Giving a presentation is usually a nerve-racking experience, even for experts and frequent public speakers. As an international student, you are likely to face an extra level of stress, especially if English is not your first language.
Many international students may not have had to give a presentation in class before attending school in the U.S., but it's a common assignment in American courses. To help you overcome a language barrier, try the following class-presentation tips.
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1. Prepare more than you think you need to: Many public speaking coaches will tell you to educate yourself beforehand on the subject of your presentation – that is, know what you are talking about.
This is even more crucial for international students, because by doing exhaustive research, you not only strengthen your technical knowledge, but also broaden your vocabulary on the subject. That vocabulary will come in handy during the question and answer session that typically comes at the end of a presentation.
Start working at least a few days before your presentation date, even if you tend to procrastinate like I do. Regardless of how smart you are, if you don't prepare for your topic well and have a clear plan of what to talk about, you might appear incompetent.
If you're not prepared, being nervous might make you forget how to say the most basic things in English. It's happened to me, and to this day, my friends and I still refer to it as "The Verbal Diarrhea Incident of 2005." Don't let it happen to you – it is horrifying!
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2. Speak slowly: Even native speakers make the mistake of talking too fast during their presentations – often because they want them to be over as quickly as possible. If you are not a native speaker, talking quickly will make it even more difficult for your audience to follow your presentation.
Believe in yourself, be confident and talk slowly to make sure that everyone can understand you and follow your logic. It might be helpful to even repeat yourself at key points to help your audience identify the most important parts of your presentation.
3. Use charts and graphs: A picture is worth a thousand words. If you don't want to say a thousand words in English, let a chart or a graph do the job for you.
I have been to a presentation that consisted entirely of images before, and to this day, it is still one of the best talks I have ever attended.
[Learn where international students get the most financial aid.]
4. If you don't understand a question, ask for it to be repeated: Most presentations have a Q-and-A section at the end, and you can only answer a question if you understand it. Don't be afraid to ask someone to repeat a question, or even word it differently.
I also try to repeat the question in my own words, since that helps not just me, but other members of the audience as well. Think of the question and answer portion of your presentation as a simple conversation – except you are conversing with a group of people instead of just one person.
Many college professors give extra points if your Q-and-A session goes well, so use it as a chance to rack up your grade.
Tra Ho, from Vietnam, received full financial aid to attend Colorado College in 2004. She graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a degree in mathematics and is currently working as an actuary for a consulting company Washington, D.C.