Tips for Grads: Presenting well

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Giving a presentation can be stressful, no matter how comfortable you are with public speaking or how well you know the material. I’m definitely an extrovert, but even I struggle in the lead up to speaking publicly, making sure notes are in order, visuals are lined up, microphones are working, etc., and then remembering to speak clearly and effectively. Here are some tips and further resources for making the most of your presentations:

  • Practice with people: As much as my dog loves it when I talk to her about my research interests, I tend to get the most out of my preparation when I’m speaking in front of humans who can understand me and give me feedback. Even if the people you’re practicing in front of (a partner, a roommate, a family member) don’t know anything about the topic, just getting used to speaking at a cadence other people can understand (as opposed to running through it all in your head) is a big help.
  • Keep it moving: If you’ve ever been in the audience for a presentation and felt like the speaker was staring directly at you for the entire time, congratulations, and I’m so sorry, you have been a focal point! It can be really uncomfortable for an audience member, so when you’re giving a talk, try to keep your eyes moving from a person, to the wall, to another person, etc., instead of fixating on one point the entire time.
  • Take advantage of your resources: Ask your advisor what their most creative public speaking tip is (apparently Vaseline on your teeth helps with dry mouth?). Talk to your friends about their experiences speaking at conferences. Check out online resources on presentations from Delta and Aurora. Learn from professionals at events like the upcoming workshop Punch Up Your Presentation, where you can learn tools and tricks for effective storytelling and making memorable presentations.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.