Tips for presentations

You may have opportunities to present your group’s work at a variety of events. This document is intended to help you plan, prepare and practise your presentation, so that you will feel more at ease when you deliver it.

Step 1: Plan

The basics
  • where will you be giving your presentation?
  • who are likely to be in the audience? Is the audience already interested in your subject area or will you need to convince them? Why have they come to listen to your presentation?
  • when is the presentation? How much time do you have to prepare and practise your talk?


Practical details
  • how long will your presentation slot be? Does this slot include or exclude questions and answers?
  • how much time will you have to plan, prepare and practise your presentation?
  • will you create slides using PowerPoint or Adobe Acrobat or other visual aids to illustrate your talk? Are there facilities to show your slideshow?
  • are you expected to produce handouts or other materials for the audience?
  • do you have to send in any material in advance of the presentation, such as notes or a script for your talk, your presentation slides or handouts?
  • ensure you check in advance with the organisers of the conference or event that your slideshow is in the correct format for their IT systems; this includes any audio or video files you include in the slideshow


Your presentation
  • what are you going to talk about and why?
  • what are the important messages or stories of your talk? What do you want the audience to take away from your talk?
  • will you talk about an activity you have been involved in or something more abstract?
  • do you need to do further research to corroborate points you are making?


  • who is giving the presentation?
  • if you are working with others, how will you divide up the presentation and its preparation?



Step 2: Prepare

Words and images

Once you – and any fellow presenters – have decided upon the subject and messages or story of your talk, you will need to give structure to your ideas: introduce your subject and the aims of the talk, and grab the audience’s attention; explore and develop your subject area and the messages you want to convey; finish with a summary of what you have presented as well as any conclusions reached, achievements or lessons learnt.


You may find it helpful to write out your presentation in full first before honing it down to notes. You can then create a series of cue cards. These should contain the most important points and keywords of the presentation, which match up with the slideshow or other visual aids you prepare. The visual cues will help. Remember that it is quite acceptable to read out your presentation from a prepared script – particularly if you are nervous. However, in general, a presentation comes over better when you can talk openly on the subject, or with a few key point notes.

Make sure you know how long your presentation slot is. It is good practice not to run over your allocated time, so practise beforehand with a timer.

Use plain English and explain any specialist architectural, construction or archaeological terms, acronyms of any kind, and Gaelic, non-English or local dialect words you use. [link to SUP glossary when it is ready]

You can engage the audience in numerous ways beyond the text and images of your presentation.

  • use humour when possible and appropriate
  • include relevant personal anecdotes which reveal feelings about your project activities, archival discoveries, developing new skills, working with people in your group, or experiences which have made you think differently about heritage, your project, research or any adventures you might have had
  • make use of rhetorical or leading questions to get the audience thinking. These may lead to questions afterwards
  • make use of natural pauses in punctuation or insert pauses to develop a feeling of anticipation or importance of material coming up. Also make use of pauses to find your place, steady your nerves or take a sip of water


How many slides do I include in my presentation?

There are many answers to this question and often the number depends on the content, context or the event. Generally, fewer are better. This will help you avoid speeding through your presentation and talking too quickly. Why not try two minutes per image? During your preparations you will find what best suits your presentation.


  • include one large image, or two or three smaller images, carefully selected to represent the point you are making
  • include a few keywords per slide, but try to avoid duplicating what you are saying
  • use a recommended font size of 30 point or larger for titles
  • choose a plain font style; black text on white background is easiest to read for everyone
  • ensure you have permission to use the images, audio or video clips selected and include on the slide any copyright information if required to do so
  • include the presenter name(s), group name, location and project title, and a contact email address or phone number on the final slide
  • include the logos of Scotland's Urban Past, the Heritage Lottery Fund and any other partner or sponsoring organisations on the title and final slides if appropriate


Tips for handouts
  • keep to one side of A4 paper
  • include one large image, or two or three medium-sized images, carefully selected to represent your talk
  • include the title and ten to twelve keywords or short sentences summarising the content of your talk
  • use recommended font sizes: for the title 20–24 point; for the main text at least 12 point
  • choose a plain font style; black text on white background is easiest to read for everyone
  • ensure you have permission to use the images selected and include any copyright information if required
  • include the presenter name(s), group name, location and project title, and contact details
  • include the logos of Scotland's Urban Past, the Heritage Lottery Fund and any other partner or sponsoring organisations



Step 3: Practice

Practising your presentation will help you feel more at ease when you speak at an event or conference and will help you to keep to your allotted time slot, develop a smoother delivery, and learn your cue cards and slideshow. Give yourself sufficient time to practise your talk several times before the conference or event.

  • as your voice is produced by a series of muscles, begi your practice sessions with some voice warm-up and breathing exercises, as you would before taking part in a sports or dance activity
  • time your talk each time you practise it
  • if you can, practise in a large hall or outdoors to get a feeling for and experience of projecting your voice
  • practise speaking clearly and outwards to the audience and not to the computer beside you or to the projector screen next to or behind you
  • develop strategies to help you if you dry up, lose your train of thought, lose your place on your cue cards, cannot pronounce a word, mix up words, etc. Generally, avoid apologising if anything like this happens; it is often far less noticeable than you think. Use a humorous comment if you feel comfortable doing so, or take a few moments to compose yourself or take a sip of water (ensure it is to hand before you start!), or move on to the next slide


  • practise your whole presentation in front of different people; a sympathetic listener can help build your confidence, while a more critical listener can help you improve or sharpen up your content and/or delivery
  • as well as practising in front of others, if possible, make an audio or a video recording of your presentation. By listening to or watching yourself, you can better understand how you use your voice, body language and gestures. This activity can make you cringe or feel embarrassed, especially if you have others listening or watching with you, but it is very worthwhile. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • how does my voice sound? Is it monotone or expressive? Am I placing emphasis in the correct places?
    • what is my body language like? Do I look uncomfortable? Where are my hands? Where are my cue cards/papers? Am I holding them in front of my face? Am I hiding behind the table/podium or holding on for dear life?
    • do my gestures emphasise or detract from what I am saying? Am I aware of my gestures while I am talking?
    • do I make and keep eye contact? Do I look around the audience?
  • visualise yourself presenting in front of the audience at the venue



Step 4: Perform

The day of your presentation is here!

Getting ready
  • ensure you arrive at the venue in plenty of time! You will want to check that your slideshow can be uploaded to, and opened on, the venue IT systems. You will want to see and get a feel for the room and your journey to the stage/podium. You may want to run through your presentation slides using the venue computer, projector, remote control/pointer, microphone, etc. You may want to check that water will be available
  • if you drink or eat anything before your presentation, ensure that it is not too hot or cold, as extreme temperatures are not good for your vocal muscles. Warm drinks or room-temperature water is thought to be best
  • think positively about your presentation! You have planned, prepared and practised your material. You are talking about something you know and enjoy – you are an authority – these are huge advantages. Believe in yourself!


Giving your presentation
  • at the start, remember to thank the event organisers for the opportunity of talking today, before you launch into the presentation
  • you may feel nervous! Adrenaline can be good and useful for performing in front of an audience
  • if you feel too nervous or begin to panic, remember to take deep breaths (you might find it helpful to imagine breathing positive feelings in through your nose and expelling negative thoughts out through your mouth)
  • while you are presenting:
    • be aware of the speed and clarity of your speech
    • remember to make and maintain eye contact
    • remember to speak towards the audience; imagine you are having a conversation with each individual you make eye contact with, not the huge mass of the audience
    • most of all, remember you have the images to support you
  • at the end of your presentation, remember to thank the audience for their attention


Audience questions

In order to keep them engaged, you may like to include questions to the audience during your talk. These might be rhetorical questions to get them thinking or, if you are an experienced and confident presenter, questions to which you would like answers straight away, making your presentation interactive. Bear in mind that questions to the audience have the potential to evolve into discussions or debates that may distract from the theme of your talk and cause the talk to overrun.

Time is usually set aside for questions from the audience. Often questions are invited immediately after your talk; sometimes a question and answer session will be held after several presentations with a number of presenters answering questions together.

Audience questions can be very varied. Some people will want to know more about the subject you presented on, while others will want to know what else you know about your subject. Others will want to challenge you on something you have said, the way your group carried out an aspect of project work, research or a conclusion you have reached. There may also be questions about something linked only very slightly to your subject or there might not be any questions at all.

Audience questions are usually managed by an event organiser or chairperson overseeing several presentations. This person is there to help keep the questions moving and to help avoid long discussions or disagreements. These sessions are very spontaneous, so be prepared to think on your feet. To give yourself a few moments to consider an answer, you can use statements like ‘that’s a really good question’ or ‘I’m glad you asked about that.’ If you do not know something, do not worry, perhaps someone else from your group in the audience can help. Alternatively you can offer to provide an answer at some future point, by email for instance.