedule at least one minute for each slide – animatronics or integrated video clips increase the duration of the talk considerably.
Question each slide by asking: (Why) do I need it at all? An emphatic coach is the best and most efficient method to get rid of redundant/superfluous slides. If you have finally decided to stay with this slide you should critically ask yourself: Why does it have to at this very place in line?
Please consider for each single slide, how to introduce it, which are the most important items that have to be presented and also how to exit this slide. You must have these items and the sequence of the slides in mind! You should implement control keys for advancing the slide immediately or even for proceeding to the very last slide.

Design of slides and presentation mode

Confine to the most important items and keep it simple – the receptivity of the audience is limited! Do not show more than 7 (+/-2) lines of text per slide. Go for keywords instead of full text. Stay with readable sans serif fonts (Arial, Helvetica, …) of adequate size which should well readable from the backseat row. Avoid highlighting by underscoring (, which induces crowding) and by UPPERCASES, which both impair visibility. Use animatronics parsimoniously; these gimmicks are time-consuming and potentially distracting.
Simplify graphics, figures and tables – the capability of your audience is limited. Insert hyperlinks within key slides that allow you to skip chapters and thus catch-up in case of unexpected delay. Present pithy figures and try to address the imagination of the listeners. Try to connect your presentation to emotions.

Preparation immediately before you presentation

Show up as early as possible and introduce yourself to the chairpersons and the members of the technical staff. Inform yourself about the local technical equipment (lectern, laser pointer, remote control, microphone, interfaces regarding image and audio transfer). If you are early enough, you can check the setting of the local projector and of the audio system with regard to (critical) slides, video clips and audio files. Keep in mind that this is the decisive place where your presentation has to work rather than in the preparation room or at your home base. Choose the best-possible microphone system and setting at this time (a headset is the optimal option in most cases). Switch off your mobile phone or set it to the flight mode at latest at this time.
Get seated close to the lectern and get wired to the microphone as soon as possible.
A few sips of still (!) water will help to keep your voice in shape from the beginning.
Wait until the chairperson calls you up. Address the chairperson and/or the inviting person and the entire audience. Speak slowly, loudly and clear and avoid long, winding sentences. Stay as you are – it is much easier to follow authentic persons. Stay calm, especially in case of technical problems – in most cases it is not your fault and nervous or even angry presenters create “negative vibes” in the audience. In general, a serene, relaxed atmosphere makes learning and communication smooth and easy.
Keep an eye on a clock or your watch, and in case of getting short in time, pre-defined hyperlinks are helpful to skip a chapter or even to advance to your last, conclusive slide.
Finally, do not forget: the first and the last minute of you presentation are decisive!