Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS

LKYSPP — Making Course Presentations
Instructor: Danny Quah
E-Comms: D.Quah@nus.edu.sg | @DannyQuah | /DannyQuah
Office: OTH, Wing A, #02-03a; +65.6601.5506

Making Course Presentations

Your presentation counts for a significant portion of your final grade. It obviously follows you should try to do your best on it. More than that, however, every presentation you make is an opportunity to prepare for your next presentation. The skills you develop in this will apply generally to all the communications you will undertake.

Background Thinking In every presentation your job is to communicate either new facts or analyses. Either way, you need to tell your audience something new. Sometimes that is just putting together known facts in a novel and surprising narrative. You might even be just trying to remind an audience of facts they already know, but they have forgotten or don't know how to organise to bring out an overarching meaning. Other times, you are introducing a truly new idea [an innovative product]. In any of these cases, your audience needs to leave your presentation remembering what you want to tell them. This doesn't mean they will recall every word. Most audiences will not take away more than three or four key ideas. Your job is to make sure those are exactly the ideas you want the audience to remember. You can easily guarantee this fails to happen. You might reckon that you need to say every single word you've put into your slides. You might think that your presentation needs to begin at the beginning and end at the end, and in between go over every single comma and semi-colon. You might feel every message on every slide is equally important; and so everyone in the audience needs to appreciate them all equally. You might want to present your opposition's position strongly so that your own analysis seems all the more powerful for being able to bring down such a compelling view. You seek to bring out every single objection to your view, so that you can counter them. To accomplish all this, you speak very fast, and you complete your presentation breathless. Sure enough you articulated every word that you had in mind. The end result is, however, no one remembers the message you wanted them to remember. Worse, they might go away only remembering the view you're arguing against.

General Rules

All presentations will end no more than 15 minutes after they begin. This is to be fair to everyone, but also to maintain a pace and rhythm useful in such discussions generally. You will find you need to be brutal with your decisions to keep to what is exactly central and key in what you want to say. Be especially clear to your audience what you want them to see as your takeaway key messages.

Given the issue you have selected, you might want to share additional readings with the rest of the class, by 1700h three working days before your presentation.


What follows is just some unofficial advice about presentations generally. They're not so much rules as gentle hints. No one ever gets perfect at making presentations. Even the best speakers and presenters (Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton) always kept looking for ways to improve.

Part of getting good at anything is knowing when to break the rules. Just be able to explain to yourself honestly why you needed to have done so.

  1. Don't overuse slides or make them too flash(y) [Bumiller 2010, Silverman 2010].
  2. Don't read from your slides. Slides are there to help the audience understand your message; they're not there to help you remember it.
  3. Don't use your slides as notes for speaking. Don't think about going linearly through your slides. For some presentations, don't even look at your slides. They're up there for your audience, not for you. You want to give the audience the impression that you are so in command of the material you're presenting, you could just talk to them about the facts and ideas, without crib notes.
  4. Memorise your slides so you can go through them without even looking at them. Never let an audience see you're surprised by what's just appeared on screen—the surprise is for them, and they need to know you've prepared it so. You have to seem in complete control, even when some slides have accidentally gotten out of sequence.
  5. Don't have (many) words on your slides—except as illustrations to make a point about something else.
  6. Begin strong. End strong. Sometimes that's all an audience will remember from the time you get with them.

Danny Quah
Last modified: Tue Jan 31 14:00:01 Malay Peninsula Standard Time 2017