Three foolproof tips for giving a brilliant presentation at uni

Presentations can be nerve-racking, but these three methods will help you create great slides — and get a top mark.

It’s a moment that most of us dread — clicking Present now in front of your lecturer and coursemates. With all eyes staring at you, it’s easy to read nervously from your slides while your friends cringe in sympathy.

No matter how well you know your subject, speaking publicly about academic work is always a challenge. But whether you’re standing up at the front of the room or sharing your screen online, a well-designed presentation can help you stay on track and articulate your ideas with confidence. 

The folks at Genially have a solution. They believe there’s no such thing as a boring topic, it’s all about the presentation. With a little help from neuroscience, there are three foolproof tips for creating an interesting presentation that will be informative as well as entertaining:

1. Keep it visual

Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words — especially if it’s on a screen. One of the most common mistakes in presentations is too much text. Although it can be tempting to type out exactly what you want to say, crowded slides will have your audience zoning out in seconds. 

Instead of text, use visuals on your slides to illustrate the points you’re speaking about. If it helps, make cue cards or notes to remind you what to say.

Humans are visual beings and our brains can process an image seen for just 13 milliseconds! So the next time you’re about to add a text box to a slide, stop and ask yourself: could I express the same thing with an infographic, image, diagram, map, chart, or video?

Where you really must use text, apply the 5x7x7 Rule: keep titles under 5 words, paragraphs under 7 lines, and lines under 7 words. Present one idea per slide and use a font size of 24,or 32 for titles.

2. Tell a story

Anthropology tells us that storytelling has always been fundamental to human life. That means that we use narrative — a spoken or written account of connected events — to comprehend the world around us. 

This fact is well-known in marketing: take a closer look at any great TV advert and you’ll notice how it contains a mini-story that engages you on an emotional level.

As well as helping us to understand, stories also help us to remember. Psychologists at Stanford University discovered that words are up to 12 times more memorable when wrapped in a story. 

So if you want your audience to absorb, understand, and remember what you say in your presentation, you need to try to tell a story. That might sound tricky if you’re doing a degree in environmental science or business management, but the principles of storytelling can be applied to any subject.

  • Use humans to present a fact, concept, or theory. This could be a real person who’s relevant to your topic, such as a key historical figure or an expert in the field. Alternatively, create an imaginary character, e.g. “This is Emily…” before explaining what happened to Emily. Don’t forget to use visuals — a photo or video clip of the person works well. 

  • Give your presentation a narrative structure, with a sense of progression and drama. Use an animated timeline to depict a sequence of events over time. Or add tension by revealing information gradually on the following slide, in a hidden box, or with an animation that appears on screen. 

  • Build empathy and trust with your audience by using authentic examples. Share a personal anecdote from your life. Or use photos, videos, maps, newspaper clippings, and images to illustrate a true story. 

  • Tap into emotions to bring dull topics to life, help your audience connect to the story, and remember what you’re saying. If you feel comfortable and you think you can pull it off, throw in a little humour. Or try adding music or an audio recording to build an evocative atmosphere.

3. Encourage audience interaction

We tend to think of watching a presentation as a bit like watching a film — a passive experience. But thanks to digital technology, you can now make your presentations interactive. When a spectator becomes an active participant they are more engaged and receptive to learning. This is because the human brain constructs knowledge through experience, or by doing.

Instead of speaking in a monologue, change the tempo and get your audience involved. Use a poll or mini-quiz as an icebreaker or recap. If you’re presenting over a video call, ask a question on the slide and tell people to respond in the chat. 

When you’re designing your slides, add information in interactive layers. Click to reveal the answer to a question in a hidden box, or add links to video or audio content.

These days it’s common to submit the presentation link to your tutor for assessment or share your presentation with classmates so they can take a closer look at your project. Keep this in mind when you create your slides. Break content down into small sections and add clickable elements like buttons, mouseovers, and hyperlinks so that the reader can actively explore your presentation.

Like most things in life, presentations get easier with practice. And uni is a great place to experiment and hone the communication skills that will help you bag a job in the future. No matter what career path you follow, presenting information and ideas to others will almost certainly be a part of it. 

You might end up in marketing and pitching a campaign for a new product, or working in finance and sharing data with your team. Or perhaps you’ll go into teaching, where you’ll need to explain and present information to students on a daily basis. 

Try to remember our 3 tips for a brilliant presentation: keep it visual, tell a story, and encourage audience interaction. With these simple but effective strategies, you’ll engage your audience and convey your message more confidently thanks to well-designed slides. Ready for your next presentation? You’ve got this!

About our sponsor

Genially is an online tool for creating digital content, which anyone can use to make presentations, infographics, gamifications, and images with animated and interactive elements. Genially wants everyone to be able to communicate effectively and keep their audience engaged with vibrant, informative, multimedia content.