By Tracey Toh (14A01A), Park Han Min (14S07A) and G Santoshi (14S06C) of the Gavel Club
Cover Image by The Raffles Photographic Society
As the school term draws to a close, the atmosphere is all but celebratory as the entire batch frantically prepares for the dreaded Oral Presentation (OP). Seasoned speakers and unsure beginners alike immerse themselves in practice and painstakingly commit their scripts to memory. Beyond these necessary preparatory requirements, however, how can you ensure that the final segment of your Project Work (PW) journey is indeed you and your PW group’s crowning achievement? Here, we present to you some tips and insights on how you can ace the OP:
1. Have the right attitude towards nervousness
If your knees tremble and your stomach churns at the thought of speaking to a room full of people, take heart. Nervousness is something even the most accomplished presenters experience, yet they always manage to appear calm and self-assured. Indeed, the key lies in understanding that nervousness is not something you can or should eliminate, but is rather something you learn to ignore, or even channel positively.
Remember: The audience does not know you are nervous unless you reveal it. So don’t give the audience any clues that you have the jitters. To demonstrate and even induce self-confidence, stand your ground and take a moment before you delve into your segment of the presentation.
To completely avoid displaying the telltale signs of nervousness, however, what you need is intensive practice, done not in the protected confines of your room, but before various public audiences. While presenting to your friends and family could be a decent start, we encourage you to be bold in your choice of audience. Expose yourself to larger groups of people, perhaps even strangers. Make yourself vulnerable, so you can slowly but surely learn to be immune to the undivided attention of others. If you are in need of inspiration, look to the daring soul who went to a neighbourhood playground teeming children to deliver her part of the OP. While this does sound daunting, it helped her brace herself for the onslaught of nerves faced when speaking to an unfamiliar audience. Try this yourself by doing a full-out presentation (complete with gestures and stage movement) in the school corridors amidst curious glances from passers-by.
Finally, while it is only natural to associate nerves with poor speaking, many professionals have learnt to harness rather than suppress their nervous energy. Learn from them and turn your nervousness into an adrenaline rush that helps you get your message across enthusiastically, convincingly and passionately.
2. Focus on both verbal and non-verbal communication
Once you’ve gathered the courage to speak, focus on how you will be speaking. After all, the content of your speech (what you speak) only constitutes 7% of what the audience registers. Failing to realise this or perhaps deep in the clasps of stage fright, many speakers tend to neglect the finer aspects of speaking such as pausing deliberately for a dramatic effect and having purposeful tonal variation. The unfortunate result is an insipid delivery that is the sure-fire way to bore the audience. To prevent such an outcome, it is of paramount importance to be comfortable with your script. Ensure that the sentences you use are not too long or convoluted if that makes recall difficult or your delivery choppy. In order to effectively vary your tone, you have to emphasize key words and inject emotions appropriate to the content. This does not come easy, and you will have to test various tonal patterns and emotive expressions before you find the combination that is right for you. The next step is to free yourself from the script and make your delivery spontaneous. Convey the same sincerity through your delivery that you would when conversing to a friend.
As important, if not more important than your vocal variety, is your body language. Liberate yourself from the misperception that a formal presentation means standing rooted to a spot and delivering a rigid, robotic monologue. Loosen up and use meaningful movement and hand gestures to complement your presentation as these can make a difference between a run-of-the-mill presentation and a stellar performance. To eventually become a natural at this, you will need to actively try out various gestures and movements before a mirror – even if you look outright ridiculous or painfully awkward initially.
3. Ensure a seamless flow in your presentation.
Having settled the individual component, it is worth looking into how you can work with your group to play up each other’s strengths. A key aspect to consider is the flow of energy throughout the presentation: how the first speaker sets the tone, how subsequent speakers maintain and develop the momentum, and finally, how the last speaker wraps up and leaves an impact on the audience. Try to avoid having a perky, animated speaker present directly before or after a more serious, reserved one. The contrast can be stark and unpleasant, serving to provide neither speaker with an advantage.
Since the audience’s understanding of your project depends on the performance of your group holistically, smooth transitions between speakers are vital. A mere “I will now pass the time over to Speaker B”- whatever that means – provides a tenuous link that adds little to your group performance. Instead, ensure that the transition clearly reflects how the presentation develops with each speaker, showing how each speaker’s portion builds on the previous one.
4. Have unique visual aids to complement your presentation
Once you’ve mastered aforementioned tips, focus on your visual aids, as these have the ability to make or break your presentation. Visual aids include slides, videos, demonstrations and, for those who wish to go the extra mile to show cohesiveness in their group, skits. Whichever you choose, always remember that it is the use of that visual aid, and not the visual aid per se, that matters.
You must first pick the right presentation medium, the one through which you feel you can further strengthen your message. There are tons of interesting software applications available such as Keynote ‘09 and ‘13 or PowToon which can vitalize your presentation. Even if you choose the more conventional formats in PowerPoint, you can stand out by paying meticulous attention to the details of the slides. The colour scheme, design, effects and transitions should be carefully thought out so as to help your audience understand the content and highlight the points you want to drive home. However, you should constantly question whether each element of the visual aids adds to or detracts from your presentation. This ensures that you don’t use visual aids that are unnecessary, or worse, distracting, as this would undermine their purpose.
5. Prepare for the worst
As a team, you can ensure that you are ready for any eventuality by deliberately putting yourselves in difficult situations (e.g. technical problems crop up or your props cannot be used on that day), and ensuring that you always have a backup plan. You could also test each other with particularly tough questions for the Question & Answer (Q & A) segment, to ensure that you are equipped not only with answers to potential questions, but also with the ability to think on your feet and express your ideas coherently.
This collection of useful OP tips is hardly exhaustive and it is up to you to discover your personal style and make it work for you. Whatever your reservations are, you aren’t alone. According to Psychology Today, people fear public speaking more than death. It’s a completely natural fear to have, but if your group is open to making mistakes and willing to correct one another, the the process will be much easier (even fun) and the quality of your OP can and will improve by leaps and bounds.