University presentation: The 8 most common mistakes and how to avoid them!
It’s not unknown for the grade you get in a degree program to hinge on a single paper or presentation. This article aims to cover common mistakes (especially when you’re just starting out), and show you how to avoid them.
We want to reassure you that everyone can create a good university presentation, winning over both your fellow students and your professor!
From School to University
Many young people are inadequately prepared for creating and giving individual presentations during their school years. Presentations are generally given in groups, and students take turns presenting.
This means that students who’ve come from small-class environments are often hammered by stage fright when they suddenly have to give a university presentation alone and in front of a larger audience.
Add to this the fact that it’s rare to be taught how to use PowerPoint efficiently in school, and it’s obvious that many will have difficulty creating and giving an excellent university presentation. This leads to unnecessary stress. To avoid this, just read on!
Common Errors When Presenting
It’s so important to realize that a presentation is more than just a set of slides. The way those slides are presented is also an essential part of creating a good university presentation.
Many students, particularly at the beginning of their studies, focus narrowly on the content of the slides, failing to understand that they’re just one aspect of a presentation.
One of the basics for giving a good presentation – one that both your professor and your fellow students can actually enjoy – is being able to speak fluently and confidently. This only comes naturally to a lucky few, though – the rest of us need to put in a lot of preparation, especially at the start of our studies. Don’t panic, though – we’ll show you just what to do, and what mistakes to avoid!
Mistake #1: Failure to practise
Presenting topics needs to be practised! Most students spend hours perfecting the content of their university presentation, but give little or no thought to how they’re going to deliver it. If you rehearse properly, you can avoid unnecessary slip-ups and hangs while presenting, and learn how to get the timing right (not rushing, but not dragging). It’s no good going to all the trouble of creating a great presentation (or product!) if you can’t sell it as well!
Just reading your presentation out loud two or three times before you have to get up and speak in public will hugely reduce the chances of slipping up. (You also often notice more mistakes in the content when you speak than when you read, which you can then fix.) If you have a time limit to stick to, you’ll also be able to see if you need to shorten (or lengthen) your presentation.
If you have problems delivering your presentation smoothly, PowerPoint Presenter View can be really helpful. Find out how to use Speaker View to make your presentation easier here.
Do be aware, though, that depending on where you are presenting, you may not necessarily have a clear view of your laptop. Many college seminar rooms don’t have a lecture podium. Without your laptop directly in front of you, it’s difficult to use Speaker View.
Mistake #2: Making your slides the entire presentation
A really easy error to make is to put everything – all the relevant and interesting information you want to get across – on your slides. This means that your audience can quickly scan the info and then mentally switch off – you’re not adding any value.
To avoid this, while you’re preparing the presentation, think which parts you need to show on your slides, and which you can deliver while speaking, as part of the presentation. Core information and important figures should obviously be on the slides as well as in your talk, but otherwise your slides should underscore what you’re saying, rather than just repeating it.
Slides which include pictures or diagrams, without a lot of text, are particularly good for this. In general, it’s best to restrict what goes on your slides to core points and keywords, rather than writing in complete sentences.
Mistake #3: Not interacting with the audience
Many students focus so hard on the content of their university presentation that they forget the importance of actually interacting with the audience. This results in never-ending monologues and a bored audience!
Introducing interactive elements not only keeps your audience interested, but can get you kudos from your professor. Videos or interactive graphics, for example, help to lighten up the presentation, and questions encourage your fellow students to actively participate.
We’ve gone into how to do this well here and here.
Once you’ve finished speaking, a question-and-answer session is great for involving your audience. We would recommend, though, that you think this through properly and provide a structure for the discussion. Asking questions about personal experiences with the topic can help, for example – otherwise no one may speak up!
For more helpful tips on how to engage your audience and keep their attention, take a look here.
Mistake #4: Missing eye contact
Eye contact is a really important part of giving a good presentation. It signals that you’re actually interested in the audience and are addressing them directly.
However, it’s quite normal to get overtaken by nerves, especially as a freshman, meaning you stare fixedly at your slides or index cards, avoiding looking at your audience. Unfortunately, this can come across not only as being unsure of your subject, but as not actually caring what your audience thinks.
At the beginning of your university presentation, before starting to speak, pick someone in the audience who seems interested in the talk (or just a friend!). Whenever you start to feel nervous, look at that person. Don’t just keep your focus there, though; let your gaze wander around the room.
Try dividing the audience mentally into four sections and letting your gaze rest on each section for about five seconds. This way, each section of the audience feels like they’re being directly addressed and paid attention to. For more tips and tricks on eye contact and body language, take a look at our blog here.
Mistake #5: Too much content and too long a presentation
Many students are afraid of missing out important content, so running the risk of crowding too much information into their presentation. Their presentations end up being overlong, often running over the time limit and boring the audience.
Less is more when it comes to presentations. Concentrate on the essentials and don’t get lost in the details. As we said above, a few test runs are absolutely necessary to find out how long your university presentation will actually take. You can then make any alterations needed, and feel confident about presenting it.
Mistake #6: Overloaded slides
Even though it’s a great idea to add some eye-catching effects, the same rule applies here: less is more. If your slides are too cluttered, your audience might get distracted, lose track, or switch off, rather than focus on your presentation.
The text on your slides should be limited to bullet points and keywords, as these are easier for your audience to digest. Choose a consistent color scheme and font and stick with it on all your slides. Too much color and changing fonts will distract your audience.
To learn how to get the most out of your PowerPoint presentation with fonts and colors, check out our blog here.
Using a master slide can be really helpful, too – it helps keep your layout neat and consistent. We go through how to create and properly use a master slide in this post.
Mistake #7: Getting caught out by the technical stuff
Technical problems have a nasty habit of cropping up just at the worst possible moment whatever you’re wanting to do, and giving a presentation is no exception! You can do your best to avoid them by doing a test run on site, if possible (or at least somewhere that’s not your own room, if not).
This means you can make sure you have everything you need sorted for your actual presentation, and know how the various pieces of equipment work.
It’s also a really good idea to have a plan B up your sleeve. Copy your presentation onto a spare USB stick, and you can use it on another laptop in case of emergency! Watch out for which version of PowerPoint is installed though, particularly with university laptops!
Different versions can cause headings or tables to shift and effects to disappear. You can get around this by saving your presentation as a PDF as well. This guarantees that your slides will look the same, but means any PowerPoint effects will be lost.
If you have time, do a test run on your alternative, so you can check if you need to make any adjustments.
Mistake #8: Poorly designed handouts
Extra tip: a handout can be the icing on the cake of a good presentation! To find out how to create a good handout and add that extra value, check out our blog here.
Also, check to see if your college provides students with design templates and style guides for presentations. This means you know that your slides will meet the requirements, and can save yourself some work!
To sum up: Practise makes perfect!
Even if just the thought of giving your first university presentation is enough to send you into a flat spin, it doesn’t automatically mean that your presentation has to be a disaster! Armed with the above tips, you’ll be really well prepared to give an excellent university presentation, avoiding boring either fellow students or your professor! Good luck!
If you have any questions about university presentations, or PowerPoint in general, please do get in touch with us at [email protected]. We’re always more than happy to help!
Why not take a look at our store, too? . We’ve loads of great-looking templates which could help you ace your university presentation!
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