Tips on Giving Presentations in Grad School

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Some say that the scariest thing you will do in life is give grad school presentations. Something about standing in front of a ton of people and talking scares the pants off of most people. I remember talking to a few of my classmates and they brought up that Speech class was one of the only classes they needed to do to graduate, and they were putting it off until the last semester because it scared them. I, fortunately, love giving presentations. i love talking about a subject that I am passionate about to a ton of people. Yes, I feel nervous and scared, but the feeling after giving the presentation is totally worth it. You feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders, and you are almost weightless. Such an amazing feeling.

You can do it

I have always been very comfortable standing in front of people and talking to them. Ironically, the most anxiety inducing thing that I refuse to do is talk to someone I don’t know on the phone. This is a common fear that I am slowly working on.

When you are in grad school, you will give a ton of presentations. Some on subjects you like, others on things you are not familiar with or just don’t care about. The biggest presentation and probably the scariest one, other than the qualifying exam presentation, is your thesis defense. This is the culmination of all of your hard work given as a presentation to people that are the best in their fields. It’s tough, but most people pass so your chances of graduating are fairly high.

Here are some ways to get more comfortable giving presentations in grad school

I get it, giving presentations are hard, but they don’t need to be with some tips and tricks. I use these tips every time that I present.

1) Create a PowerPoint presentation and practice it way beforehand.

This means creating it days before, possible weeks before, and just getting so familiar with the slides that you don’t even need to look at them to know what it includes. You are most likely going to be presenting a PowerPoint anyway. Be proactive and make sure the presentation is completed days before and practice, practice, practice!

2) Write notes.

When you aren’t quite in the “groove” while presenting, take a look at your notes. They will help you stay on track and make you very organized and not all over the place. Write key notes about each slide either on the slide (presenter mode) or on a note pad. This will help you stay on track, especially when you lose your train of thought.

3) Make eye contact, if you are comfortable, if not, look at someone’s forehead.

I like making eye contact to make sure my audience did not fall asleep. Other people prefer looking at the back of the room or someone’s forehead. That’s fine too as long as you are scanning the room. Do not just stare at one person the entire time. That’s just weird. This also gives you a sense of what’s working and what’s not. If everyone is asleep, this gives you a great opportunity to talk louder lol. Also, getting used to making eye contact will help you with presentations later on. You’ll get feedback from your audience immediately indicating if something is working or not.

4) Bring humor into the presentation.

Tell a joke or bring up something funny. It will keep the audience engaged and make you more comfortable. No one wants to watch a boring presentation anyway. Have fun with it. Add a few jokes here and there to bring excitement and joy to your presentation. This will help the audience stay awake and give you way more confidence so you can finish the presentation strong.

5) Breathe!

Deep breathes beforehand will calm your nerves and help you not sound nervous. Anxiety can creep up on you very quickly. Try a few breathing exercises such as the ones mentioned (here).

6) Practice in front of friends first.

You will get used to presenting in front of multiple people and you will feel comfortable. Use the feeling of comfort and try and feel that before giving the actual presentation. Get some of your friends to come over before your presentation. Buy some pizza r make them food and give your presentation. Listen to their feedback and see if they liked it or not. Your friends will be honest with you too.

7) Bring water.

When you are talking, you may lose track of where you are, on the PowerPoint as well as your notes. This is a good time to drink water because you can stall for time to get back into your groove. Also, it is good to stay hydrated.

8) Lastly, have fun with it.

It is a scary moment but a vital one. If you don’t have fun, you’ll associate all presentations with bad experiences. You do not want to do this. Have fun, learn a lot, and just be yourself. The presentation will be amazing because you are amazing. Having a fun time giving presentations will train your body to not be afraid of it anymore. You will be conditioned to feel excitement and happiness the next time you give a presentation. This will make your qualifying exam and defense so much better.

Final Thoughts

Giving presentations in grad school does not have to be super hard. In fact, it can be a great and fun time. Because you are in grad school, you will give a ton of presentations. At first, you may feel a bit uncomfortable, but over time, you will definitely be comfortable in front of the class.

I hope this list helps a bit. My qualifying presentation is next week so I will be using my own advice fairly soon. I hope you have an amazing day/week/month and I will see you guys in the next blog.