How to Present

Netra Unni Rajesh is a fourth year engineering science student with a specialization in Biomedical Engineering. During her internship with Dr. Robert Langers lab at M.I.T., she was invited by the local TEDx conference to share her experience on how Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) transformed her perspective as a researcher. The video has since then been viewed more than 4,000 times. Here she shares some tips on presentation and public speaking.

Netra Unni Rajesh (Photo: Qin Dai)

Tip 1: Presentations were made to be practiced

Although there is a negative connotation with a presentation sounding too “rehearsed”, it makes a big difference in delivery when a presenter runs through their talk multiple times with different audiences. Practice can help calm those pre-performance jitters and can serve as an opportunity to get useful feedback that will iteratively improve a presentation. Even practicing a talk in front of a mirror can provide cues on physical gestures and expressions, which contribute to the overall image of a presenter.

Tip 2: Stay away from scripting – outline instead

A script can do more harm than benefit. For one, it restricts a presenter’s flow, in the sense that one is pressured to stick to the script. Although it may seem like a script helps reduce nerves, it can create breaks in the talk when a speaker forgets a part of the script and must scramble to get back on track. An outline, on the other hand, serves to break down critical ideas that should be communicated in a talk. The guideline provides enough structure yet affords flexibility for changes that occur in the spur of the moment.

Tip 3: Be aware of audience response

A presentation is ultimately for an audience, with a purpose to share an idea with a larger group. Many presenters focus on themselves on stage and it can be very difficult to get out of one’s head when they are doing all the talking. Being aware of the audience’s reaction to a talk can serve to motivate and gauge how to continue the presentation. If a presenter notices the audience losing interest, they may choose to incorporate a comical anecdote or an interesting fact. Looking to the crowd for cues and making personal eye contact with audience members can collectively improve everyone’s experience.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to be expressive and to emote

Humans are very responsive to emotion and are great at telling when it is genuine and when it is not. Being over expressive can come across as artificial; however, genuine emotion can capture the audience’s interest and allow the presenter’s passion to come through. Ultimately, this makes a talk more engaging and motivates the audience to at least consider the ideas being presented. The goal of a talk is always to plant an idea in the audience’s mind, and this becomes a rather arduous process for the speaker and audience when it “doesn’t come from the heart.”■