Making Great Presentations

Dear students,

After watching numerous class presentations over ten years of teaching, I’ve identified some of the best practices to follow in order to make a really great presentation. Follow these guidelines if you want to really impress your teacher and your classmates.

Getting started – Don’t start by thinking about what you need to say or how to say it.  Instead, before you do anything else, open PowerPoint and pick a theme.  Your theme is the most important part of the project and you should spend the majority of your time selecting it.  Try out all the different themes.  Download additional ones off the Internet so you’re sure you’re not missing anything.  Your teacher will be more impressed with your presentation if you use a theme he’s never seen before.  Using the same theme as another student will only show that you’re lazy and unimaginative. Avoid subtle themes; pick something that “really pops.” Under no circumstances should you use basic black and white for your presentation.

Creating your slides – Remember that more than anything your teacher just wants to learn about your topic (that’s why he assigned it).  He doesn’t care if you understand it or not, so quickly collect as much information as you can from the Internet, and copy/paste it into your slides for him to read.  One of the most effective and efficient methods is to copy an entire Wikipedia article onto one slide.  That way, when you’re presenting, you can simply step aside and let your teacher and the rest of the class read what you’ve found.  The more text you use, the more intelligent you look.  Try to keep the font size small so your audience becomes more engaged by having to walk up to the screen to read it.  Remember that spell checkers are unreliable; just ignore any words that have red squiggly underlines.  If you can read it, so can everyone else, right?

Animations – Presentations are much more exciting when the elements of your slides are moving around.  Spend a lot of time trying out different animations.  The longer and more obnoxious the animation, the better.  Use the typewriter animation at least once, preferably on a large block of text.

Images – Use lots of images.  The top results of a Google image search for your topic are probably the best ones, especially if they’re really big.  Don’t worry if they are related to your topic or not.  You’re just using them for visual appeal.  Place your images behind your text.  Ideally images and the font colors will match so that the text blends into the background.  This creates unity.  No one likes a static image, so have them fly in or spin around as the slide loads.  Always include at least one chart.  The more complicated the chart, the smarter you appear.  Don’t worry if you don’t understand the chart; you won’t be talking about it.  Just have it there in case your teacher wants to take the time to figure it out.

Rehearsing – It is very important that your presentation doesn’t sound rehearsed.  The best way to accomplish this is by not rehearsing.  You should also resist the temptation to review your slides beforehand.  You want to come into the presentation fresh.  Each slide should seem as new to you as it does to your audience. If necessary you can quickly skim each slide during the presentation to remind yourself what it is you should be talking about.

Introduction – Always start your presentation with the words “So… um…”  Follow that immediately with your name and your topic.  Make it crystal clear that you’re only doing this because your teacher is making you.  You don’t want to come off as a nerd.

During the presentation – Remember this is about the slides, not about you.  Try to focus everyone’s attention on the screen and get out of the way.  As each slide comes up, turn your back to the audience and start paraphrasing what you see on screen.  Remember that they’re also busy trying to read so speak quickly, in a soft voice, and without enthusiasm so as not to disturb them.  As you paraphrase your slides try to say things that don’t quite correspond to the text.  Occasionally add or omit the word “not.”  Say “four thousand” instead of “four million.”  Say “Andrew Johnson” instead of “Andrew Jackson.”  Talk about things that are not mentioned on the screen.  The cognitive dissonance this creates will force your audience to engage the superior colliculus regions of their brains making it easier for them to remember the information.  Do not make eye contact.  Nothing’s creepier than when a speaker looks at a member of the audience.

Conclusion – You’ve already made your point, so don’t belabor it by being repetitive.  If your teacher insists that you have a conclusion, shake things up by making saying something that differs from what you’ve already said.  Better yet, say something completely contradictory.  It will make your presentation more memorable.  Remember also that the best presentations end unexpectedly.  Surprise your audience by abruptly clicking to a blank “end of presentation” slide.  Really sell the excitement by looking surprised that the presentation is over as well.  End your presentation by saying, “so… yeah…” and quickly sitting down.

Your teacher’s role – Don’t forget that when it’s your turn to present your teacher becomes more like your personal assistant.  He has nothing better to do than help you so don’t put any forethought into how you’re going to get your presentation on screen.  Wait until the last moment and tell him you emailed the file to yourself and you need to use his computer to get it.  Or hand him a flash drive with 12 different presentations all named “Untitled.”  If your teacher has a PC casually mention that you made your presentation on a Mac.  If you both use PCs be sure to save your presentation in an incompatible file format.  Give your teacher a worksheet and tell him you need 30 copies, in color.  To really impress your teacher hand him an iPad without any cables and expect him to hook it up to the projector for you.

Other tips – Vary your fonts, colors, and transitions so the audience is always guessing what’s coming next.  Comic Sans is always a good font choice; it shows that you’re fun-loving and you’re not taking this project too seriously.  And don’t forget that class presentations are a great opportunity for crude humor, poking fun of someone, sharing your political views, or telling inside jokes that only the football team understands.


Mr. Fortna


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