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Handout: The ABCs of Answering Difficult Questions in Academic Presentations
How can I practice effectively?
- Time your presentation to make sure it fits the requirements of the assignment.
- If possible, practice in the room where you will present and check audiovisual equipment ahead of time.
- Practice in front of a mirror or make a video of yourself so you can critique yourself.
- Better yet, have a classmate give you feedback.
- Even better yet, book a free consultation with one of the staff members in Learning Services in the Library for a critique that’s both constructive and compassionate. This service is free and confidential. Details are on the Library’s home page.
How do I prepare to deliver a presentation?
- Become familiar enough with your content so you don’t have to read from the PowerPoint slides. Use slides as an outline to stay on track, but talking to your audience, not reading, is essential.
- Make notes or flashcards for any parts that you have trouble remembering.
- Ensure you have everything you need on presentation day (USB, handouts, etc.) and always have two or three copies of your presentation file available in case there are technical problems.
How do I manage nervousness?
- Start working on your presentation early: the sooner you begin, the more time you have to learn the content and practice. Procrastinating increases stress, pressure and nervousness.
- Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse. The more you practice, the more confident you will become.
- Expect and accept nerves; don’t focus on hiding your nervousness. Instead, focus on getting the content across and engaging the audience.
- Find ways to minimize any nervous habits. For example, if you play with your hair, put it in a ponytail. If you fidget with jewelry, buttons, or pockets, avoid them on presentation day.
- Wear clothes that are professional and comfortable. Looking polished can help improve your confidence.
- Check out our videos on managing nervousness: Managing Nervousness Before Your Presentation and Managing Nervousness During Your Presentation.
How do I engage the audience?
- Don’t try to lower expectations by telling the audience how nervous, inexperienced, tired, ill, or unprepared you are. Instead, try to project energy and excitement about doing the presentation.
- Be enthusiastic about your topic (even if you aren’t all that keenly interested). If the audience gets the impression that you find the topic boring, they will too.
- Make eye contact with individuals. Look for friendly, reassuring faces.
- Keep your face and the front of your body turned to the audience, not to the screen. Don’t read from the screen or the laptop.
- Pace yourself: some people speed up when they are nervous, and others speak slowly. Try to speak at a natural pace.
- Pay attention to your volume. Speak loudly enough to be heard at the back of the room.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets and your arms at your sides. Don’t cross your legs.
- Avoid jewelry that makes noise, and be cautious about what you hold in your hands while speaking – jangling bracelets or the constant clicking of a pen can be a distraction.
- Bring tissue in case your nose starts to run – repeated sniffing is also distracting.
How do I deal with questions?
- See Planning Your Presentation for advice on how to prepare for questions.
- During your presentation, take time to process the question and formulate a response. Repeat or paraphrase the question to be sure you understand it.
- Don’t panic if you don’t immediately know the answer. Ask for clarification if necessary. Take a moment to think, and behave calmly while you’re thinking, even if you don’t feel calm.
- If you don’t know the answer, be honest but say something like “My research didn’t address that…” or “I see that as a next step” or discuss something related that you do know. For more information, see The ABCs of Answering Difficult Questions.
My presentation is over, now what?
- Every presentation, no matter how good, can be a learning experience.
- Get feedback from audience members and/or the instructor and reflect on it. Set goals to improve your next presentation.
- Do a self-evaluation:
- name three things that went well and you would try again
- name two things you would improve
- name two things you would like to stop
- Consider attending Presentation Boot Camp to build on your skills for the next presentation. Details are available on the library's website.