Presentation skills

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2017


See also BOPPPS Model | Evidence-based teaching for academic librarians | Famous learning theorists in history | Slideshare | Teaching library users

"...Presentation mastery is a skill of paramount importance in the business world. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has delineated the ability to "articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal skills in a variety of forms and contexts" as a student outcome under learning and innovation skills. Ability to think on one's feet and to deliver presentations is a skill that employers desire in their employees. Many people are fearful of making presentations; and being asked to deliver an impromptu presentation, regardless of the length of that presentation, only increases their fears..." — Blaszczynski, 2010

Presentation skills are often considered soft skills and consequently some professional people underestimate their importance. Presentations are a key part of everyday life for all kinds of working people in many fields and professions. Effective presentations make use of and capitalize on the relationship between presenter and the audience. Developing skills in public speaking and considering the needs of your audience are key in being successful on the podium. An effective presenter needs to be flexible, energetic and enthusiastic. Planning is probably the most important step in creating a successful presentation of any kind. Planning helps you decide on the content and the order in which the information will be presented. This entry provides some suggestions as you begin to plan your public performance.

General suggestions

  • Consider your body language and interactions with the audience when presenting information.
  • Work to gain & retain the attention of your audience, and aim to structure your content logically building on what you know they know!
  • Consider your body language which is often the most surprising to audiences; most presenters don't know how they move their bodies when speaking
  • Use body language that is open, visible, strong, symmetrical and with appropriate arm gestures
  • In using open body language, avoid hiding behind the podium, crossing arms, not facing the audience; closing of the body, for example, by clasping hands or folding arms sends a message to listeners that you are uncomfortable and they become aware of your nervousness or lack of confidence
  • Keep your arms open, be visible (standing if possible facing the audience); avoid leaning on or against a podium or table; you might think it makes you look laid back and comfortable; listeners may think you are unable to "support" what you are saying; comport yourself physically to reinforce a message of openness and confidence (even if you feel that way)
  • When speaking, avoid long run-on sentences; avoid ANDs or BUTs. Stop, breathe and start a new sentence. Use clear, short sentences.
  • Ask for questions; if your request for questions is followed by silence; it's ok; the audience is thinking. If you tend to speak in a monotone, this can be unlearned. Consciously decide to change your pitch slightly when introducing a new idea or tangent. Practice alone by singing
  • Maintain some eye contact: share it, be like "a butterfly in a bush". Do not focus on one person, make your eyes wander in a friendly way to different people - they will look back; do not stare at bothersome or annoying people because this means you have given control to them; smile from time to time, plan (plant) some questions here and there.
  • Gain/retain the attention of your audience; ask what your listeners need to learn; depending on your audience, signal your expectations and provide ground rules; with millenials in their early 20s, a generation used to being distracted and - according to her - not always good at self-discipline, insist that everyone turn off cell phones and laptops and tablets and refuse to start until everyone complies
  • Explain to millenials the situation, and they are very appreciative when someone lays down rules for them.
  • Some simple tips on structuring content: offer a minimum amount (do not hose with a flood of information as your listeners will be overwhelmed and you will run out of time); reduce content to 3-5 points.
  • Tell listeners them what you plan on telling them; tell it to them in 3-5 points; then tell them what you just told them. End off by asking them to suggest a few things they have learned.
  • And there you have it: you've made an effective, memorable presentation.

Key websites & video

Speaking to health audiences

Presentation skills are critical skills that should be cultivated by all health professionals. Given the short timeframes that health librarians spend with their users during one-off workshops, the development of their presentation skills may be even more important. In speaking to physicians and health professionals, here are some suggestions to improve your presentations:

"...write a clear title and opening to get the attention of your audience ie. physicians, nurses, pharmacists"
  • do your homework; know your audience
  • make your key message relevant to clinicians' practice and research; don't use library jargon
  • introduce your presentation with an agenda and objectives
  • focus on three major points with supporting information; develop concise powerpoints, free of unnecessary detail/ content
  • develop a handout to outline your presentation, and information for follow-up
  • present with a clear, strong voice, audible from back of the room
  • convey enthusiasm about library services (if that's what's being discussed)
  • use some humour and combine it with relevant, useful information
  • do not exceed your time-limit; finish a few minutes early, if possible
  • question and answer periods are customary after rounds; include period of constructive criticism if you present research
  • finally: practice, practice, practice

Evidence-based lectures (EBL) - Proposed Five Steps

In hospital environments, physicians, residents (and librarians) prepare for and deliver rounds and lectures regularly. Are the five (5) steps of evidence-based health care applicable to lectures? Central to EBHC is converting information needs into answerable questions, and so it is with evidence-based lectures. However, evidence-based presenting begins and ends with considering your audience (not your patients).

Five Steps of Evidence-Based Lectures (EBL

  1. Formulate a question based on your goal, time allotted, & audience.
  2. Search the medical literature, & retrieve evidence to support goals.
  3. Develop outline, handouts or create powerpoints (finding media or medical images).
  4. Assess. Reflect. Add humour. Check copyright.
  5. Make adjustments. Visualize success of lecture. Anticipate audience reaction.

Check with your local medical librarian should you need help with your searches, or to resolve copyright issues for presentations (especially using images found on Google). It might be advisable to use mediawiki or other images in the public domain.

Fifteen minute talks about library services

Most physicians appreciate an agenda during grand rounds. Health librarians should spend some time organizing presentations along the lines of a meeting or workshop with clearly-defined goals:

  1. Tell your audience what you are there for; what your talk will cover/how long it will be
  2. Introduce your topic; in fifty words or less, provide an overview of it
  3. Present your talk; focus on two or three key concepts
  4. Use your laptop or AV materials skillfully; speak/project to back of room
  5. Explain why your presentation is important

End your presentation by gauging what the audience wants. Welcome the opportunity to speak again. Provide your business cards, e-mail address and blog for follow-up. Reference librarians are professional search specialists; be as clear as possible about your purpose, remind people you can aid in the retrieval of information resources to support their research. Invite them to visit you.


  • develop a Jeopardy game to emphasize points in your presentation
  • create different audience participation games such as "Is This a Real Journal Article?"
  • come up with 5 or 6 crazy article titles, make up one and throw it in to the mix
  • show some slides with article titles; list the titles of the six articles, and ask audience to pick the one "made up"
  • after they have their number in mind, ask who picked #1 and scroll to slide #1's title, abstract; point out something funny - Example: Are Orthopaedic Surgeons Really Gorillas? (point out that they don't have an actual glove size for a gorilla to compare)
  • before teaching OvidSP or PubMed and Medical Subject Headings, put the funny article title test for measuring stretchability of melted cheese (PMID 12512629) in an envelope: "Open With Care - Could Make a MeSH"
  • labels (cut out paper with giant fonts) of the medical subject headings for that article and throw in a few "strays" like Mozzarella / stretchability and Stretch Factor, etc; say there are 9 real Medical Subject Headings & 5 fake and work in groups to figure it out
  • Games are a good lead into discussing Medical Subject Headings and searching
  • ask people to stand and stretch then sit down; ask what's the first thought they have when hearing word "subject heading"
  • ask who uses Google Scholar, PubMed, CINAHL; explain content in each
  • teach boolean and ask what each operator does; ask what boolean operator I should use
  • in basic search strategies, discuss standard headings and MeSH; discuss PICO
  • use Maimonides quote "Knowledge is immense and the spirit of man can extend indefinitely to enrich itself daily with new requirements. Today he can discover his errors of yesterday and tomorrow he can obtain a new light on what he thinks himself sure of today."
  • engage students in conversation as a professor might; apply concepts and use patient scenarios to come up with PICO questions
  • examine records from CINAHL and PubMed, subject terms and how keywords can be used for search
  • examine an article and critically appraise it, looking for basic things to evaluate study


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