9 Tips for Nailing the Classroom Group Project Presentation

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

By | 2016-10-22T17:11:54+00:00 April 16th, 2010|Career, Project Management|19 Comments

About the Author:

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.

19 Comments

  1. Bret Simmons April 16, 2010 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Excellent advice here, Art. I rarely assign group projects anymore. Much of that is driven by the content of what I am teaching now, but even if a group project would fit I am hesitant. The students find them very painful. Few things have the ability to bring students to conflict and tears more than a group project. Students do need to learn these skills, but I’m content letting them get that experience in another class 🙂 Bret

    • Art Petty April 16, 2010 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Wise words from a wise man! Sometimes the nature of the class drives the project. My past few courses (Business Plan Development, Project Management, Quality Management) tend to scream (to me) for the need for a project. I may be heading your way on some of the other classes. Nonetheless, my advice was for all of those individuals that don’t have the benefit of learning from someone like you, Bret! Thanks as always for reading and sharing! -Art

  2. Brett McElhaney April 16, 2010 at 11:45 am - Reply

    As a student I both appreciate and have some trepidation about the group project and presentation. The group project provides some invaluable practice working in teams and with other personalities/viewpoints and developing deeper connections with classmates but can be a source of stress and strife. The presentation is an invaluable tool to practice public speaking (which can make a big difference in one’s career and many fear) but can also add to an already heavy burden in school/work/personal life.

    • Art Petty April 16, 2010 at 11:52 am - Reply

      Brett, I suspect that your sentiments are echoed by many others…both for the benefits of the speaking practice and the added demand that comes from being involved in one or more group projects. I offer that if (and it is a big IF), the project is structured carefully, it can enhance learning and offer practice speaking, without straining already stressed students. Thanks for reading and commenting! -Art

  3. Catalin Cociuba April 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Art,
    I enjoyed reading this article, because I know it will help me in my classes and in my professional career. This is the best advice that I have ever got on a group project presentation. Now, I will have no excuse in not getting an A.
    Best,
    Catalin Cociuba

    • Art Petty April 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Catalin, I’m glad that the content resonated with you. I’m hopeful it helps many others as well. Since I know your presentation style from prior classes, I comfortable indicating that you are already well down your path in becoming great at this. Thanks! -Art

  4. Brandon Stewart April 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    As a graduate student, I agree that group projects can be very painful. But I also believe they are very necessary. At some point in a professional’s education, they need to learn to dispense with niceties and awkwardness and learn to either take charge or responsibly follow someone more qualified.

    I also enjoyed your post because it underscores the tremendous value of using professional communication as a competitive advantage.

    • Art Petty April 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      Brandon, we will put you squarely in the column that finds projects painful but potentially beneficial. Thanks much for reading and commenting! -Art

  5. Dan McCarthy April 17, 2010 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Art –
    From my experience, both on the giving and recieving end of group presentations, this is awesome advice. You’re right, a public service. Not just for students either. We do a lot of these in our high potential programs, and although we do our best to set our managers up for success, it hurts to watch a group of individual blow it.

    • Art Petty April 17, 2010 at 11:11 am - Reply

      Dan, thank you! It is painful to watch groups stumble through presentations. Here’s to hoping that we can positively influence a few more to succeed! Best, -Art

  6. James Dodson April 19, 2010 at 12:13 am - Reply

    Art-

    Thanks for the advice. It is very good practical advice for presenting. I believe that hooking the audience in the first 60 seconds is absolutely essential. You have to get them into the presentation. Anyway, your advice is worth reading 2 or 3 times and then will be integrating into 2 future presentations for business.

    thanks,
    James

    • Art Petty April 19, 2010 at 5:16 am - Reply

      James, use it in good health! -Art

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  11. Vivi October 25, 2016 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Hi Art,
    I once heard from a graduate student that it’s more professional for individuals in groups to take turns speaking rather than going back and forth. Is this true? What is the rationale? Thank you!

    • Art Petty October 25, 2016 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      It may be a matter of personal preference. I encourage students to define roles and delegate presentation duties and to collaborate on Q/A. -Art

  12. Alison January 11, 2017 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Very good. Hope these tips will work on my students at St. George’s!😃

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