If a professor punished lateness to class by making you sing opera, what would you do? Hide under the lectern while whispering Marylin Monroe-style, your head paper-bagged? Or rent a karaoke machine, sport a belly dance dress, and don a Lady Gaga wig? Some of us would do the latter. Truly.
Proof of point: I love presenting. I stage danced in grade six, inexperienced, untrained, looking the fool. But my classmates gushed, saying I looked cool. That’s what short hair, a home perm, and a lumber jacket gets you.
During my undergrad, I did a television interview on CFCN News, promoting a gala I held. I practiced several days from slides, memorizing my spiel. When I arrived for the interview, dressed in a pink suit, the reporter sized me slyly and began bickering with the camera crew. She demanded bad lighting for me, flattering light for her. So, in the first minutes of the interview, a sickly light paled my skin, wrinkled my eyes, dulled my hair. But by the end scene, the crew washed me in a flattering pink light. My guess? The reporter later gnashed a molar.
In grad school, when I served as a TA, my supervisor banned my students from prettying presentations, no bells or whistles. I cowed to her whim, afraid of her feminist temper. Meekly, I asked her if white screens with plain text would do. She nodded slowly, her glare smoldering my pupils. So, my students learned to make shoddy slides. When the semester ended, my supervisor posted presentations tips, a subtle apology to my misled first-years.
After my master’s degree, I watched open courseware videos from MIT. One MIT professor tossed chocolates to keen students who answered questions. I want to do that, I thought. Later, when I auditioned for a teaching role, I brought a bag of mini chocolates, rewarding the interviewers with cocoa rushes. After my audition, they disclosed that an earlier candidate had the gift for gab—and a PhD. My likelihood of getting the job? Not a chance—not even with sacks of trick or treats.
Thomas R. Klassen and John A. Dwyer lay the rules for making straight-A presentations in their book How to Succeed at University (and Get a Great Job!):
- Present on topics that pique your curiosity.
- Practice your presentation in the mirror, honing your gestures.
- Rehearse your presentation by videotaping yourself. The more you prepare, the better you present. But don’t overprepare—you’ll sound stilted.
- Let your presentation show-off your smarts and originality.
- Don’t solely read off notes; instead, make eye contact with your audience.
- Bring candy or chocolates—or at least some surprise.
- Add a study guide to your presentation to help students ace exams.
- Spice your presentation with activities. People bore easily, so mix them up.
- Don’t stuff too much information into your presentation. Focus on three key ideas, each with one to three supporting points.
- Dress sharp: a suit, a dress—even a tie.
When seeking presentation gimmicks, don’t Google “classroom deal-breakers”—oops—I mean “icebreakers.” Why? In presentations, joke shop rubber chickens just don’t fly. But if late for class, do don a Bill Gates mask.