Preparing to present your work

Hello all,

Apologies for not posting lately but I have just returned from some annual leave. For this post I thought I would write a little bit about a topic that I know quite a few students may struggle with (myself included) and that is public speaking or presenting your work to a room or group of your peers.

In the past I would try every which way I could to avoid not having to present in front of my class. However, as I have progressed from undergraduate to post-graduate and now to PhD level, I have been forced to confront my fear and present my work to others.

I remember the first instance that I presented my work to a group of my peers and it could not have gone more horribly wrong. I tried to stand and became so nervous that my legs were shaking and I was visibly nervous. I had to stop my presentation and ask to sit down for fear that my legs would buckle under my own weight (a newly discovered problem at the time). My audience were gracious and politely laughed and allowed me to recompose myself. I recall walking away from that experience so disappointed with myself, knowing that I could have performed better.

I was then fortunate to be given the opportunity to teach on some undergraduate modules. This went better and although still nervous, I was able to stand and deliver my lesson. Although looking back I would perhaps have liked to relax a little more and speak a bit more freely (on this occasion, I was nervous again and I read verbatim from a script). I then worked on my delivery and improved in my coming lectures.

Using all my past experiences, I then had to present an interim report of sorts to my co-funders. Although I was nervous, I felt as though this was the best I had presented thus far. I also recieved some very postive feedback where people said that I appeared to be really relaxed and engaging.

I am now on the cusp of presenting a paper in my first proper conference and the nerves are starting to flare a little. However, in thinking over how far I have come in terms of my public speaking I feel in a much better position than I was in almost 2 years ago. Therefore, I would say that even if presenting or public speaking isn’t for you, it is worth attempting to challenge yourself to overcome your anxiety. You may never like it but each time it does get a little easier and a bit more enjoyable.

This is also an important skill for future job prospect, because in most job roles you may be required to stand up in front of your peers and tell them about something. So it is worth challenging yourself and trying to develop a skill.

There are some things to remember that can make enhance your presenting style:

  1. Try not to overload slides
  2. Try not to read from a script (when you concentrate on what you are saying and trying to make it understandable and relateable not only does it come across better but it takes your mind off the nerves I find).
  3. Breathe (I know that when nerves kick in you just want the occasion to be over with quickly but take your time and take pride in what you are presenting, this is your chance to show what you know or your work)
  4. Talk slow (I try and channel Professor Brian Cox, becuase when nervous I tend to speak fast, so although to me I sounds as though I am talking slow, it gives a good pace so that people can understand and engage with what you are saying).
  5. Take the feedback you get and look to improve. From the disappointment of my first time presenting, I went forward and vowed never to have the same experience again. Each time I present I take on board the feedback and look to improve each time.

I guess what I am trying to say in this post is don’t worry about being nervous when you present, most people are. Try and challenge yourself and you may find a hidden skill or some depth of enjoyment in something that you previously had not liked at all. Finally, if you wanted some help, I am aware that the library run presentation skills workshops so it may be worth investigating that if you think you need a little support in helping yourself feel comfortable when presenting.


Thanks for reading.

Joanna Wolton

I am a PhD student in the Centre for Innovative Ageing within the College of Human and Health Sciences. I hope this blog is insightful and gives you some tips and information about what it is like to be a student living in Swansea.

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