College or University Seminars

How to Give an Excellent Presentation for College or University Seminars

Seminars differ from general lecture classes in that they usually are focused on one specific topic and aimed at learning and teaching through an active style rather than a passive one. Meaning that, as oppose to a common lecture class, where students will read the chapter beforehand, listen to the lecture and record notes, a seminar course requires students to be actively engaged in the lesson, talk and discuss various issues, and overall learn through an 'open analysis' and examination of a topic.
With this setting in mind, a presentation that is intended for a seminar, should follow a protocol that mirrors the classroom environment. This may include; presentation material that involves more direct audience involvement (such as activity of which the audience must participant), or simply a presentation that is tailored towards a small group of people with a specific topic in mind.
And along with these suggestions come many other useful tips that can be utilized when presenting. Five of them have been described in detail below.
The recipe for an excellent presentation is simple. Its main ingredient is planning and its core fixings are audience and purpose.

#1 Remember why you're presenting and who you are presenting to

The why is your main objective or purpose (what are your intentions in presenting this information?) and the who is your audience. Firstly, when trying to identify your main objective or purpose you should consider whether or not your intention is to...
  • entertain the audience
  • persuade them
  • inform that about a matter
  • explain to them a complex concept or idea
Secondly, you also need to consider who your audience is. Outside of them being a room full of students you also need to think about their knowledge level and what information would be most pertinent for them to obtain (while working to satisfy your objective).
Identifying both of these key points before preparing your presentation will better guide your decisions with regards to; what topics you will focus on in your presentation, the manner in which you present them (graphics, text, and medium), and the language or speaking style you choose to utilize (may be casual, conversational, professional, instructional and so on).

#2 Focus on one main message; rather than several

What central theme or message would you like to send home with your audience? What do you want them to leave with? This is the frame of mind you want to have when constructing the slides or other material for your presentation. Its so easy get off-topic or lose focus when developing material, especially slides, its important to stay focused on your message at all times. And one of the best things you can do to assist you in sticking to one theme; is to prepare an outline first, either by hand or in as separate document, and use it to better understand your presentation as a whole rather than individual chunks and pieces.

#3 Incite questions and participation

Since the nature of seminars are to incite active engagement in the lesson; your audience should already be prepared and willing to work with you during the presentation (perhaps). For instance you can call on them to participate in a small activity, take on the role of 'guinea pig' for a demonstration, or simply answer a few questions during your presentation. Working hard to include interactions such as this will hopefully demonstrate your creativity and willingness to leave your 'comfort zone' when presenting, as well as sustain your audience's attention.

#4 Implement smooth transitions

Don't know how to get from point A to point B? If you plan your transition(s) carefully you should have no problem navigating from one subject to the next, or from one train of thought to the other (without losing your audience!).
Transitions are necessary for any professional presentation.

FYI-A transition may be...

  • a summary statement
  • an introductory statement for ex. "Now lets...
  • a rhetorical question
  • flashback or recap statement
  • a combination of an image, text and a statement
  • a break for questions
  • or any other technique that signals the end of particular section or point and the beginning of a new one
A good presentation considers all of these options mentioned above, as well as others. If transitions are implemented properly, the hope is that your presentation will run smoothly, with no awkward pauses or stops, and most importantly, nothing to interrupt the audience's attention or interfere with them receiving the material.

#5 Identify how best to present text during your presentation

Second to verbal communication, written language will be your primary means of communicating to your audience. There are several means of displaying text during a presentation with each one providing a different impression to the reader. The way you present text is very important as it can greatly affect how your audience will understand and retain the information you've provided them with.

Some questions to ask when deciding on how best to present written information;

  • Is it likely that your audience will read the information you present in a slide?
  • Do you plan to speak while they are reading?
  • Will a simple image and one or two lines of text be effective for your presentation?
  • Do you have a lot of points that need to be covered to adequately convey your message?
  • Will handouts work best for you in addition to a Powerpoint slide?

Final tips

In addition to the five points mentioned here, its also important to be mindful of presentation timing. Most presentations are provided with a specific time limit so its a good idea to practice beforehand to ensure that you don't go over, as well as keep a few extra items handy in case you actually go 'under-time.' These extra items can simply be additional data or remarks that don't necessarily need to be included in your presentation but are nonetheless still relevant and interesting to note.
Lastly, you may also want to consider 'thinking outside Powerpoint' to choose another aid to help you deliver your presentation. Though Powerpoint is pretty much the standard for all things presentation it wouldn't hurt to provide your audience with something a little different. And with most lecture halls as well as classrooms being saturated with Powerpoint slides and overhead projectors, your audience might actually enjoy an old fashion poster board and stand; markers included.
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Martha Buckly

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