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Presentation Skills: A short guide


During your time at university, you will probably be asked to give an oral presentation to your peers, whether as part of an assessment for a module, as a group presentation in a seminar, or during an interview. Presentations require as much thought, planning and research as written essays, even though their purpose, style and audience are often different. For many students, delivering a presentation can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it does not have to be! Here are some tips to help you develop your presentations and enjoy doing them.

Planning a presentation

Five key questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are your presentation’s objectives?
  2. Who is your audience?
  3. What content are you going to include?
  4. How much time do you have?
  5. What visual aids will you use? 

In each case, your answer should reflect the needs of your audience, plus any assessment criteria.

Writing a presentation

  • Script vs notes: always write notes eg, on index cards. Never rely on writing out the whole presentation and simply reading it.
  • Plan out the presentation to get a smooth flow of ideas.
  • Think extra-hard about an engaging introduction and memorable conclusion.

Using technology

  • Learn how to use PowerPoint or a similar presentation tool, but make sure your slides are accessible and helpful. For example, make sure your font size is large enough to be readable and there is a strong enough contrast between text and bakground
  • Use pictures and diagrams effectively! Keep your images simple. Avoid unnecessary clutter or distracting transitions.
  • Be aware of copyright for images. Clearly label graphs and tables. 
  • Make sure you have a back-up plan in case technology fails.


Delivering presentations


  • Practise, practise, and practise! It’s that simple. Why not ask a friend to be your audience so you can get some feedback?
  • Be enthusiastic. If you appear passionate and interested in your topic, your audience will be too.
  • Body language and posture. Stand with a relaxed but confident posture to deliver your presentation. Smile and make eye contact with your audience, and try not to pace or fidget.
  • Your voice is your best tool! Practice will help you learn to speak clearly and project.
  • Watch your pace. Many students lose marks for nervously racing through their presentation. This hinders understanding. Pause now and again to drink some water and slow yourself down.

Question and answer session 

  • Be prepared. Think through in advance what you might be asked.
  • How do you respond? Practise some responses. On the day, make sure you listen carefully and give yourself a moment to consider your answer.
  • Do not make up the answer if you’re unsure! Be honest, and try a phrase such as ‘that’s an interesting question that had not occurred to me.’

Overcoming nerves

  • Presentation nerves can be positive! To do the best possible presentation, you need some energy, some ‘edge’. Totally nerveless performances can be flat.
  • Preparation is key! If you have prepared an interesting presentation with a clear structure and lots of examples, your anxiety will decrease.
  • Think positively. Your lecturer, seminar tutor and your peers all want you to do well. Afterwards, you will feel great!
  • Relaxation techniques. Everybody has their own way of controlling and channelling nerves. See the readings on the back page for examples of relaxation techniques.

Five Top tips

  1. Let your interest and enthusiasm shine through.
  2. A STRONG introduction and conclusion will focus your audience.
  3. Practise your presentation and watch your timing.
  4. Use PowerPoint and other visual resources, but only if they add something.
  5. Aim to enjoy the experience!

Further references on presentation skills

Chivers, B. and Shoolbred, M. (2007) A student’s guide to presentations. London: Sage.

University of Birmingham. Academic Skills Centre. (2016) Short guide to images in your writing. Available at:

University of Birmingham. (2016) Presentation skills. Available at: 


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