How to Survive Doing a Presentation at Uni If You’re an Introvert
Unfortunately for us introverts, university and presentations go hand in hand. In fact, life and public speaking go hand in hand.
So if, like me, the mere mention of a presentation has you breaking out in a cold sweat, then check out this survival guide that could help you make it safely through.
1. First things first, know your topic well.
Aim to complete the research for your presentation as soon as you’re given the assignment. That way, when you’re lying awake at night worrying about those 10 minutes of torture, you can at least feel reassured that you know what you’re talking about and spend less time coming up with excuses to bail.
2. Plan your presentation out on paper.
Once you’ve sorted out the research part, write out all your points clearly, making sure to cover everything you need to (and then some, if you’re looking to impress!) Attack it like an essay plan and start with an introduction and conclusion. Then just map out all the important points in between. Easy!
3. Write a script.
I know it sounds like a faff, but it’ll be worth it. Write out what you need to say word for word, and take this to your presentation as your safety blanket just in case your mind goes blank and you need more than a prompt. If you end up reciting your script, don’t worry; it really isn’t the end of the world! You’d lose a lot more marks if you didn’t get up and speak at all than the measly few you might lose for reading off a piece of paper. Be proud that you got up to speak in front of all those people in the first place. An additional tip would be to use sturdier cue cards or a notepad rather than a single sheet of paper, especially if you’re prone to the shakes.
4. Time yourself.
Test how long your presentation lasts from start to finish, and try to put it into perspective. Tell yourself that this is a 5 or 15 minute presentation, and contrary to what your brain is telling you, it will not last forever – you can do this! This strategy is also helpful if you have a require time limit. It will let you know if you need to cut down your points or add any more. Personally, I look for any opportunity to chip away at the words I have to say – plus, I know that I’m likely to speak a little more slowly during a presentation anyway.
5. Practice really does make perfect.
Blackmail your mates and family into listening to your presentation over and over again to get important feedback on your performance. Bribe them into pretending to be an audience member who asks annoying questions so you can test your knowledge of the subject. Make mental notes when you get nervous or stuck and focus on those areas. It may be that you need to change the wording or scrap the point entirely. Bonus: all the while, you’ll be learning your lines!
6. Take charge.
Every now and then, your tutors will come up with a new form of punishment called the ‘group presentation.’ In these instances, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to volunteer to piece together the team’s work into a slideshow. Sure, you’ll be doing the hard graft but you’ll also be in control. You can choose where you want to go in the speaking order and prepare with this in mind. This will reduce your chances of being blindsided once you’re up there.
7. Use props.
Use handouts and visual aids (pictures, videos, charts, and graphs) to make your presentation more engaging. Using props also has the cunning side effect of deflecting attention away from you! So you’ll seem like an attentive public speaker but in fact, you’re just a crafty introvert.
8. Back your work up!
Make sure to have several copies of your presentation on your computer, and even email it to yourself just in case you’ve done something in a past life to anger the Gods and the file magically disappears.
9. Don’t set yourself up to fail.
This is an obvious one, but one some people just continue to get wrong. Do things as simple as practising inserting your USB and setting up your presentation. Ensure that the title of your document is clear and easy to find. No introvert wants to be desperately searching for their presentation as the entire class judges their every move.
10. Use larger items in the room to steady yourself.
Know that you can use the computer, desk, or podium before you to steady yourself and plant your feet firmly on the ground. If need be, use the prop as a physical barrier between you and the audience behind which you can hide your nervous tendencies.
11. Remember to take it slow.
On the dreaded day, avoid talking too fast and make sure to take deep breaths as this will lessen your chances of stumbling over your words. Remember that your audience is hearing your material for the first time – they aren’t as familiar with the topic as you are and they don’t know what you are going to say. So if you make a mistake, keep going and don’t dwell on it. Chances are, they didn’t even notice your slip-up.
12. Be prepared.
If a Q&A section is required at the end of each presentation, talk to your friends in the class and strike a deal. Plan both the questions and your answers. Your friends will be glad that you’ve given them something to ask without sounding silly in front of the lecturer, and you’ll be glad that you know what’s coming. I call that a win-win!
13. Consider your strengths.
What are your strengths as a public speaker? Don’t focus on the negative and overlook the positive. You might not be as strong in some areas, but you can use that to your advantage by making the presentation all yours.
14. Ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen?
No matter how much we lie awake at night certain that the teacher will ridicule us or that the audience will laugh, it truly never happens. Try to get out of your head! The worst you can do is stammer over a word which will then be forgotten by everyone before you’ve even sat back down. It’s not as a big a deal as you’re making it in your head.
15. Express your fears and concerns.
Family, friends, and even tutors can help you through it and may also offer some effective tips left out of the holy grail that is this survival guide. It’s better to talk about it than suffer in silence.
16. And finally, as cheesy as it sounds, remember that you are not alone.
Even seasoned speakers still get anxious! If you’re stuttering and shaking, the chances are that the audience members are all too busy worrying about their own upcoming presentations to even notice or they simply just don’t care. And remember, you never look as nervous as you feel. So imagine what the audience looks like in their undies, or look around the room without really making eye contact. Do whatever it takes, but just know that you truly are not alone. The preparation you do will take you a long way, and before you know it, it’ll all be over.