By Zara Karimi (18A01A)
With guest writers Joie Liew (18A13A), Rayasam Harshini (18S06B), and Su Hong Yun (18S03Q) from Gavel Club
It’s getting harder and harder to miss the small groups of students sitting all over the campus, laptops open, cue cards out, as the year draws to a close. Nowadays, it seems as if wherever there is an internet connection, there is bound to be a PW group rehearsing for the dreaded Oral Presentation (OP).
Worth a total of 40% of the overall grade for Project Work, nailing OP is crucial to securing a good grade. Consequently, seasoned speakers and shy beginners alike are dedicating themselves to their presentations, painstakingly tailoring the aesthetic of their slides, and committing their scripts to memory, all in hopes of putting forth their best showing when it comes time to present.
The question remains: how do you ensure that this final leg of your Project Work journey goes smoothly? Raffles Press has teamed up with Gavel Club to provide some tips and tricks to assist you.
Writing and organizing your presentation
When putting together your presentation, keep these 3 Cs in mind: Content, Crafting, and Choosing your Part.
Your PW tutor may have already told you this but we will reiterate – content doesn’t matter. Rather, begin with a clear structure in mind for your presentation. Copying key points from your WR for your first draft is acceptable, but be sure not to include excessive elaboration. This goes without saying, but your script should be synced up to your slide show. A dynamic presentation has changes occurring every 15–20 seconds, which gives the impression of an even, measured flow.
When crafting your script, stick to short sentences with not more than three clauses. Pausing from time to time gives the audience time to process what you’re saying, and lets you gather your thoughts. Bombastic, polysyllabic words are unnecessary, and you might trip on them when nervous, which would affect your fluency.
If you are afraid you may forget to vary your tone and body language, consider writing cues for yourself (e.g. pause, breathe, look around the room, etc.) and put them in your speech. On a related note, it is a very good idea to compile answers for the practice questions you are asked during the question and answer segment.
More details on how to craft a good speech can be found in the section “Rehearsing your presentation” below.
Choosing Your Part
Once your script is all written out, divide it into manageable portions among your groupmates. If you are better doing emotional speeches, consider doing the introduction to your metaphor or your action plan strategies, and use emotional appeal to convince your audience of effectiveness and relevance. If your strengths lie in clarity and articulation, consider taking over the big-picture sections of the presentation like the introduction or conclusion. Finally, make sure to match your teammates’ mood and energy up while presenting, since all group members need to be equally energetic for cohesiveness. It’s jarring if you’re too loud while your groupmates are not. Besides, at the end of the day, you are trying to sell your project, and need to sound excited about your ideas!
Rehearsing your presentation
Your script is now ready to go, and now you need to practice actually saying it. The following is a technical guide to delivering any kind of verbal presentation.
Go over your script (or a piece of paper with your talking points, if you don’t have a script) and highlight words and phrases that should be stressed. You could choose to highlight the most important point in a paragraph, or a significant transition between points. Note down how you want to emphasise them. For example, you could change your intonation, or vary your volume. This will also aid in memorization!
Pick areas to pause purposefully. Even though it might seem tempting to cram more information into limited time by speaking quickly, pausing before important points goes a long way in making yourself seem confident. If you have a tendency to rush through your pauses, make yourself mentally count to three before moving on.
Vary your rhythm not just within sentences, but between paragraphs. Many of us settle into a comfortable intonation pattern throughout the speech, which can make a presentation sound monotonous. Instead of doing this, you could plan to speak more slowly and calmly during one section, and with a more excited tone during another (perhaps when you’re describing your wonderful solutions!)
Finally, watch out for overuse of rising intonation. When your sentences consistently seem like questions, or take on an upward inflection at the end, you can unconsciously communicate that you are uncertain or unconfident.
Postures and Gestures
Moving around within your space can help you seem comfortable and confident, but you should plan your movements beforehand. Steps forward or to the side can be used for significant points in your speech, but this must be done in moderation – it can be very distracting if you’re constantly moving! It’s also perfectly fine to remain in the same spot throughout your presentation. If you prefer to do this, work on maintaining natural upper body gestures and eye contact.
Eliminate nervous behaviour, which can come in the form of bouncing on your feet, tapping or fidgeting your fingers, touching your hair etc. These motions can alert the audience to the fact that you are anxious, and detract from the movements that you have planned out. Identify and rectify these problems by recording yourself or rehearsing with another person.
Next, don’t be afraid to strike a power pose! Though it’s good to be comfortable in your space, refrain from seeming too comfortable by adopting closed, hunched-over or slouching positions. Keep your spine straight and your body oriented towards the audience at all times. Where you can afford to be slightly more casual is in your hand gestures and facial expressions!
Finally, smile! Though it might seem unthinkable, the best way to look confident and at ease is to look like you’re having fun.
Fluency and Articulation
Before you go into your exam venue, try some vocal warmups. These get you accustomed to projecting your voice and pronouncing strings of consonants which may trip you up. You could try a few tongue twisters (just Google them) or practice speaking loudly across a room.
When delivering your speech, take care not to rush as you speak. Take your time to pronounce the words and ensure each word is pronounced clearly as its own entity, and not slurred across the sentence.
When going over your script, identify phrases you feel you will slip up at. Practice these words or phrases to drill the pronunciation and the rhythm of the sentence into you.
How to memorize your script effectively?
Starting With Your Script
As mentioned earlier, annote at the side of your script – plan your body language and vocal variation. This helps in memorization for both the script itself and movements during the presentation! Review and form a general idea of the flow. Have in mind the order of your points, so that even if you lose your place, you can find which point you were at and restart practising from where you were not as familiar.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Take it one section at a time. Start with internalizing the first part, and then go on once you are able recite the first part, and so on until you familiarize yourself with the entire script. Practice is key! Try to go over your script whenever possible. On the MRT? Waiting for your next lecture to start? In line for food? Perfect opportunities to review your OP script! It is suggested for you to rehearse silently in your mind, or you can boldly say it out loud
and allow others to indulge in the masterpiece that is your OP.
How to overcome stage fright?
As mentioned earlier, try practicing in front of a mirror or recording yourself present the OP. By watching yourself speak, you can rehearse hand gestures and other movements. The benefit of recording is that you can play it back as many times as you’d like to not only see your movements and posture, but also to hear how you sound when speaking. There are no penalties to reviewing yourself, and this helps in building confidence.
Reviewed By Others
Try practicing with a live audience! Rope in other PW groups to rehearse with, or ask friends and family to watch you rehearse. Remember to ask them for feedback on your presentation, especially articulation and movements! By letting others hear your presentation, you will be more ready to face unknown teachers/assessors on the day itself, as you would have already shown your presentation to at least one person beforehand.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As with memorisation, practising is key! When you are more prepared, your confidence will increase and hopefully help to lessen your fears. However, despite all preparation and the hours of time you pour into your script, it is important to acknowledge that panic may happen.
What to do if panic strikes?
Try to keep in mind the 4-7-8 breathing technique: place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth (behind your front teeth) and breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat this process 3–4 times in a row.
This helps because when panicking, we tend to breathe shallowly which leads to a lack of oxygen but the 4-7-8 technique helps us to consciously breathe deeper, relaxing our bodies.
Panicking may cause you to lose focus on reality. To combat this, mindfulness can help to ground you in the present and your surroundings. Try focusing on familiar physical sensations like the feeling of your skirt/pants or pick a single object in clear sight to focus on. In doing so, you are given something objective to focus on and this may aid in subsiding panic symptoms.
Reaching Out and Being Aware
If you find yourself being prone to panicking, letting others know may help establish a support system. Particularly, you may want to consider approaching your PW group mates as they can better encourage you during OP. Remember: panic will eventually come to an end. It may be difficult to picture the end of panicking when it sets in, but please try to recall that it is only a matter of time. This too shall pass.
This collection of tips and tricks is far from complete, and at the end of the day, it’s really up to you and your team to find what works best. Public speaking is no mean feat, and regardless of your fears, you are not alone. So long as you prepare sufficiently and learn from the mistakes you make, the quality of your presentation is sure to improve. Good luck!