In this series of articles we are examining English for Academic Purposes or EAP. This English is very different from the language used in our everyday social contexts and the language skills needed will have a specific academic focus. For this reason there are courses available to help learners develop these skills in an academic context.

This article focuses on giving presentations in an academic context. Presenting a topic is daunting for many people, particularly if it is in front of a crowd of strangers and you are not talking in your first language. It is normal if you feel shy and nervous when facing a group of people and having to speak. Consider these points to help you feel more at ease and your presentation more successful. 

Firstly, remember your audience. There is nothing worse than speaking to a room full of people who are half asleep! Start off with a joke or a thought provoking question to get their attention. Once you have the audience’s attention, try to keep it.  Think about who is listening to your talk. Are they familiar with the topic? Will they understand specialized vocabulary you might use? If the answer is no, then try to keep explanations, examples and language quite simple and not too technical. 

If you are using slides or a PowerPoint production, remember these should be used as props, not become the sole focus of your talk. Keeping the information on the slides to a minimum helps to maintain the focus of the listener on you, rather than the screen. Avoid reading from your slides as your audience will quickly become bored. If you are afraid of forgetting what you need to say, write the key points on some small cue cards which you can look at when necessary.  

Giving a brief introduction lets the audience know what they can expect to hear in the talk and also helps to maintain their focus. Consider using signaling words and phrases such as ‘Let’s move on to talk about……, ‘Next we’ll look at….’, ‘Following on from this…’, so the audience know when you are changing topics or introducing a new idea. 

It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it. Voice and body language are also crucial to a successful presentation. Practice your talk plenty of times before you face your audience. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel. Speak slowly and clearly so your audience can hear as well as process the ideas you are talking about. Your body language should be relaxed and open to your audience so try to avoid standing too rigidly or with arms folded. However, try not to move too much either or your audience won’t know where to focus. Practice in front of a mirror if you’re not sure about how to stand. 

Most importantly, try to enjoy yourself! If you’re having fun, your audience will too!

The British Council Malaysia offers Academic English courses year round which focus on development of presentation skills, as well as others, and are particularly relevant for those intending to study at university in Malaysia or abroad.