Mayo's Clinics

May 22, 2019, 19:07
Helping Students Make Better Presentations

Helping Students Make Better Presentations

09 April 2018

Dr. Mayo identifies elements of an effective presentation and then encourages practicing the presentation to a computer

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Last month, we discussed encouraging students to read aloud in order to improve their reading and writing skills. This month, we will start a series on assisting students in their presentation skills. This article brings into focus how to effectively create the presentation while the next two Mayo’s Clinic columns will highlight using PowerPoint and how to properly evaluate presentations.

The Value of Presentations
One of the most powerful ways for students to learn involves teaching it to other people, whether tutoring or making a public presentation in class. We use this teaching strategy to encourage students to learn a topic – mostly of their choice, but not always – more deeply than they otherwise would and to benefit from teaching other students. Creating and making a presentation motivates students to do more reading and thinking about the topic since they do not want to embarrass themselves in front of their peers. It also helps them learn to make presentations, another way we help prepare them for the requirements of their professional careers.

Elements of a Good Presentation
One of the first things to teach is the difference between learning a topic and presenting it in an interesting manner. Organizing a presentation for an audience is very different than reviewing the logic of a subject. We often start presentations with questions or teach a subject backward, for example showing the plate presentation before we review the cooking techniques and the ingredients. This structure captures an audiences’ interest and motivates them to learn more. However, students may not realize the differences between the logic of a subject and the pedagogic of explaining it.

A second key issue is the importance of starting and ending presentations with a focus on the audience and not the topic. One thing I remind my students to do is provide the following:

  • title page including the presentation’s title, their name, course title and date
  • agenda page
  • question and answer page
  • summary or ending page

I encourage students to develop the middle presentation slides using only bullets and some clip art, images, or photographs so they talk to the audience and don’t read the slides word for word. One way I have learned to help them focus on bullets and not use paragraphs on slides is the 9 by 9 theory– nine slides with nine lines (not sentences or paragraphs) on each slide.

The third lesson involves encouraging them to use presentation notes. This helps remind them of what they want to say, hopefully written in bullet points and not full sentences. They can also prepare illustrations, examples and data points that will make the presentation more vivid. Once the students have written down what they want to say and thought about it, they don’t usually have to refer to the notes. However, the notes do provide safety and reassurance during the presentation.

Delivering the Presentation Aloud
The best way for students to create a strong presentation is to practice delivering it aloud. Those of us who teach have made so many presentations we don’t need to deliver it out loud – unless it is a brand new area or audience – in order to prepare well. However, many students are new at delivering presentations and practicing makes a difference.

Encourage your students to deliver the presentation to their computer by speaking it out loud, using only the slides (not the notes pages) to prompt what they what to say. It can be a brilliant way to hear the logic – or lack thereof – of what they developed. They may also find they can add in more information, a good thing while developing the presentation. Speaking it aloud can be enhanced by recording it on a phone and then playing it back to listen for focus and logic and to see if it ends with an impact or just dies at the end.

If they find it difficult to talk to their computers, encourage them to present to their roommates, fellow students, family members or friends. This technique will help them learn to put some passion and excitement into their presentation and hopefully reduce their fear of public speaking.

Encouraging your students to take time in preparing the presentation and then delivering it out loud will help them create clearer, more logical and more interesting presentations. It is very similar to reading papers aloud to hear the awkward grammar, lack of logic, or confusing focus. Hopefully, it will help them improve and everyone in the class will benefit from clear and interesting presentations.

Next month, we will talk about using PowerPoint creatively and effectively. If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.