Poster presentations Aims and Objectives

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And finally ... practice

Always check your equipment to make sure that it:

  • works;

  • is equipment you are familiar with (How do you start the slide show? How do you change the pad? Should you use permanent or waterproof pens?).

There is nothing worse than a presenter struggling with their visual aids. Be familiar enough with your tools to ensure that you won’t be thrown if something goes wrong. A confident use of visual aids will help marry them to your spoken presentation helping them become part of an impressive performance.


Use visual aids to display complex information clearly and introduce variety into your delivery technique. Make sure that you are familiar with the equipment required to create and display visual aids, and deploy visual aids creatively in your presentations mixing techniques and media to create an impact.

Using PowerPoint


This guide introduces some general principles to help you make effective use of PowerPoint to support your presentations. It does not cover the technical aspects of using the software. If you have experience of using other Microsoft Office programs such as Word, you may find PowerPoint easy to use.

What is PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is a computer program that allows you to create and show slides to support a presentation. You can combine text, graphics and multi-media content to create professional presentations. As a presentation tool PowerPoint can be used to:

  • organise and structure your presentation;

  • create a professional and consistent format;

  • provide an illustrative backdrop for the content of your presentation;

  • animate your slides to give them greater visual impact.

PowerPoint has become enormously popular and you are likely to have seen it used by your lecturers and fellow students or in a presentation outside of the University. Learning to present with PowerPoint will increase your employability as it is the world’s most popular presentational software. Used well, PowerPoint can improve the clarity of your presentations and help you to illustrate your message and engage your audience. The strategies contained in this study guide will help you to use PowerPoint effectively in any type of presentation. 

Before you begin

Not all presentations require support from PowerPoint so you should consider whether it is appropriate for your presentation. This decision will need to take into account the venue of your presentation, the availability of equipment, the time available and the expectations of the audience. Whether you choose to use PowerPoint or not, your presentation will need to be carefully planned and structured in order to achieve your objectives.

Step 1: Designing PowerPoint slides

There are a number of features to consider when designing effective PowerPoint slides. The guidelines given below will ensure you create slides that will be easy for your audience to read and understand.

Using colour

  • Be consistent. Ensure that all of your slides have the same or similar background images and colour schemes. PowerPoint’s design templates can be used for this.

  • Prepare slides that use a bold colour contrast, e.g. black or deep blue text on a cream background (black and white can be too glaring for the audience).

  • Avoid using red or green for text or highlighting as it can be difficult to read.

Using text

  • Avoid using too much text. A useful guideline is the six-by-six rule (slides should have no more than six bullet points and each bullet point should be no more than six words long).

  • Create bullet points which are clear summaries of key points. It is not necessary for bullet points to be complete sentences.

  • Don’t mix up your fonts and font sizes. Too many variations in font size and type can be visually confusing.

  • Ensure that your text is at least 24pt otherwise it may be difficult to read on screen.

  • Choose left align for all text to make it easier to read.

  • Avoid multiple columns of text on a single slide as they can be difficult to follow on screen.

  • Use bold for a clear and simple form of emphasis and headings rather than UPPER CASE, italics or underlining.

  • Set clear hierarchies for type size to help your audience distinguish between headings, main text and other types of text. 

Step 2: Making the most of graphics and animations

Using graphics

Many people find it easier to understand and remember concepts if images are used in addition to text. PowerPoint allows you to easily include graphics in your presentations, but think about the issues listed below.

  • Try not to use Clip Art (files of images that come free with software packages) that you have seen in lots of other people’s presentations: familiar images have less impact on an audience.

  • Choose an appropriate quality for scanned images. Scan at 150 dpi for images where accurate colour reproduction is not important and at 300 dpi for higher quality images.

  • Beware of images that you take from the internet. They are generally of a very low quality and are likely to pixelate (lose their smoothness) when you project them onto a large screen.

  • Make sure graphics are relevant to your text and not just decorative.

  • Consider using graphics to replace text where you think an image would be easier to understand.

  • Ensure that the images that you use are simple and clear enough to be easily read at a distance. A small, overly complex and poor quality image will only frustrate your audience.

Warning: Many images are protected by copyright. If it is not explicitly stated that an image is copyright free, or available for use in educational contexts, you should ask for permission to use the image.

Using animations and transitions

Animating elements of slides and using Slide Transition are two of the most powerful features that PowerPoint offers. However, it is very easy to overdo your use of these features and create a presentation where the animation distracts your audience from the content of your presentation.

  • Use animations to show progression. Animation is very effective at revealing a process one stage at a time.

  • Be conservative. Make sure that any animation you use serves a clear purpose (e.g. to introduce a new piece of information at an appropriate point). If you cannot think of a reason to animate your slide – don’t do it!

  • Be consistent. Try to ensure that you use similar types of animation for similar functions. For example, if your text always drives in from the left it will be distracting if it suddenly appears from another direction or uses another animation technique. 

Step 3: Using PowerPoint to help structure your presentation

Once you have designed your slides you should review your planning and think about whether you need to refine the structure of your presentation. PowerPoint offers a number of features that can help you. All views can be selected from the ‘View’ menu.

  • Use the ‘Outline’ tab in Normal View to display the textual content of your presentation. This can help you to focus on and review the structure of your content rather than the visual impact of your presentation.

  • Use the ‘Notes’ pane in Normal View to create a script or prompts which you can use when you are delivering the presentation.

  • Use the Slide Sorter View to gain an overview of the visual impact of your presentation. This is also a useful view for rearranging the order of your slides or deleting multiple slides.

Use these PowerPoint tools to give you an overview of your presentation so that you can create a clear focus and a logical structure for your talk. Avoid using too many slides in your presentation, as this will be distracting for your audience. In general you should use about one slide every two minutes, so a ten-minute presentation should have around five slides. 

Step 4: Preparing to Present

Find out as much as you can about your audience and the environment in which you are going to be presenting before you present. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How large is the room that I am going to be presenting in? Will people be able to see my slides from the back?

  • Do any of my audience have any special requirements (visually or hearing impaired, dyslexic, etc.)? Is there anything that I can do to ensure that they can access the presentation?

  • Have I rehearsed my presentation to check that all of my slides work in the way they are supposed to?

  • Does my presentation fit into the time that I have been allotted? Choosing Rehearse Timings from the Slide Show menu can help you to judge how much time you are spending on each aspect of your presentation (but choose ‘No’ when asked ‘Do you want to keep the new slide timings to use when you view the slide show?’).

  • Have I checked that the necessary equipment (laptop, data projector, speakers for sound) has been booked for my presentation?

  • Do I have an alternative plan in case the technology fails? This may be a second copy of the slides on acetates, a set of handouts or a second disk format (such as USB drive).

Step 5: Presenting with PowerPoint

An effective presenter uses PowerPoint to illustrate and emphasise points that are made in the presentation. An audience that is trying to copy down detailed information from slides will not be able to give you their full attention. Consider using handouts for your audience so they are free to concentrate on listening and understanding. Some points to consider when presenting with slides are given below.

  • Treat each slide as a mini-presentation where you make a point to introduce the idea, give the detail and then conclude that slide with an explanation of how the point fits in with the rest of your presentation. 

  • Direct your audience’s attention to the slides when they contain information that is key to getting your message across.

  • Give your audience time to assimilate material on your slides. If, for example, a slide contains a quotation or a diagram – introduce the slide, give them time to read and understand it and then explain its relevance.

  • Don’t leave your screen saver on, as this will distract your audience.

  • Don’t move your pointer on the screen unless you are using it to demonstrate something as this will distract your audience.

  • Don’t just read out the text on the slides, they should be a summary or a supplement to the content of your spoken presentation.

Useful keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can be very useful when you are presenting and can help to ensure that your presentation runs seamlessly. Many more shortcuts can be found using the F1 key while running the slide show.

Shortcut key


Space, N, right or down arrow, enter or page down

Advance to the next slide 

 Backspace, P, left or up arrow, or page up

Return to the previous slide 

Number followed by Enter

Go to that slide


Blacks/Unblacks the screen 


End slide show 


Start slide show


PowerPoint is widely used across the world so it is worthwhile learning to use it. It can be a powerful tool in creating clear, well structured presentations that have a strong visual impact. However, over-use or misuse can detract from your presentation. Following the guidelines in this study guide will ensure that you use PowerPoint effectively to support your presentation and engage your audience.

Involving your audience

Aims and Objectives

This guide offers straightforward suggestions for getting and keeping your audience involved in your presentation.


Creating a rapport with your audience and helping them feel involved in the delivery of your talk can optimise its success. The following sections of this guide explore simple yet effective strategies for making the audience feel fully involved in your presentation.

Why involve your audience?

Listening to a presentation for any length of time can be a difficult process. If the talk doesn’t engage their attention, the audience will start to feel distanced from the talk, begin to lose track of the flow of information and eventually fail to absorb your ideas and insights. To engage an audience fully, the presentation needs to be energetic, purposeful and staged as if it is a direct conversation between two interested parties (the presenter and the audience). The following four strategies are important elements for getting the audience involved.

Strategy One - Planning your talk

When planning your presentation, there are several ways that you can think about involving your audience.

Plan from the audience’s perspective

The first step is to think about your presentation from the audience’s perspective:

  • what will they be interested in?

  • what will they already know?

  • what might help them learn?

By asking these questions, and by being able to identify answers, you are starting to think creatively about your audience’s interests and needs. Remember, the aim is to give the impression that your presentation has been planned according to your audience’s specific interests. You can reinforce this impression by referring to information that the group already knows: “When we looked at Porsche last week we saw that ...” This helps your audience assimilate new information much more effectively by building on their existing knowledge.

Questions and answers

Asking rhetorical questions as you move through your presentation involves your audience by stimulating their own thought processes. This technique also helps move between sections of your presentation as it establishes a clear transition from one point to another: “I think this proves that there is a strong relationship between A and B but what are the implications for the working practices of C?”

When planning your presentation you should also identify opportunities for your audience to ask questions. Some presenters prefer to be interrupted as they go along, to pause for questions after each key stage or to reserve any questions until the end of the presentation. All of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages but it is useful to tell your audience when you will be taking questions so that they know what is expected of them.

Strategy Two - Delivering your talk

There are a number of strategies that you can adopt when delivering your material to maximise the sense of audience involvement. Some of these are listed below.

Eye contact

Making eye contact is one of the most powerful techniques for involving your audience. If used well, eye contact can serve to make your address much more personal and thus more effective. If eye contact is avoided, the presenter can appear to be nervous and unconvincing. If eye contact is held too long, audience members can feel awkward and intimidated. It is important to share eye contact with all members of a small audience or all sections of a large audience. Avoid making eye contact with just the people you know or don’t know, taking particular care not to deliver your entire presentation to the person who’s assessing your work. Remember that you will need to involve (and therefore make eye contact with) the whole audience if you are to make an effective presentation.

If you are nervous, eye contact can be very difficult to establish and then maintain. Remember that some eye contact is better than none and that you should try to build your confidence over the course of your presentation(s). To build your use of eye contact focus on people’s foreheads so that you are at least looking in their direction. This sounds silly but is much better than looking at the ceiling, floor or your notes. Gradually start to feed in some direct eye contact as you become more confident.

Body language (position, posture and gesture)

An effective presenter pays close attention to the physical relationship with her/his audience. If you stand hidden behind an overhead projector or stand too far away from your audience, they will not develop a bond with you and this will limit the effectiveness of your presentation. Similarly, standing over them or sitting too closely in amongst them will not establish enough distance to secure your identity as the presenter or leader of the session. Your posture will also dictate levels of audience involvement. If you’re too relaxed and sit slumped in a chair to deliver your talk, the audience might drift away. Find a comfortable but purposeful position in relation to your audience and adopt an upright sitting or standing posture that allows for movement and gesture.

Your use of gesture is of course another way of involving your audience in your presentation. Audiences respond well to the physical energy and enthusiasm being conveyed by a presenter, and thus the use of clear and controlled gestures will greatly enhance your presentation. Gestures that are open and reach out to your audience serve to extend your presentation to them and thus help them feel more involved. If you stand at the front with your hands in your pockets you will, quite literally, not be reaching out to them and this will again impede the effectiveness of your talk.

Strategy Three - Using language effectively

Your use of language has a direct influence on the way that you engage your audience. The most important point here is to make sure that you are talking ‘their’ language. In other words, try to avoid using forms of language that are too formal or informal, too technical or too simplistic depending upon the nature of your talk and the knowledge base of your audience. Pitching your presentation at the right level can be a challenge but it is very effective for making the audience feel involved.

Another method for involving your audience is to make sure that you are using a conversational tone rather than a formal ‘academic’ tone. In other words, a natural speech pattern will feel more familiar and easier to listen to than a formal and complex language. Of course, the level of complexity should suit your audience, but it is possible to communicate highly challenging ideas using simple clear sentences.

Strategy Four - Hard work

The final way of involving your audience is to work hard at communicating your presentation to all areas of the room. This requires energy as you will need to make sure that your voice and gestures are ‘big’ enough to communicate over a distance. A presenter who stands and reads with his or her eyes buried in a script will only ever communicate over a limited distance. However, a presenter who is working hard at making eye contact, pays attention to the volume of his or her speaking voice, conveys enthusiasm for ideas and uses facial and body gestures to welcome, reassure and involve the audience will be transmitting energy over a much wider area.

Whilst a presenter should always appear natural and avoid using exaggerated behaviour to get a message across, an effective presentation is hard work to deliver because there are so many elements to control. The effort of creating and pushing out enough energy to make an impact will be tiring, but worth the extra work.


Involving your audience is essential to making an impact. Your presentation should pull them in, get their attention and stimulate their thoughts and understanding. This can be done in a number of ways. The way that you plan your presentation will be critical in terms of using language and ideas that your audience will understand. You must also ensure that there is sufficient time for questions and discussion. The way that you deliver your presentation should create a bond with your audience. Your use of eye contact, gesture, spoken language and energy should communicate effectively and enthusiastically with all areas of the room, thus ensuring that the audience receives positive messages about you and your material.

Responding to questions effectively

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this guide is to give you some practical strategies for handling and responding to questions during or at the end of an oral presentation.


Many presenters fear the question and answer session at the end of their presentation because they feel that they are losing control of their input (speaking seems so much safer). However, it is important to remember that the questions are a vital part of the presentation for the whole audience as they allow for clarification and consolidation of learning. The presenter can enhance the effectiveness of the question and answer session by treating it as a formal part of the presentation that requires as much careful planning and control as the delivery of the core material.

Plan to take control

The background work that you undertook whilst planning your presentation is the key to handling questions effectively. If you have defined a precise focus for your presentation and have explored this thoroughly in your background research and planning, you are more likely to be able to respond to questions with precise answers. If you have been unfocused in your preparatory work, this will come across in the way you answer questions.

When planning your presentation, you will need to:

  • identify when questions will be invited in your talk and plan to inform your audience of this;

  • plan to leave plenty of time for questions so that the audience doesn’t feel rushed (this might involve having to reduce the content of your talk);

  • prepare prompts for questions that are open and straightforward: “That’s the end of my presentation. I would now like to stop and take questions from the audience”.

As a further part of your planning you may decide to:

  • define the topics for discussion: “Have you any questions on the four principles that I’ve outlined?”;

  • avoid answering questions that fall outside of the remit of your talk: “I’m afraid that really falls outside of my objectives for today’s presentation. Perhaps we can resume discussion of that particular point later?”

Responding to questions

One of the main problems with question and answer sessions is that the presenter’s nerves frequently force an inappropriate response. This could be because a question has been misinterpreted or that only key words from the question have been heard rather than the full content. The following steps will help you respond more effectively to questions from your audience.

  • Step One - Listen

It is important to listen to all parts of a question before drawing premature conclusions about your ‘best’ response. Frequently questions can change direction at the last moment, particularly if the questioner is thinking on her/his feet. This can throw you if you have already started to leaf through your material for the ‘appropriate’ response. Remember that questioners will frequently try to make a point whilst asking their question: “Surely a more meaningful interpretation of X is that it ....?” It is therefore important to both hear the content of the question and try to decipher the questioner’s intention.

  • Step Two - Understand

If you are worried that you haven’t understood a question, clarify the area of enquiry before going any further. Check for direct confirmation by paraphrasing the question back to the questioner “You want me to explain the process of …?” or check that your reply will be heading in the right direction “Do you mean in relation to factor X or factor Y ?”.

  • Step Three - Communicate and involve

It is important to remember that even though you are taking a question from one member of the audience, as a presenter, you are still responsible for the interest and engagement of the other audience members. This is particularly important in large groups as the audience will become bored if the presentation descends into a series of one-to-one discussions. To involve the rest of the audience (and avoid potentially extended dialogue with the questioner) make sure the whole audience has heard and understood the question by outlining the area of enquiry: “I’ve been asked to outline my thinking behind …”

  • Step Four - Respond

When you reply to a question, direct your answer to both the questioner and other members of the audience. Try to keep your responses as focused as possible. This will help keep them brief and preserve space for other questions. To avoid going into too much detail, stop and check back with the questioner to see if you have answered his/her query: “Does that explain why we chose to …?”.

A particularly effective technique encourages your audience to ask questions after the event has finished through email discussion or telephone comments. This shows a particularly high level of respect for your audience’s ideas and implies that the topic still has much further scope for enquiry.

Things to avoid

When handling questions and answers, you will still need to be as polished and professional as you have been for the main delivery of your presentation. There are some common dangers that are useful to avoid.

  • Answering the question you wished you’d been asked

A common trick played by politicians, this strategy ignores the precise nature of the question and uses a predetermined answer to the broad topic area. If handled ineptly, this technique is very obvious to the audience and frustrating to the questioner.

  • Making a second ‘mini’ presentation

This is the process whereby you make a lengthy response, including all the information you’d left out in planning the main presentation. Remember, you left that information out for a reason! Your unplanned response will be unstructured and rambling, so keep things focused and brief (check the time as you respond). You can always offer to forward lengthy detail after the event.

  • Passing the blame

That wasn’t my idea, my supervisor did the preliminary work, I’ve simply attempted to …” Passing the blame to others comes across as weak and evasive. If an idea from the audience is a good one, acknowledge its value. If it isn’t, make a polite rebuttal and move on.

  • Defensive answers

Occasionally, questions can really put you on the spot, but it is important to remain calm and in control. An aggressive or defensive reply will be seen as weakness on your part and will spoil the effect of an otherwise successful presentation.

Handling difficult questions

It is important not to start responding to a difficult question before you have thought about the answer. Repeating the question and asking for clarification will help create some space for your thoughts. 

Sometimes you will need to think about a question for a moment before responding. You may be able to buy a little bit of thinking time to help focus your response. Useful strategies include searching for an appropriate visual aid to help focus your response or simply pausing for a moment or two to think. For even more time, suggest that you’ll come back to the topic later (but don’t forget to do this).

Sometimes questions are too difficult to answer. Don’t worry about admitting that you don’t know something or haven’t considered an alternative approach. An enthusiastic “That’s an interesting idea, I’d not thought of that” is much more positive than a mumbled “I don’t know”. Remember that a presentation is a two-way process and it is important to show that you are learning from your audience as well.

Occasionally, questions will fall outside of the remit of your talk and it would be too much of a diversion to tackle them in front of the whole audience. Respond positively to any such questions and suggest that they best be tackled by a quick chat after the event.

Finally, you can come across a questioner who disagrees strongly with your argument. Although this can feel very awkward, remember that you are still responsible for the whole audience and that you cannot allocate all of your question time to one individual (no matter how passionate her/his views). If you feel that you have answered the initial question, announce that you will move on and suggest that you might continue discussion after the presentation. If the questioner persists, use an assertiveness technique called ‘broken record’ to assert your position calmly: “I’m afraid I need to move on ... I do need to move on ... I would like to move on now.” Your final sanction is to take another question or even close the presentation.


Question and answer sessions are important elements of any presentation. Plan for the question session by determining when you will be inviting questions and specifying any themes that you would like questioners to pursue. Clearly announce the start of your question session and involve all audience members in the way that you repeat and respond to questions. Make sure you respond to the question being asked and have practiced methods for dealing with awkward questions. Avoid common pitfalls by responding to questions positively and enthusiastically whilst keeping your answers brief and focused. Above all, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know: it is better to admit the limits of your knowledge than attempt an uninformed answer.

Before you give a presentation


Before you go to give a presentation you might want to work your way through this checklist.


  • I have rehearsed my presentation.

  • I have rehearsed my presentation in front of a mirror.

  • I have given my presentation a trial run to a friend or colleague.

  • I have checked that my presentation runs to the time allotted.

  • I have taped/videoed myself and listened back to it.

  • I have prepared speaker notes or cue cards.

  • I have annotated my notes to help me get the emphasis right.

  • I have thought about where to breathe.

  • I have numbered my notes in case I drop them.

  • I have prepared any visual aids that I may need.

  • I have prepared any handouts that I wish to give out.

  • I have checked my facts.

  • I have done a grammar/spelling check. 


  • I have confirmed that the audio-visual equipment I require will be in the room.

  • I have saved my PowerPoint presentation onto at least two formats (disc/USB/hard drive/email).

  • I have practised using any unfamiliar technology that I am going to use.

  • I have sourced an alternative version of any audio or video material (DVD and VHS)

  • I have seen the room that I am going to be presenting in or had it described to me.

  • I have turned off my mobile phone.

  • I have checked the start time.

Audience and Other Speakers

  • I have thought about who is going to be in the audience.

  • I have brainstormed a list of likely questions that I may be asked.

  • I have found out who else will be speaking and what they will be speaking about.

  • I have thought about any special needs my audience may have.

  • I have thought about ways to engage the audience in my presentation.


  • I have got enough sleep the night before.

  • I have considered how to combat my nervousness.

  • I have thought about my personal appearance.

  • I have looked after my health in the week preceding the presentation.

  • I have brought a bottle of water to drink if my throat gets dry.

  • I have thought about what else I am going to be doing that day.

  • I've eaten breakfast.

Stress management for presentations and interviews

Aims and Objectives

This guide aims to help you recognise and understand anxiety and nervousness which may arise during presentations or interviews. This is sometimes referred to as performance anxiety. The guide also offers strategies to help you minimise any detrimental effects and provides details for a number of further sources of help and advice.

What is performance anxiety?

Many people feel nervous when speaking publicly, either to a room of course peers, conference delegates or an interview panel. This is sometimes referred to as performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety, however, is not necessarily harmful; a slightly increased anxiety level can motivate you to do the work needed so that you are effectively prepared for the event: it can make you more alert and energised. However, should your anxiety levels and nerves become too great, difficulties can occur, which may impair your ability to prepare effectively for, and perform, during the event.

What causes it?

Performance anxiety and nerves can be caused by many factors which may include:

  • worrying about past performance during presentations or interviews;

  • how you will compare with your friends or other students;

  • any negative consequences if you don't do as well as you would like;

  • the reaction of others to your work.

Lack of preparation as indicated by:

  • hurriedly writing the presentation at the last minute;

  • not rehearsing and practising your speech;

  • not thinking in advance about the kinds of questions the interviewer might ask.

You may not be able to identify a particular cause, you may just be aware that you typically experience nerves or anxiety at the prospect of a presentation or interview.

What happens when you are nervous?

When you experience nerves, anxiety or stress about an event, certain physical reactions happen automatically. If you recall a time when you were interviewed or made a presentation you may have noticed that you reacted in some of the following ways:

  • your voice trembled;

  • you had sweaty palms;

  • you experienced shortness of breath;

  • your heartbeat accelerated;

  • you had butterflies or an upset stomach;

  • you experienced a generalised feeling of fear.

These reactions are driven by the production of hormones and equip us to fight or escape from situations that are dangerous or threatening. This is known as the fight or flight response; your body is alert, ready for action and is preparing itself to cope with the situation. Once the threatening event is over, your body will gradually return to normal. Although this process is designed to assist you during potentially threatening situations, it can cause difficulties, particularly if your level of anxiety is too great and/or it occurs for a long time period.

What are the signs of performance anxiety?

There is a range of signs which may indicate that you are experiencing performance anxiety and these signs could begin just before your presentation or interview, hours or days before it, or even at the moment you find out about it. Signs can even persist throughout your presentation or interview.

The signs could include negative thoughts such as 'I'll never manage it'; 'It will be a disaster'; 'I'm no good at this'. Having thoughts of this kind can distort your perception of the event and create a cycle whereby the more negatively you think about it, the more stressed and anxious you become, which in turn can increase your negative thoughts about it and so on.

Holding negative thoughts can also have a big impact on your feelings; you may be aware of feeling scared about the event or you may feel generally irritable but not be sure why. You may also observe behavioural changes, such as putting off thinking about and planning for the presentation or interview, or alternatively being unable to stop thinking about and planning for it. You may also experience physical changes, such as experiencing headaches, changes in your appetite or developing sleeping difficulties.

Strategies to help you deal with performance anxiety

The strategies outlined below offer some simple steps that you can take to try to control your level of performance anxiety. However, for them to be effective you need to be active in implementing them prior to and during the event.

1. Develop positive thinking and visualisation skills

As described previously, having negative thoughts is one indicator that you may be experiencing performance anxiety. It is useful, therefore, to be aware of some of the common negative thought patterns so that you can try to replace them with positive thoughts.

Negative thought

Positive replacement

'It will be a disaster.'

'I will aim to do the best I can.'

'I never do any good at this kind of thing, it's bound to go horribly wrong.'

'Just because I had a problem with this is in the past does not mean that things are bound to go wrong.'

'They won't like me.'

'They like what they have read on my application form/CV otherwise they would not be interviewing me.'

'They are looking for ways of catching me out.'

'They are giving me an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge of something that I have worked hard to understand.'

'They will ask me about an item on my application form that is a weakness of mine.'

'If it had been a big problem they would not have short listed me for interview. How can I talk about it in the most positive way?'

'I will fail my degree and never get the career of my choice if I don't do well in this presentation.'

'The marks for this presentation are only a small percentage of my overall degree. If I don't do as well as I would like there will be other opportunities to improve my marks.' 

Try to become aware if you are having negative thoughts and, if so, think of a positive replacement for them (you could consider asking your friends to help you with this).

It may also be useful to visualise yourself successfully completing the task. Imagine yourself coming out of the interview or presentation and moving on to other things in your life beyond the anxiety provoking experience. Plan a treat or social event afterwards that is not dependent upon the outcome.

Using these processes will help you to keep a sense of perspective about the event and stop things from spiralling out of control. Focus on the present and what you can do now to deal with the situation, rather than dwelling on what you should have done or how similar events went in the past.

2. Plan and practise your presentation carefully

Planning and practising for your presentation or interview carefully can have a number of beneficial effects on your anxiety levels, including helping you to feel more confident and in control prior to the event. The better prepared you are and the more you know your material, the more likely you will be to recall it when you are feeling nervous or stressed.

When you are rehearsing for your interview or presentation, picture yourself as if you are in front of your audience/interview panel and rehearse out loud. If possible, do this in front of some friends who could give you constructive feedback about your verbal and non-verbal communication, and your time-keeping. If you do not want a friend to watch you, consider making an audio or video tape of yourself. You can then listen or watch the tape and provide your own feedback. Identify at least five positive things about your skills, as well as areas for further development.

Preparing for questions at the end of a presentation or during an interview may also help to lower your anxiety levels. Read over your presentation notes or application form critically to identify areas of possible weakness and prepare positive answers. Friends and staff in the University may be able to assist with this. During the event, give yourself time to think of a response to the question by pausing, repeating the words of the question or, if you need longer, asking for a few moments to consider your answer.

3. Map out your anxieties

You may find it helpful to identify the aspects of the situation which are causing you the greatest levels of anxiety, in order to plan steps to prevent them from becoming a reality.  Imagine the presentation or interview and write down the aspects which cause you to feel particularly anxious, and then identify something you could do in advance which would help to prevent this from occurring. For instance, if you are worried about using equipment, make sure that you practise using it before the event. Alternatively, if you are worried that a weakness will be highlighted, plan a positive response to this in advance.

4. Look after yourself

Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally will help to control your anxiety levels by making you feel relaxed and using up some of the nervous energy that is produced when you are under stress. The following strategies are recommended.

  • Eat a well balanced diet which limits alcohol, caffeine and sugary foods.

  • Aim to have between six to eight hours sleep per night.

  • Exercise regularly as this uses up nervous energy and relaxes muscles.

  • Make time for fun such as participating in a sport or hobby.

  • Practise taking control of your breathing. Concentrate on breathing out to a slow count of four; the breathing in will take care of itself.

On the day of the event

1. Expect that you will feel some nerves or anxiety

On the day of the presentation or interview expect that you will have some nerves or anxiety. This is your body's way of preparing itself to cope, so do not try to eliminate your nerves totally, but aim to keep them manageable.

You can also expect to feel nervous particularly at the start of the interview or presentation and it is likely that you may feel shaky or possibly your voice will tremble. If this does happen, change to a slower pace, breathe more deeply and expect that the tremble/shakiness will go away. People do expect to see some nerves at the outset. Allow yourself time to settle into the presentation or interview and then you can perform to the best of your ability as it continues.

Nerves can make you speed up or slow you down on the day. If you are using note cards in a presentation, you may find it useful to put reminders to yourself to check the time and to think about whether you need to slow down or speed up.

2. Think positively: don't jump to conclusions about people's reactions

Do not forget to use the positive thinking skills that you have been practising up to the event on the day itself. Tell yourself you can do it and try not to jump to conclusions about how people appear to be reacting to you. Some people may look stern or uninterested, when they are actually just concentrating very hard on what you are saying.

3. Try to relax yourself physically 

Remember to use the breathing exercise that you have practised. You may also find it useful to do a relaxation exercise to release muscular tension in places such as the neck and shoulders. Take some deep breaths, aim to increase the distance between your shoulders and your ears. This will help to lengthen your muscles and relieve tension.

4. Be careful about what you eat and drink

Avoid food or drink that is high in sugar, alcohol or caffeine as these can make you feel more jittery. Immediately prior to the event it can be better to have a warm rather than cold drink. Cold drinks tend to constrict the vocal chords and may increase the likelihood of your voice trembling.

5. Prepare strategies in case you feel overwhelmed

Do something that will distract you from the frozen state. You could change your posture or focus your gaze just above peoples' eyes for a few seconds which may help you to collect your thoughts. If you are really stuck you may need to ask for a short amount of time to concentrate because you have lost your train of thought through nerves. People are generally supportive and will think more positively if they see you trying to gain composure.

6. Reward yourself for a job done

Praise yourself afterwards for a job done no matter how well or badly you think it went, and then do something which you enjoy as a special treat.

What can I do to support a friend with performance anxiety?

Friends are usually the first people we turn to when we are under stress. Often, very simple things can help.

  • Help your friend to keep a sense of perspective about the event and to develop positive thinking about the situation.  Encourage them to do the best that they can and to accept that they are not a failure if they do not do as well as they would have liked.

  • Help them to rehearse and practise their presentation or interview techniques. Provide them with constructive feedback which highlights some good aspects of their techniques along with identifying areas that could be improved.

  • If you will be at the presentation, give your friend some positive encouragement and feedback during the session. Smile, show interest, ask a question.

  • Be there to meet them after the presentation or interview and support them no matter how well or badly they think they did.

  • Plan something enjoyable to do afterwards to celebrate a job done.

  • Encourage them to follow the strategies outlined in the guide and to seek further support if these strategies are not helping.

  • Don't take them to the pub beforehand - it rarely has the desired effect!

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