How to Prepare for a Presentation in College

How to Prepare for a Presentation in College
portrait of Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
By Melissa Venable, Ph.D.

Published on March 29, 2021

Share on Social

Whether you're enrolled in online or on-campus classes, you should expect assignments that require you to present your work to professors and classmates. Many students feel uneasy with public speaking, but it doesn't have to be like this.

The following tips are designed to help you feel more comfortable with college presentations. Preparation and practice improve your skills and confidence, resulting in a better experience overall, not to mention better grades.

Do Not Procrastinate

If the thought of a college presentation stresses you out, waiting until the last minute to get started will only make the situation worse. At the beginning of each academic term, you should review each course syllabus carefully. Note any presentation-related assignments and due dates in your calendar, and start planning as soon as possible.

If research is required, this will take time to complete, in addition to preparing the presentation itself.

Understand the Assignment

It's important to know not only what's required of a specific presentation but also how it will be evaluated. Your syllabus and other course materials may include detailed instructions and a grading rubric. Look for details related to the following:

How long should your presentation be? There may be a minimum or maximum time limit set by your professor. You may also find points of the total grade specifically related to timing. Should you style your presentation as a lecture, or will you be teaching your audience how to do something? Other approaches may be appropriate, such as facilitating a discussion, exploring sides of a debate, pitching an idea, telling a story, or conducting a demonstration. For in-person presentations, find out if you'll have access to a computer and projector. Your instructor may also expect you to use specific presentation software, such as PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Canva. For online presentations, figure out whether you'll be presenting live (e.g., via Zoom or another platform) or submitting a recording.

Develop Your Presentation Materials

Once you have a clear understanding of what's required and expected, it's time to create your presentation. The following steps will help you get off to a good start with your next assignment:

This technique is a great way to organize papers and presentations. How should you best sequence your topic? Start with three main sections — introduction, body, and conclusion — and build from there. Think of ways you can introduce your presentation that will grab your audience's attention. You could start with a quotation, image, question, or brief video. Visual elements, like pictures and charts, can also add interest throughout your presentation. What is the goal of your presentation? What do you want your classmates to remember? Thinking about the key takeaways you want to share will keep your presentation on track. Presentation tools usually provide many design options, but using all of them at once can be too much. You can use a predesigned template or theme or create your own. Make sure to use good practices for contrast, font and color choices, and use of white space. Summarize your topic, and highlight key resources and references with something your audience can keep after your presentation. This could be a printed document or a link to a Google Doc or other webpage on which you've uploaded the information for easy access.

Rehearse and Get Feedback

One of the biggest keys to speaking confidently, in person or online, is to know your topic. Calm any pre-presentation nerves with practice. Ask a classmate, friend, or family member to help out by watching you give your presentation. If that's not possible, try recording yourself so you can review it on your own.

To get the best results, some sources advise you to practice your speech as many as 10 times. Try the following techniques to make the most of your rehearsal sessions:

While writing out a script can help you prepare, you shouldn't follow it word for word. Use images and text in your slides to remind you of key points you want to mention. You can also use note cards to prompt you along the way. Try to connect with your audience, not just your slides or notes. This is helpful whether you're speaking in person or online and is even effective during recordings (in other words, look at the camera instead of the screen). Eye contact engages your listeners and exudes confidence, even if you're not feeling confident in the moment. These filler sounds and words, especially prevalent when we're nervous, try to fill in our speech while we think about what to say next. They are common but can be distracting to those attending a presentation. Practice taking a pause instead. Additionally, using an app like Ummo or Orai to get feedback on your use of filler words and talking pace can help you develop positive speech habits. Rehearsal allows you to practice with any technology you'll be using. Try to complete at least one rehearsal with all of the tools you plan to use during your presentation, from slide decks and video to internet connection and projectors. Find possible problems, and correct them, in advance.

Maximize Success in Your College Presentations

If you have any questions about presentations in your college classes, ask your professors for clarification. They can share their expectations with you and direct you to available resources. These could include help with your topic research, access to software and multimedia tools, and design templates.

Dartmouth College's library and the student research office at California State University, San Marcos, provide some examples of what you might find at your own college.

Practice makes perfect when presentation skills are concerned. Embrace your college presentation requirements as an opportunity to develop skills that will benefit you not only while you're in school, but also while you pursue a career.


Feature Image: skynesher / E+ / Getty Images

As master's degree programs have grown in popularity, graduate student loan debt has increased substantially. An MBA can open the door to many high-paying jobs in the business field. Learn about the best MBA jobs in 2021, from accountant to product marketing manager. This landing page acts as an introduction and overview of online college planning resources for students.