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Take a Deep Breath: Tips on Preparing for an Oral Presentation

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: English teacher Nina Weinstein joins us from Los Angeles for an oral presentation about oral presentations.

NINA WEINSTEIN: "You know, some people will tell you, well, don't be nervous. I think that's kind of counterintuitive because you're going to be nervous -- you feel what you feel. But I think it's important to realize that everybody is nervous. And so I give students breathing exercises that they can do before the presentation."

AA: "Talk a little bit about those breathing exercises."

NINA WEINSTEIN: "There's a very simple breathing exercise you can do where you take a deep breath and hold it in your chest, as full as you can make it. And now push it down to your lower abdomen.

"And I have my students put their hands on their lower abdomen so that they can feel the breath all going down to the lower abdomen. You're going to hold it to the count of ten, and then you're going to very slowly breathe it out through your nose."

RS: "That's like my yoga class. This is the same thing I do in my yoga class. Similar."

NINA WEINSTEIN: "And how do you feel now?"

RS: "How do I feel?

AA: "Lightheaded?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "No, but did it make you feel calmer?"

RS: "Yeah, it relaxes you. I mean, proper breathing is good."

NINA WEINSTEIN: "Well, it is, but they don't focus on this in classrooms necessarily, or in places where people are preparing to do presentations. So this is just a skill that they can use before the presentation. I also tell them to go off by themselves for a few minutes and just kind of center and focus on what it is they're trying to transmit to the audience.

"A lot of times people are nervous because they're focused on themselves. And I tell them that's not the focus. When you're giving a talk, people are there to get the information and they may notice you for a minute or two. But as soon as you start to talk, if you're the authority, they'll forget about you and they'll just be listening to what you're saying."

RS: "So we've taken a little hike. We've prepared ourselves -- "

NINA WEINSTEIN: "We've come back."

RS: "We've come back, we've prepared ourselves with breathing exercises. How do we get started?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "I have students put notes on three-by-five cards, but I tell them that they're not going to be reading those notes. They're going to be just practicing those before the speech or before the presentation -- because, again, [you're] the authority. And if you're the authority, you shouldn't be reading. You should know what you're going to be saying. So they practice that.

"And I also caution the ones who are doing PowerPoint -- and a lot of people really like to do PowerPoint presentations. And that's fine, but I caution them that the PowerPoint is the assistant. They're the presentation and so they should not be focused wholly on the PowerPoint. It should just be a kind of augmentation or help for the presentation."

AA: "Well, this raises a question here, because I've sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations and I've always wondered: are you supposed to read what's on the slide or do you just put a few words on the slide? I mean, what do you recommend for people to do with PowerPoint?"

NINA WEINSTEIN: "What I've come to the conclusion of is that we shouldn't be reading on the screen, because if we're reading what's on the screen, we're not listening to the speaker. And so there should just be a few points on the screen. It shouldn't be mostly words anyway. Words can be said. We don't need the words on the screen.

"One of my students gave a very effective PowerPoint presentation on robots and what robots will be doing for homeowners and elderly people in the future. And what he did was he showed a soccer game at a RoboCup international competition. And so that got the audience's attention, that was on the PowerPoint and that was really effective, because that's not something he could say as effectively as he could show."

"Another example was a student who gave a presentation on E.Q., which is the emotional intelligence [quotient]. And so in order to get the audience involved in that, she gave a very short test in the beginning, of maybe five questions that we would answer. And based on our answers she told us how much E.Q. we had. And then she began her discussion. So something like that, that's an example that pulls us in, something we can do as the audience, something that's shown to us that helps us relate to the topic, and then the audience is yours from that moment on."

AA: Nina Weinstein will have more advice about oral presentations a week from now.

RS: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. Archives are at And our e-mail address is With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.