16 Presentation Skills

Presentation Skills

Emilie Jackson

Learning Objectives

After reading this page, you will be able to:

  • prepare a presentation;
  • use strategies to practice your presentation;
  • deliver a presentation with confidence.

Why Is This Important?

Public speaking can be stressful. In fact, some researchers have found that a large percentage of people surveyed rate public speaking as their number one fear. Most people feel at least a little bit nervous at the prospect of public speaking. At the same time, it is an increasingly necessary skill in the workplace. For example, a human resource manager may present company policies and benefits plans to large groups of employees, an entrepreneur may present the idea for a new business to potential investors, or a nurse might chair a staff meeting to introduce new hospital procedures. In some fields, such as training and teaching, speaking in public is a regular job requirement.[1]

Although there is no delete button to undo mistakes while presenting, by planning carefully and practicing you can ensure that your presentation comes across as confident, knowledgeable, and interesting — and that your audience actually learns from it.[2]

Prepare your Presentation

Know Your Purpose

It is important for you to have a clear understanding of the purpose of your presentation. Here’s a brief review of the three general purposes for academic presentations:

  1. To inform: Increase the audience’s knowledge, teach about a topic or issue, and share your expertise.
  2. To demonstrate: Show the audience how to use, operate, or do something.
  3. To persuade: Influence the audience by presenting arguments intended to change attitudes, beliefs, or values.[3]

Create an Outline

An outline is a framework that helps the speaker organize ideas and tie them to the main structural elements of the presentation.[4]

Presentations need a beginning, middle, and end, and to expand on this, you can use the five-finger model:

  1. Hook: The hook is a statement that focuses the audience’s attention on you and your presentation.
  2. Introduction: Your introduction introduces you and your topic, and should state your topic clearly.
  3. Body: In the body, or main content area of your presentation, you will use an organizational pattern. Keep reading to learn about organizational patterns for presentations.
  4. Conclusion: Your conclusion should provide the audience with a sense of closure by summarizing the main points and relating the points to the overall topic.
  5. Residual Message: The residual message is an idea or thought that stays with your audience long after the presentation.[5]


Time management is the key to delivering an effective presentation. As you develop your outline, think about the amount of time you will devote to each section.

Below are two examples of how you could divide a ten-minute presentation. Which example do you think is better?

Presentation Part Example 1 Example 2
Hook 30 seconds 30 seconds
Introduction 30 seconds 2 minutes
Body 8 minutes 5 minutes
Conclusion 30 seconds 2 minutes
Residual Message 30 seconds 30 seconds

Both examples could result in a strong presentation, but what are the advantages and disadvantages?

The advantage of example 1 is that there is plenty of time for the body of the presentation, which is arguably the most important part because this is when the main points are shared. However, a disadvantage may be that the introduction and conclusion are too brief. The introduction introduces the audience to the topic, and the conclusion summarizes the main points. If these two parts of the presentation are not given enough time, the audience may not be able to follow along with the information shared in the body of the presentation. Example 2 seems to be more balanced, but there may not be enough time to share ideas and sufficient supporting information.

When creating an outline, consider the amount of time you will dedicate to each section and later, when you practice, you can time yourself to determine whether you need to adjust your content or delivery.

Determine the Organizational Pattern

You will need to organize the information in the body of your presentation. Based on the purpose and topic of your presentation, choose an organizational pattern that best suits your presentation.

Organizational Pattern Explanation
1. Time (Chronological) Listing a series of events or steps in a process, which typically has a beginning, middle, and end.
2. Process and Procedure Outlining distinct steps or phases that lead to a complete end goal. This is often referred to as the “how-to” organizational pattern.
3. Comparison Comparing similarities and/or differences between points or concepts.
4. Contrast Contrasting points to highlight the differences between items or concepts.
5. Cause and Effect Stating cause and effect to establish a relationship between two events or situations and making the connection clear.
6. Problem and Solution Stating a problem and its solution. This approach is effective for persuasive presentations.[6]


Consider the following scenario: Roberto is thinking about giving an informative presentation on the current status of HIV/AIDS. He has different ideas about how to approach the presentation.

Assuming all of these subjects would be researchable and appropriate for the audience, write specific purpose statements for each. What organizational pattern could he use for each specific purpose?[7]

Add Transitions

Transitions are words, phrases, or visual devices that help the audience follow the speaker’s ideas, connect the main points to each other, and understand the relationships between the ideas presented. Transitions are often described as bridges between ideas and are used by the speaker to guide the audience in the progression from one significant idea, concept, or point to the next. They can also show the relationship between the main point and the support the speaker uses to illustrate, provide examples for, or reference outside sources.[8]

The following table includes twelve types of transitions that can be used in an oral presentation. As you contemplate how to bring together the information in your presentation, consider how you will use various transitions and note them on your outline.[9]

Type Definition Examples
1. Previews A preview is a brief statement referring to a point you are going to make. It can forecast or foreshadow a main point coming in your presentation. If we look ahead to, next we’ll examine, now we can focus our attention on, first we’ll look at, then we’ll examine
2. Signposts A signpost alerts the audience that you are moving from one topic to the next. Signposts or signal words draw attention to themselves and focus the audience’s attention. Stop and consider, we can now address, next I’d like to explain, turning from/to, another, this reminds me of, I would like to emphasize
3. Summaries A summary briefly covers information or alludes to information introduced previously. It can remind an audience of a previous point and reinforce information covered in your presentation. As I have said, as we have seen, as mentioned earlier, in any event, in other words, in short, on the whole, therefore, to summarize, as a result, as I’ve noted previously, in conclusion
4. Sequence Transition A sequence transition outlines a hierarchical order or series of steps in your presentation. It can illustrate order or steps in a logical process. First…second…third, furthermore, next, last, still, also, and then, besides, finally
5. Time A time transition focuses on the chronological aspects of your presentation order. Particularly useful in a presentation that uses a story, this transition can illustrate for the audience the progression of time. Before, earlier, immediately, in the meantime, in the past, lately, later, meanwhile, now, presently, shortly, simultaneously, since, so far, soon as long as, as soon as, at last, at length, at that time, then, until, afterward
6. Addition An addition or additive transition contributes to a previous point. This transition can build on a previous point and extend the discussion. In addition to, furthermore, either, neither, besides, moreover, in fact, as a matter of fact, actually, not only, but also, as well as, not to mention
7. Similarity or Comparison A transition by similarity draws a parallel between two ideas, concepts, or examples. It can indicate a common area between points for the audience. In the same way, by the same token, equally, similarly, just as we have seen, in the same vein, likewise
8. Contrast A transition by contrast draws a distinction of difference, opposition, or irregularity between two ideas, concepts, or examples. This transition can indicate a key distinction between points for the audience. But, neither…nor, however, on the other hand, although, even though, in contrast, in spite of, despite, on the contrary, conversely, unlike, while, instead, nevertheless, nonetheless, regardless, still, though, yet
9. Cause and Effect or Result A transition by cause and effect or result illustrates a relationship between two ideas, concepts, or examples and may focus on the outcome or result. It can illustrate a relationship between points for the audience. As a result, because, consequently, for this purpose, accordingly, so, then, therefore, thereupon, thus, to this end, for this reason, as a result, because, therefore, consequently, as a consequence, and the outcome was
10. Examples A transition by example illustrates a connection between a point and an example or examples. You may find visual aids work well with this type of transition. In fact, as we can see, after all, even, for example, for instance, of course, specifically, such as, in the following example, to illustrate my point
11. Clarification A clarification transition restates or further develops a main idea or point. It can also serve as a signal to a key point. To clarify, that is, I mean, in other words, to put it another way, that is to say, to rephrase it, in order to explain, this means
12. Concession A concession transition indicates knowledge of contrary information. It can address a perception the audience may hold and allow for clarification. We can see that while, although it is true that, granted that, while it may appear that, naturally, of course, I can see that, I admit that even though

Prepare a Presentation Aid

Presentation aids are the resources beyond the words and delivery that a speaker uses to enhance the message conveyed to the audience. The type of presentation aids that speakers most typically make use of are visual aids such as pictures, diagrams, charts, and graphs.[10]


Laptop screen shows two examples of graphs: bar graphs and pie charts.
A laptop screen shows two examples of graphs: a bar graph and a pie chart. Image source: Pexels

When preparing your presentation, begin thinking about where to include media.[11] Consider what adding media can do for your presentation. Presenting information in a variety of formats will help you keep your audience’s interest and help reduce misunderstandings by clarifying complex information or emphasizing important ideas.[12]

Person delivers presentation to peers with a visual aid in the background.
Person delivers presentation to peers with a visual aid in the background. Image source: Pexels

Use PowerPoint

Delivering your presentation as a slideshow is one way to use media to your advantage. As you speak, you use a computer and an attached projector to display a slideshow of text and graphics that complement the presentation. Your audience will follow your ideas more easily because you are communicating with them through more than one sense. The audience hears your words and also sees the corresponding visuals. A listener who momentarily loses track of what you are saying can rely on the slide to cue their memory.

Using presentation software such as PowerPoint allows you to incorporate graphics, sounds, and even web links directly into your slides. You can also work with available styles, colour schemes, and fonts to give your presentation a polished, consistent appearance. Different slide templates make it easy to organize information to suit your purpose. Be sure your font is visible to you audience. Avoid using a small or coloured font that is not visible against your background.[13]

Annotate your Presentation

When you make a presentation, you are giving a performance of sorts. It may not be as dramatic as a play or a movie, but it requires smooth coordination of several elements — your words, your gestures, and any media you include. One way to ensure that the performance goes smoothly is to annotate your presentation ahead of time.

To annotate means to add comments or notes to a document. You can use this technique to plan how the different parts of your presentation will flow together. For instance, if you are working with slides, add notes to your outline indicating when you will show each slide. If you have other visual or audio media to include, make a note of that, too. Be as detailed as necessary. Jotting down “Start video at 3:14” can spare you the awkwardness of searching for the right clip during your presentation.

In a face-to-face presentation, make sure your final annotated outline is easy to read. It will serve to cue you during your presentation so it does not need to look polished, as long as it is clear to you. Double space the text and use a larger-than-normal font size (14 or 16 points) if that will make it easier for you to read. Boldface or italics will set off text that should be emphasized or delivered with greater emotion. Write out main points, as well as your opening and closing remarks, in complete sentences, along with any material you want to quote verbatim. Use shorter phrases for supporting details. Using your speaker notes effectively will help you deliver an effective presentation. Highlighting, using all capital letters, or choosing different-coloured font will help you easily distinguish notes from the text of your presentation.[14]

Practice your Presentation

Practice is essential if you want your presentation to be effective. Speaking in front of a group is a complicated task because there are many components to remember — your words, your visual aids, your voice, and your body language. If you are new to presenting, the task can feel overwhelming. With experience, it gets easier, but even experienced speakers benefit from practice.

Take the time to rehearse your presentation more than once. Each time you go through it, pick another element to refine. For instance, once you are comfortable with the overall verbal content, work on integrating your visuals. Then focus on your vocal delivery and your body language. Multiple practice sessions will help you integrate all of these components into a smooth, effective presentation.

If possible, practice in front of another person (or a small group) at least once. Practicing with a test audience will help you grow accustomed to interacting with other people as you talk, and it will give you a chance to get feedback from someone else’s perspective. Your audience can help you identify areas to improve. You can also record yourself while presenting and then watch the recording in order to learn how you can improve.

In addition, practice your presentation for time. When practicing your presentation, it is a good idea to time yourself at least three times. This way you can see if you are generally coming in around the same time and feel pretty good that it is an accurate reflection of how long you will speak. Conversely, if during your three rehearsals your times are 5:45, 5:12, and 6:37, then that is a clear indicator that you need to be more consistent in what you are saying and doing.[15]

Elements of Effective Oral Presentations

While practicing your presentation, you can take the opportunity to polish it. Consider the clarity and conciseness of the information, how your voice sounds, and how to use your body language to add interest to the presentation. 

In addition to the following elements, consider the elements of effective speaking (pronunciation, enunciation, word stress, thought groups, pitch and intonation) as described in the previous chapter: Speaking Skills.


As a speaker, you may have excellent ideas to present, but if they are not made clear to the audience, your presentation will not be successful. Your word choices, how you say them, and in what order, all relate to clarity. If you use euphemisms, or indirect expressions, to communicate an idea, your audience may not follow you. If you tell a story and fail to connect it clearly to your main point, your audience will also fail to see the connection.[16]

Use simple and familiar language in order to deliver a clear message. If a speaker said, “A collection of pre-adolescents fabricated a rotund personification comprised of compressed mounds of minute aquatic crystals,” you might be able to interpret it as “Some children made a snowman,” but it is not likely. Although the words are correct and technically mean the same thing, the language is not simple or familiar and therefore does not communicate well.[17]


Another part of being clear is being concise. Conciseness refers to being brief and direct in the visual and verbal delivery of your message, and avoiding unnecessary intricacy. It involves using as few words as necessary to get your message across, and no more. If you only have five to seven minutes, how will you be concise with your language in order to budget your time? Being economical with your time is a pragmatic approach to insuring that your attention, and the attention of your audience, is focused on the point at hand.[18]


Volume is simply how loudly or softly you speak. Shyness, nervousness, or over-enthusiasm can cause people to speak too softly or too loudly. The following are some tips for managing volume effectively:

  • Many people speak too quietly because they are afraid to speak too loudly. As a rule, aim to use a slightly louder volume when giving a presentation than you use in conversation.
  • Think about volume in relation to content. Main points should usually be delivered with more volume and force. However, lowering your voice at crucial points can also help draw in your audience or emphasize serious content.[19]


    Tone is the emotion you convey when speaking — excitement, annoyance, nervousness, lightheartedness, and so forth. Various factors, such as volume, pitch, and body language, affect how your tone comes across to your audience.

    Before you begin rehearsing your presentation, think about what tone is appropriate for the content. Should you sound forceful, concerned, or matter-of-fact? Are there places in your presentation where a more humorous or more serious tone is appropriate? Think about the tone you should project, and practice setting that tone.[20]


    The rate is how quickly or slowly you say words while speaking. A slower rate may communicate to your listener that you do not fully know what you are saying. “Where is this going?” they may wonder. By contrast, speaking too fast can make it difficult for your listener to keep up with and digest what you are saying.[21]

    Many less experienced speakers tend to talk faster when giving a presentation because they are nervous, want to get the presentation over with, or fear that they will run out of time. If you find yourself rushing when you are practicing your presentation, try the following strategies:

    • Take a few deep breaths before you speak. Make sure you are not forgetting to breathe during your presentation.
    • Identify places where a brief, strategic pause is appropriate — for instance, when transitioning from one main point to the next. Build these pauses into your presentation.
    • If you still find yourself rushing, you may need to edit your presentation content to ensure that you stay within the allotted time.

    If, on the other hand, your pace seems too slow, additional practice should help you. It also helps to break down how much time you plan to spend on each part of the presentation and then make sure you are adhering to your plan.[22]

    Body Language

    The nonverbal content of a presentation is just as important as the verbal delivery. A person’s body language — eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movement — communicates a powerful message to an audience before any words are spoken.

    People interpret and respond to each other’s body language instinctively. When you talk to someone, you notice whether the other person is leaning forward or hanging back, nodding in agreement or disagreement, looking at you attentively or looking away. In everyday conversations, people often communicate through body language without thinking about it. As a speaker, you are typically standing in front of your audience or you may be presenting on an online platform. It is not easy to see yourself as your audience sees you.

    Body language can vary across cultures. To learn about appropriate body language for presenters in a North American context, try watching videos of academic and professional presentations online or attend presentations if possible. Make note of the presenter’s body language. In presentations in a North American context, you will likely note that the presenter faces the audience, speaks directly to the audience, uses moderate hand gestures, and stands straight up, but is not rigid.


    Think about times you have been in an audience listening to a presenter. You have probably seen some presenters who seemed to own the room, projecting confidence and energy and easily connecting with the audience. Other presenters may have come across as nervous, gloomy, or disengaged. How did their body language make a difference?

    Eye Contact

    Eye contact norms can also vary across cultures. In a North American context, “maintain eye contact” is a common piece of advice for presenters. Why is that simple piece of advice so hard to follow? In everyday conversation, people establish eye contact but then look away from time to time, because staring into someone’s eyes continuously feels uncomfortably intense. How do you manage that when you are addressing a group? The trick is to focus on one person at a time. Zero in on one person, make eye contact, and maintain it just long enough to establish a connection. (A few seconds will be enough.) Then move on. This way, you connect with your audience, one person at a time. As you proceed, you may find that some people hold your gaze and others look away quickly. That is fine, as long as you connect with people in different parts of the room.[23]

    Key Takeaway

    Planning and practicing can help you deliver an effective academic presentation with confidence.

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