Giving a speech to show and explain content to an audience is an essential part of life and work. It's important to feel comfortable in front of groups of people – from tutorial class discussions to giving a presentation for assessment to addressing a meeting. A successful oral and/or audio-visual presentation combines both planning and practice, so get started using the links below.

First steps

It's always a good idea to start by analysing your task (opens in a new window) (PDF, 177 kB), as you would for any other assessment. Analyse the task and think about what you need to say (the content) and who you will say it to (the audience).

Next, brainstorm your content – write down everything that comes into your head about the topic. Remember, there's no right or wrong in brainstorming, so write down everything you can think of.

Now you have a basis from which to write an outline and organise your presentation. If you need to do any research or find out more information about the topic of your presentation, now is the time to do it. You might like to refer to other parts of the Assignment help section to help you here.

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Organising your presentation

Now that you know your audience and you know your content, you need to organise your presentation in the way that best conveys your main message(s) to your audience. You can structure your presentation a bit like you would an essay, with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, although remember that speaking requires different language patterns to writing – see written language vs spoken language for details.

Structuring your presentation (opens in a new window) In this PDF you'll find strategies for structuring your presentation. PDF icon image 

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Written language vs spoken language

In the previous section we talked about writing your presentation, but it's important to remember that writing and speaking are two different language activities. If you write your presentation in the language of a formal essay and read it aloud without changing anything, you'll sound overly formal and stiff. Not only that, but the audience will have trouble following what you're saying, because you designed your words to be read. You'll need to adjust the words you use and the length of your sentences so that you speak in a more natural manner and your audience can understand you.

Think of your presentation as you explaining something to a friend: would you use lengthy, subject-specific words, or would you choose more simple words that you know your friend can understand? Your audience is your friend, and your aim is to help them understand.

Furthermore, instead of reading out your full speech you should try to condense the main points into notecards that you use to prompt your memory. That way, your speech will seem spontaneous and interesting. If you spend the presentation with your eyes on your notes, your audience won't be able to hear you properly or see your face, two important components of effective presentations. Speaking from notes can be a difficult technique to master, so don't be discouraged if it takes time for you. As always, practice is key.

Written and spoken language (opens in a new window) In this PDF you'll learn about the difference between written and spoken language, and how to use the appropriate form in your presentation. PDF icon image 

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Using visual aids

Why should you use visual aids in a presentation? Well, for one thing, giving the audience something to look at takes their focus away from you – and if you're nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, anything that takes the attention off you will be very welcome! Visual aids should also aid the understanding of the audience. If your visual doesn't help the audience understand, then it's only going to distract them, and you don't want that. So don't just do a Powerpoint presentation for the sake of it – make sure that any visuals you provide will attract and hold the audience's attention and interest, and/or explain or clarify your key points. Visual aids can enhance your presentation, but they can't do all the work for you. You still need to plan and deliver an engaging talk that can be understood without relying on visual aids.

Using visual aids (opens in a new window) In this PDF you'll find tips for designing and using visual aids in your presentation. PDF icon image

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Body language and gestures

What you say isn't the only thing that matters when giving a presentation: the audience will also pay attention to how you say it. Your presentation starts from the moment you walk in the room, not from the moment you open your mouth. So download our PDF to learn how to give a good impression and communicate your intentions from the get-go.

Body language (opens in a new window) In this PDF you'll find practical tips for making a good impression by the way you control your body and facial expression.          PDF icon image

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Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are | Amy Cuddy | TED Talks (21:02)

Making yourself heard

Giving a presentation isn't like chatting to your friends. You can't just stand up and read your script without any practice. You should take time to find the right volume, pace, tone, and pitch for your voice and your meaning.

It's important to speak loudly, so that you can be heard, but don't shout or strain your voice. Instead, learn to project your voice: this means that you can be heard in the back of the room, but you're not yelling. It can be difficult to learn at first but there are plenty of resources available.

Adjust your volume to the size of the room, as well. You can also change your volume for emphasis or to get your audience's attention (not just by shouting – lowering your volume slightly will make your audience lean forward to hear what's coming next).

Speak slowly and clearly, especially for key points. Don't be afraid of silence – it's fine to pause for effect or to remember your next point! You might vary your pace for effect, as well, for example by speaking more quickly when you get to an exciting point. The general rule of thumb for speaking is that 100 words on the page equals roughly 1 minute of speech, but your own rate may vary.

You should also vary your vocal tone and pitch. Tone is the rising and falling pattern of speech. The classic example is when someone's voice rises at the end of a sentence to indicate a question requiring an answer. Pitch is how high or low your voice is, and you can modulate pitch for various effects. People tend to speak at a higher pitch when uncomfortable or running out of breath, so you may want to practise your presentation and avoid ending up at a higher pitch. If you make a conscious effort to start at a low pitch you won't find yourself reaching the high pitch too quickly.

Lastly, don't forget to pronounce sounds clearly so that your audience can understand you. Practise pronouncing unfamiliar words and check pronunciation with a friend, a dictionary, or an online resource.

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Reducing anxiety

Being nervous before giving a speech is totally normal. Anxiety is your body's way of getting ready to do the job. However, if nerves are getting in the way of you preparing or practising your presentation, then you might want to try some of the following methods to reduce anxiety.

First, remind yourself that it's OK to be nervous. One surefire way to reduce anxiety is to make sure you're really prepared – so practise, practise, practise.

Try some deep breathing exercises. Any time you slow down and focus on your breath you will calm both body and mind, but it's also excellent practice for public speaking because you need to breathe deeply to speak effectively. Take a big breath just before you begin your presentation, also.

Don't give in to negative self-talk. Instead of telling yourself, 'I'm so nervous about this speech,' reframe your thoughts in positive language. Tell yourself instead: 'This speech is a big challenge for me, but I'm ready.' Visualise yourself giving the speech and getting the result you want (thunderous applause, a good grade, or even just the relief that it's over).

If you can, find time before the speech to practise a high-power pose. Research by Dr Amy Cuddy (YouTube: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are | Amy Cuddy | TED Talks (opens in a new window), 21:02) suggests that two minutes in a power pose raises your testosterone levels and reduces your cortisol levels, making you less stressed and more confident for the task ahead.

Just before you speak, take a deep breath and smile. If you're still feeling anxious, channel that nervous energy into enthusiasm instead. If you're excited, your audience will be too!

During your speech, use pauses effectively. Don't be afraid to stop speaking at the end of a sentence to take a breath, smile at the audience, or sip some water. There's nothing wrong with a moment of silence.

And last but not least, fake it until you make it! Put on your costume, act confident, and tell yourself that you're not nervous. No one will know the difference!

Reducing anxiety (opens in a new window) In this PDF you'll learn strategies to increase confidence and reduce anxiety when giving a presentation. PDF icon image

Other Western resources

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Other resources

There are so many resources available to help you give successful presentations. Just a few are listed below:

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