Tips For Adulthood: How To Get Ready For A Presentation

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m teaching a journalism workshop tomorrow morning for secondary school (high school) students in London. I couldn’t be more excited about this, as I’ve long wanted to add teaching writing to my freelance repertoire.

But I’m also very nervous. Which is odd. Because teaching isn’t new to me. Back in the Pleistocene era, I used to be a college professor.

And yet it *feels* new. That’s partly because I’m teaching a different population (high school vs. university.) And it’s partly because I’ll be teaching a very different subject matter (political science vs. journalism.)

Plus, the last time I taught a class I was pregnant, so my memories of teaching are clouded by feelings of nausea and exhaustion. (“And that’s different from normal teaching, how exactly?” quipped a male colleague at the time.)

All of which is to say that this week I’ve been even more hypo-manic and rhesus-monkey like than my baseline self, which is – let’s be honest – not exactly relaxed.

So I’ve been trying to think of ways to reduce my anxiety, short of that old chestnut that when you give a talk, you can immediately calm yourself down by imagining everyone in the audience in their underwear.

Here are five ways to get ready for a presentation:

1. Know your audience. This is key. If you have a good sense of who you’re talking to – how many people, how old they are, and where their interests, expertise and needs lie – that will go a long way towards diminishing your stress. (Ironically, my talk tomorrow is on audience in journalistic writing.) Ahem.

2. Seek out advice. Especially if you’re addressing a group you’ve never spoken to before, be sure to seek out advice from those who have. In my case, I feel very comfortable giving a lecture¬† to university students. But that’s quite different than doing a hands-on writing lesson with secondary school students. So I’ve had coffee with several friends over the past few weeks who’ve worked with this age group to generate some ideas for teaching techniques.

3. Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you. I once fainted when teaching. No kidding. So I kind of already know the very worst possible thing that could happen if I flub tomorrow. And that’s a huge relief. Because once you’ve actually lived out your worst-case scenario, everything else looks better by comparison.

4. Less is more. If you’re like me, you try to imagine all the 65,000 different topics you could possibly include in your talk/paper/blog post/fill in the blank before whittling them down to the most important ones. That’s fine if it’s part of your creative process. But just remember that when you’re actually up there, there will *always* be less time than you think there is. People ask questions…technical glitches arise…you spend extra time on a difficult topic, etc. etc. Foresee that this will happen and reduce your content accordingly. You can always expand to fill time. Or do a soft shoe routine.

5. Have fun. I just got an email from a teaching friend reminding me to have fun tomorrow. It’s easy to get caught up in writing the best presentation possible, especially if you’re, um, a bit of a perfectionist. But the main thing you want to convey in a talk is that you’re enjoying yourself. Because that – above all else – is what inspires people to listen.

OK, time to go run through my talk. Wish me luck.

As the Spartans would say, I promise to come back with my shield…or on it.


Image: Hurtado-Classroom by EngComm via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  • Reply Hilary

    March 30, 2011, 1:57 pm

    Hi Delia .. bon chance .. though I’m sure it’ll go as smooth as a melted mars bar. I’d love to be in the class and to learn with you .. you have so many experiences to share – & excellent that you’ll be able to add this in to your cv .. enjoy .. tomorrow beckons with a sparkle .. cheers Hilary

  • Reply Bet

    March 30, 2011, 2:16 pm

    Delia, here’s a link to the same topic on a different website:


  • Reply Amy

    March 30, 2011, 2:33 pm

    I have no doubt that you’ll be great!! Thanks for the advice. Wednesdays are my favorite days of your blog (with Friday’s post being a close second).

  • Reply Ali

    March 30, 2011, 5:11 pm

    Delia, you’re going to rock it like Van Halen! I’ve got all the faith in the world. Sure you don’t want me there for um, moral support ;-)?

  • Reply Patricia

    March 30, 2011, 8:05 pm

    Oh I envy you – I just love the opportunity to teach and well maybe well mannered Secondary School kids are just wanting to have fun too.

    Good suggestions and I wish you well – I think April Fools Day might have been a bit more challenging for your topic, but no less fun :) Enjoy

    I hope the students are willing to discuss and ask questions, that always adds so much and calms one down. My brother – in – law retired a couple of years ago from his university to go teach in Canada, the students in his last 2 years did not ask questions and just wanted to be entertained – he admits to being a lecturer not an entertainer, He is quite an expert on China and Asia. His last class he was determined to have some questions – so he offered a $1 to each person who asked a question…ending up with $5 for the last question of the day. A young woman raised her hand and said, “Can we leave NOW?” with that the whole lecture hall emptied except the gal with her hand out. He is finding the Canadian Students excited about learning about China and that they have hundreds of questions especially about the world news today –

    Sometimes when teaching and it is not going well, you are just in the wrong spot? That can relieve the anxiety too :) good luck

  • Reply daryl boylan

    March 30, 2011, 10:51 pm

    You’ll be fine and do well.Teaching is a form of performance art & stage fright goes with the territory, at least in a brand-new situation. Corragio!

Write a comment