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Preparing to Present Professionally: One START Intern’s Findings

Preparing to Present Professionally: One START Intern’s Findings

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Marina Farrugia, State-START

Spring 2016

University of Maryland, 2017

Prior to my internship at START, the majority of my presentation experience had been purely academic.  I recently had the opportunity to break from the norm when presenting a Significant Terrorist Activity Briefing (SigTAB) for my fellow interns and staff.  The presentation was vastly different from others I have given in my academic career, and it was interesting to be able to reflect on the experience via valuable feedback from my peers. While my presentation focused on significant terror attacks, the lessons I learned could apply to any public speaking engagement.

My first takeaway from this experience is “be concise.”  In past presentations, I have had much more wiggle-room to interpret events as I wanted to. I have found that the expectations for a professional presentation are much different, especially when you are responsible for something like a briefing.  Presenting facts in a short and sweet manner can be difficult at first. The best bet is to strike a happy balance between thoroughness and the most relevant facts. When in doubt, take more out. 

With concision comes precision, and thus I found myself at the second takeaway of the day: “fact check.”  Not once, not twice, but at least three times.  Few things are more embarrassing and unprofessional than to find out during the discussion portion of your presentation that some of your information was not accurate or timely. It is extremely important to visit multiple sources to check credibility.  If for some reason there is variation among credible sources, I tend to pick the information that is represented the most and note in my presentation that I experienced some variation while conducting my research.   

My third takeaway from this experience is “learn to take criticism.”  I have been lucky enough to have fellow interns and supervisors criticize my work or offer constructive suggestions.  I know that they want me to grow from this experience and to become more prepared for this sort of responsibility in the future.   Presentations are often a reflection of both myself and my supervisor, so I aim to be open minded and receptive to any feedback or constructive criticism that is thrown my way.  

The fourth takeaway is “be professional.”  Professionalism is something that I strive for every day in my internship, but it is especially important when presenting.  If someone has to stare at me for even just five minutes, then I would like to do them the courtesy of dressing professionally. Chances are, in any future career, I will have to present to colleagues, and I would want them to take me seriously.  My mantra has always been “if you want to be the part, look the part,” meaning that if I want to be seen as a professional, then I better dress like one!  

Fifth, and perhaps the thing I find most difficult when presenting, “avoid filler words at all costs.”  I would not fill a normal conversation with a plethora of “um’s” and “uh’s,” so I try my best to do myself and my audience a favor by being consciously aware of my use of filler words while presenting.  The first few times I presented professionally, I was very nervous and probably said “um” every couple of words. Since then, I have reduced my use of filler words to sound more professional, intelligent, and prepared.  I know that even seasoned presenters sometimes use filler words, but with enough preparation, it is possible to greatly reduce the use of these fillers.

The last takeaway can be summed up pretty easily: “speak up!”  I may be terrified of public speaking, but START and most internship programs are dedicated to helping interns get as much out of their intern experience as possible.  I took advantage of the opportunity to present a SigTAB in order to continue to hone my presentation skills.  Few things are more frustrating than not being able to hear a presenter, so I practiced projecting my voice and making eye contact with a pretend audience before presentation day.  I would advise that if you are on a team of interns, normally grab lunch with colleagues in the office, or have spare time during meetings with your supervisor, ask them if they could spare a few minutes to help you prepare for your presentation   

Happy presenting!