Presentation skills

If someone told you that you needed to do something before Christmas, when would you have in mind? The week before Christmas? The middle of December at the earliest? I’m guessing not the 26th November. My English tutor seems to think this is what it means. I had to make a presentation, which is assessed, as part of the English course I am taking. Since the course started in September, he has been telling us that we will do this ‘before Christmas.’ I was just beginning to think to myself that I really needed to make a start on it when he dropped the bombshell that we would be making our presentations the following week. Giving me exactly one week to decide what on earth I was going to do it about, and write and practise the thing.

I have given many presentations over the years in a work capacity, but these have always been for a specified reason. This presentation’s topic, however, was not so precise. I could do it on anything I pleased. Sometimes, it’s a great idea to be given such a wide remit. You don’t feel you want to be constrained or limited by another’s defines. However, having very little guidance is not such a good idea when you don’t have a clue what to do your presentation on.

To be fair, my tutor did give me two suggestions. He suggested that I could do it on a sport I played or, perhaps, on my last holiday. I quickly dismissed these fine ideas. The mere thought of me playing any sort of sport is, quite frankly, laughable. As for my last holiday, that went something like this. My husband and I decided to take the girls to Dorset in the south-west of England. It is a very beautiful part of the world and, usually, gets the best of the summer sunshine. Unfortunately, the UK didn’t get a summer this year. It was the wettest on record for over one hundred years. We never got to use the patio table and chairs we paid extra for, and the car broke down three days before we were due to come home. The repair bill was over £1,000. Whilst this may give the rest of my English group a smug sense of satisfaction that their holiday was not as bad as mine, I’m not sure what this would tell them other than the perils of holidaying in Britain.

In the end I decided to make my presentation about archaeology. I have always had an interest in the past, studied History and Archaeology at university, and I’m a member of a local archaeology society. It seemed to make perfect sense. Besides which, I really couldn’t think of anything else. It’s odd how, once you have decided on a topic, you think that writing and practising a presentation will be easy. Particularly as I spend a lot of time writing. I should find it a breeze. Well I didn’t.

Firstly, I had to think of a clear aim for my presentation and then had to stick to it. I found this difficult as I had so many amazing anecdotes and interesting facts that I desperately wanted to share with my group, but that were not at all relevant to my specified aim. It was so easy to wander away from this, which was not the point of the exercise. This is not how I’m used to writing. I usually have an idea of the structure of the piece I’m writing. However, I find that once I start writing I don’t tend to stick to my original plan. Other ideas and thoughts come to me and the piece seems to take on a life of its own. It’s almost like it demands to be written a certain way, which is all well and good for creative writing, but not for presentations.

Once I had finally written the damned thing, I then had to practise it. I had to practise it quite a lot to be honest. It’s funny how you feel confident in your subject and remembering what you’ve written until you come to do a trial run of your presentation. I found myself tripping over my words and using far too many ‘errs’. So practise I did, over and over and over again until I was fed-up to the back teeth with the whole thing. I also went through the inevitable gamut of feelings when presented with such a task. From ‘I can’t do this; it’s complete crap’ to ‘it’s as good as it’s going to get’ with ‘why did I pick this topic?’ and ‘why did I agree to do this course?’ thrown in for good measure. This is why I really needed more than a week’s notice.

It was then I decided to go back and take another look at the pass criteria for the presentation. It said to achieve the required level all I had to do was present information and ideas clearly, and adapt my presentation to suit the audience, purpose and situation. I also only had to meet each standard once. That was it. As unhappy with my presentation as I was, it did at least do this.

As I berated myself for wasting time, energy, and turning some more of my hair grey I realised not for the first time in my life, in fact not for the first time in this blog, this was due to my failure to read something properly and thoroughly. Moments of self-clarity often enable us to examine our worst character traits allowing us to make changes to become a better, happier individual. However, I also realised that as I have spent approximately half of my allotted time on this planet behaving in such a slap-dash manner, I am very unlikely to change. Instead of my moment of clarity being a life-changing moment, it just depressed me. I did pass the assessment though.

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