Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

How to make a good presentation

by ariadnesthread101

Students on the MEG will be giving their first presentation this coming week for the module Environmental Issues, which uses problem-based learning. At the last session of Ariadne’s Thread, I promised a blog post on tips for making a good presentation (even if this one is super informal).

So here’s a little digest of some links from around the University website and the wider maze of the internet 🙂

First, a printable summary sheet from the University’s Department of Sociology. If you want something quick to use as a checklist, this is it. Also from the University, here’s a bunch of material from the Skills Development pages.

If you’re using Powerpoint, then here are some guidelines from, em, the people who made Powerpoint.

What about presentations in an academic setting? Here’s a blogger I follow, talking specifically about the art of giving an academic presentation. You’ll see from this, and all the ones above as well, that really, it’s just a question of being organised, having a clear message, practising your delivery and then, seriously, seriously, enjoying it.

Something to think about: Do you necessarily have to give a powerpoint presentation in an academic setting? (You do if the Module handbook says you do. But if it doesn’t, or later, after your course, you have the freedom to think about it.) You could, for instance, just do this:

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Or this:

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So that’s a list of Dos. Here’s a list of Don’ts 🙂 And another one.

And to end, here are my top 5 tips collected from giving presentations to students and colleagues at lectures and conferences.

1. Practise. Someone I know said: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Prac.tise. Whether you believe it or not, each time you practise you halve your nervousness (if you’re nervous) and double your confidence. Practise with your group, let them listen to you. Trust them, and practise looking at everyone all over the room (not just your friend – I do this all the time!)

2. If you’re using powerpoint, use one graphic or one picture per slide. ONLY. No text or super-little text. Keep the text in notes in front of you if you  need to. The idea is that if your audience is reading from your slide, they are not listening to you. Or, even worse, both you and the audience are reading from your slide. You might as well write a blog post for them and tell them to read it at home 😛 They are here to listen.

3. Both of the above mean that you need to plan. Doing a good powerpoint, and delivering it well, means you have to plan ahead a tiny bit, especially if you’re not used to it. It’s worth it. Plan time for making a plan of the slides, putting them together, writing your notes, reading your notes, changing things around, practising delivery and making any final changes.

4. Make handouts. This is good for you (you have something in front of you if you need it) and great for the audience. And its impressive 🙂

5. Relax. There are two thoughts and one action which help me relax. One: The audience is composed of people. Mostly peers. People can be awful sometimes. But in normal academic presentations at Essex they do not look or behave like this:

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The most that will happen is that someone will ask you a question you cannot answer (the answer is: Good question! I don’t know.) Or someone will fall asleep. Big deal.

Two: You can actually forget to be afraid. Back home, a friend and I used to say to each other before taking on a challenge: Become so immersed in something, that you forget to be afraid. Just become super-excited about the subject, make the preparation into an act of love, and forget the rest.

And the one action that really works is: Breathe. Slowly. It’s stupidly simple but awesomely powerful.

Good luck!

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Doing Something, Playfully

by ariadnesthread101

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It might seem too early to be thinking about what is to come after the Masters, since we’re only in Week 3 of teaching here at Essex. But it’s not. Time moves fast, and the Job Market is close to not moving at all.

It might also seem odd to be talking about Job Markets in a post that starts out by asking you to ‘play’. But that’s the beauty of environmental studies. You still need a job, or some way to pay the bills and live your life, but equally, being introduced to new subjects and new ideas all through the year means that you’re also playing, a lot of the time. You’re putting together puzzles, and finding your way through a maze 😉 and playing hide-and-seek with insights.

Finding a job can also be about playing. You don’t have to follow a set path. You can move from one field to another, one job-role to another, in pursuit of a goal that is deeper and wider than just a paycheck. In fact, if you’re doing environmental studies in such a multidisciplinary course, I will assume that you want more than just a job. You want to play around with different things, and gain a sense of satisfaction and adventure and challenge.

Having said that, it won’t feel like much fun if you don’t combine that sense of adventure with a plan so that you are actually doing something at the end of the course. That’s why part of Ariadne’s Thread is to develop some kind of personal plan so that you can do both: play within this really exciting and diverse field AND ‘do’ something.

How to start planning, while keeping enough flexibility for change (you might learn something next week that completely changes your life and moves you into a totally new field 🙂 That’s the magic of this course)?

One way is to set your sights on people who inspire you, rather than on specific job roles. For example, in this post, Jacquelyn Gill writes: “I often look at the CV’s of researchers whose careers I admire to get a sense of their trajectory, and to build a rough road map of goals and objectives.”

Is there an environmentalist (of whatever description – that word includes scientists, researchers, journalists, NGO workers, people getting together in groups to plant a tree!) who inspires you, or whose career you admire? Spend a couple of hours looking through their career path (the magic of research on the weird and wonderful internet!). Find their CV if you can, and see what they started with, and how they moved from one thing to another. See what skills they have, what experience they have.

And bring it with you next time we meet!

3 challenges, 3 aims

by ariadnesthread101

Calling these meetings ‘sessions’ makes me think of corrective education or psychotherapy, but oh well. We had our first ‘session’ this afternoon!   I’d love for others to weigh in and comment but we’ll only be discussing our joint plans for this blog next week.  I’ll (wo)man the fort in the meanwhile.

Today I gave the new students a general introduction to the aims of Ariadne’s Thread and what I hope we will do every week.

Very roughly, the point of the whole thing is to be able to provide the space, and tools, required to navigate the interdisciplinary maze that is environmental studies. Students on these course face 3 key challenges:

1. Getting used to the methods and requirements of Masters-level scholarly work in multiple disciplines to the required standard. We’ll spend time reviewing course requirements, assignments and the basics (and beyond) of referencing, researching, writing and reading for academia.

2. Meeting, and getting to know, multiple disciplines in both natural and social sciences and most importantly, being able to build bridges between the two. Recognising how insights from different places inform real-world problems, illuminate the heart of the problem and spark the imagination towards novel solutions. Cross-disciplinary thinking is more than scholarly acrobatics. It is a means towards which we can gain a relevant understanding of the real world.

3. Third: if you study ‘this stuff’ in some depth, or any, you’re going to have questions and concerns that are deeply personal. I don’t think we gain anything by pretending that these personal concerns are separate from the main activity of getting an education. The ‘environmental’ journey is nothing if not deeply personal. ‘The ultimate penalty of an ecological education is that one lives alone, in a world full of wounds,’ bemoaned Aldo Leopold. Yes. But why live like that. Those wounds exist in the outer world, we acknowledge that. Why not also acknowledge their effect in our inner world, so that we can begin to transcend these and move towards a more productive and effective stance?  The hope is that being open in a trusted group setting will allow this process to begin.

I’m looking forward to next week!

Still to come in this series of introductory posts: Why ‘Ariadne’s Thread’? So what will we do during our 2 hour slots? More on these mid-week. Until then, a great weekend, everyone!

– Zareen