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Note from Art: this is a public service post for anyone in a classroom anywhere that is on the hook for a group project. MBA students and undergraduates, please pay particular attention. If you know someone that might benefit from the guidance, please pass this along. I want to hear about some seriously great group project presentations over the next few weeks! And hey, the rest of you professionals out there might just pick up a few pointers below as well.
Everyone’s Doing It and Many are Not Doing It Well:
On campuses and in classrooms, graduate and undergraduate students alike are all doing It and many are not doing It very effectively. The It of course, is preparing for the end of semester/quarter/year group project presentation, which in many cases will serve as a significant portion of the final grade.
After sitting through a fair number of these presentations over the past few years, I’ve identified some common mistakes that detract from the quality of the final presentation and depress grades, not to mention instructors. The mistakes and misfires are generally a result of two issues: the very personal and irrational fear of presenting and some horrendously poor planning and coordination between group members.
Sidebar on Group Projects:
The topic of group projects in school probably merits a book, and while there are many pros and some cons to this component of the education process, I am in the camp that a well-defined project assignment enhances the learning experience, challenges individuals to develop strong group socialization, communication and leadership skills and offers a learning opportunity for the entire class if the output is of good quality. I’ll save the cons and potential for abuse of this component of college and grad school life for another post.
Regardless of your opinion on the worth of group projects, they are a reality, and one which students should play to win. What follows is a short summary of the tips and suggestions that I provide to groups in my MBA and undergraduate classes. I welcome additional thoughts and I encourage you to use these tips in good health and in pursuit of an A.
9 Tips For Nailing the Class and Group Project Presentation:
1. Ensure that the group members share an integrated view of the project:
One of the biggest and painfully visible issues with group projects is that it becomes clear that the work was doled out to team members and while everyone knows their part, no one knows the whole picture. Take the time to discuss your respective work products, key findings/conclusions and ensure that there is a unified and complete view of the project.
2. Before preparing presentation materials, the group must think through the following:
- You need to interest your audience in the first 60 seconds or you’ve lost them. The group should develop an engaging opener..a reason for the audience to be interested.
- You need to plan your message…before you begin writing your presentation. Key points; necessary supporting points; examples; summary of key findings…and take-aways.
- The goal is not to show how much you know..it is to concisely and briefly deliver key points, insights and conclusions.
3. Building the presentation:
Remember, business plans seeking millions of dollars in funding can be pitched in a dozen or fewer slides. Keep your deck brief…make every slide count.
- Ideally, have one person build the presentation…it allows you to standardize on graphics, fonts and importantly, on a single voice. Nothing is worse than disjointed presentation materials that don’t flow and look like they were created in a blender.
- The best approach is always one-main point per slide. (Or, no slides at all.)
- Pictures are best…with brief captions or sidebars
- Plan on your narrative and speaking points filling in all of the words that are not on the slides.
4. Helping the group and individuals prepare to present:
Since your slides are crisp and clean, every speaker must plan out their presentation narrative. I like to print my slides, handwrite my major points (no more than 3 to 5) and then practice delivering these points until I don’t need notes. Other important planning issues:
- Create transitions between speakers
- Plan on the team leader conducting group introductions.
- CREATE AN ENDING. Too many groups end with “that’s all.” That works for a cartoon…not for a project presentation.
- Coordinate the slide advancement in advance…not during the presentation.
5. Getting yourself ready-prepare your attitude:
It’s time to tackle the irrational demons that bedevil so many classroom (and professional) speakers. Think through the following:
- Remind yourself that there is little to fear. The audience is on your side. They want you to succeed. Unless you disrespect the audience, they are there for you.
- Remember that your goal is to always inform, share and even entertain. Entertaining does not mean that you have to tell jokes…but having the mind of an entertainer…ensures that you focus on pleasing your audience.
- Sit down the night before the presentation and imagine that you were an audience member for your own presentation. Jot down a list of what you would like to learn. Review that list before the presentation.
6. Immediately before the presentation, remind yourself of the following:
- Smile while speaking. Your smile is infectious.
- Eye contact please. Or at least pick different spots in the room slightly above head level and move your eyes to each spot in a random fashion.
- Project your voice. Many students forget to project, and the audience has to struggle to hear. Be loud and proud…always with a smile.
- If you have an accent…or if you are a mumbler, you will need to focus on both projecting and enunciating!
- Modulate your voice. Raise volume for emphasis…lower volume for intensity. Avoid talking in a monotone.
7. During the presentation:
- Smile, project your voice, and make eye contact. Present with confidence, and be part of the group in the room, not a talking head.
- Enthusiasm and passion are a speaker’s best friends! Show and share yours.
- Modulate your voice.
- Notes: if you must have them in your hand, don’t read from them. An occasional glance is fine. Reading is never fine.
- DON’T READ YOUR NOTES!
- Posture…don’t stand defensively (no arms crossed)…don’t get in the fig-leaf pose (use your imagination) and don’t get in the T-Rex pose (again, use your imagination). No hands in pockets, either. Pick a base position…hands at the side with occasional, simple gestures. Vary it slightly so that you don’t become a mannequin. (Thanks, Tim Koegel for these posture suggestions!)
- Be conscious of your timing. If you’ve practiced and if you know your key points…make them and keep moving.
- Briefly recap your key points and then transition to your next speaker…introducing him/her by name…and perhaps topic.
8. After the presentation: Q/A:
Many a great group presentation crashes on the rocks of a mismanaged Question and Answer session. Consider the following:
- Pre-plan for someone to be the question moderator. The moderator should restate the question and then direct it to the appropriate person.
- If you don’t understand the question, ask the questioner for clarification.
- If you don’t know the answer, do not make it up. Develop the habit of saying, “I’m not certain, but that is an important question that I would love to look into for you.”
- Keep your answers brief. Resist the urge to share everything you know.
- The moderator should sense when the question is answered/over and move on.
- No need to get defensive with an audience member that disagrees. It’s OK to agree to disagree.
9. Wrapping Up:
The group moderator should close out the group’s presentation, thank the audience and transition for the next group. Do something to close out beyond the ever-present and really depressing, “that’s all we have.”
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Here’s to nailing some group project presentations, getting great grades and importantly, improving your personal and professional communication skills along the way. Use these in good health! -Art
Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.
Presentation Assignment Example
The following is an example of an individual presentation assignment and a group presentation. The individual presentation assignment explains that students will give two presentations over the semester on a topic of the student's choice. The student should submit a 1 to page paper explaining the presentation also. The group presentation provides four areas of focus: interpretive approach, important issues raised by the text, a comparison to another work, and using a scholarly source to further understand the work. A handout follows the assignment that clearly explains the criteria.
- You will each be responsible for giving two presentations this semester. The presentations should be between five and ten minutes long, and the topics will be of your own choosing. Along with each presentation, please submit a 1-2 page paper that summarizes your topic. I will return these to you with comments and a grade for your efforts. Please take these presentations seriously as we will often use them as starting point for our class discussions.
- The collaborative group presentation will require you to: 1) share your interpretive approach; i.e., explain how you accessed the text to make it “mean.” For example, was your interpretation influenced by one of the formal features of the novel (plot, point of view, etc.), by the presence of certain ideas or beliefs you related to, or a critical approach that helped you dis-entangle the complexities of the narrative? 2) identify, for discussion, the important issues and questions raised by the text; 3) contextualize the reading by relating it to another work by the same author, another contemporary text that invites comparison in terms of shared ideas, themes and "horizons" that respond in some way to the major concerns of the core text, or by locating it in some literary or paraliterary movement; 4) summarize a scholarly response to the work and try to identify the author’s critical approach.
Guidelines for Presentations
Each team member should contribute equally. Teams will compile a list of major topics to be covered in their presentation, and assign one to each member to research and present. Each member should speak for approximately three to five minutes. The presentation can reflect the diversity of viewpoints of the presenters. Designate one team member as the team leader. This person will be responsible for introducing the presentation as a whole, and each presenter. The team leader will also summarize the presentation at its conclusion, and lead a class discussion.
Since grading is based on the presentation as a whole, team members should notify the professor before the date of the presentation if any member does not do their share. Shyness or stumbling do not negatively affect the grade.
Team members may decide among themselves how to distribute the work of preparing the following information sheets.
- Things to Know -- One to two sheets listing major facts relevant to your topic, significant concepts, key points, terminology with definitions, and other interesting points of information_
- Quotes -- One sheet containing salient quotes from your readings, with explanations of their significance.
- References -- A compilation of references used for the presentations, including two or more for each presenter, written in MLA style, with one sentence summarizing the content of the text.
Many students elect to use PowerPoint. This is not absolutely required, but provision of some visual aids is helpful.
Talk to us, don't read. You may use notes when you make your presentation, but you may not read from a fully written out text.
Here is one way to make a successful presentation:
- Do plenty of reading and research. Explore the topic as fully as possible. Make notes.
- Read over your notes, and think over the results of your reading.
- Discuss your results with your team members. Tentatively plan the presentation in its general outlines.
- On your own again, and setting notes aside, brainstorm and write down all the interesting ideas that you have come up with.
- Organize these ideas into a coherent sequence. Return to your notes and add any information relevant to your major ideas which will illustrate or explain them..
- Add an introduction, which tells what you will talk about, and a conclusion which sums up what you have discussed and learned. Cut out any irrelevant or uninteresting material.
- Meet with your team members to organize and streamline the presentation.
- Visualize yourself giving a talk to the class, going through all these ideas, in a comfortable and relaxed fashion. If you wish, practice talkingabout your subject to a mirror.
- Using only brief notes, give your presentation to the class and have fun!
- The team leader will also prepare a short general introduction to the presentation, lead-ins for each individual presenter, and a very brief possible conclusion, which may change according to how the presentations unfold.
Prepare three possible questions with which to lead a class discussion_ Designate one team member as the discussion leader. Other team members may contribute to the discussion, but the discussion leader will be responsible for organizing and controlling the discussion. Lead a discussion utilizing your prepared questions, along with any others which have occurred to you during the presentation. Conclude your presentation by opening the floor for questions and comments from the class audience.