As the semester is ending, I’m sitting in on a number of student presentations. These are typically done by teams of college juniors and seniors in various classes: marketing, project management, and others. The teams present research and case studies before panels of faculty members as well as local community and business leaders who offer feedback on the students’ work.

I often see students make the same kinds of mistakes every semester so here’s an incomplete list of some ways to improve.

  1. Don’t address the panel as you guys, as in “I’m sure you guys know how this…” The panel members are not your peers; address them respectfully with appropriate titles (Dr., Mr., Miss, Sir, Ma’am). Doing so will separate you from the vast majority of your peers who don’t understand these professional boundaries and it will help them (the panel members) regard you more favorably. Larger point: this will also prepare you for life after college.
  2. Don’t bluff or BS. The panel members typically have years of experience and education beyond yours and they’ll know if you’re bluffing. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
  3. Distribute your handouts at the end of the presentation. If the panel has your handout during the presentation, they’ll read it and ignore you.
  4. Offer explanations and reasons backed by evidence. Be sure to tell how but also explain why.
  5. Use stories. Data is good and necessary but you need an emotional hook to really sell your presentation.
  6. Remember that you have about ten seconds to make your initial impression. Be prepared, rehearse, and start strong.
  7. Have the strongest presenter in your group deliver the presentation. Other team members should be specialists in a particular knowledge area and can speak up during the Q&A period following the presentation.
  8. If the panel offers ideas and suggestions during the Q&A or debriefing, take notes. It shows that you listen and respect their ideas.
  9. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
  10. Test your technology in the conference room before the presentation. You don’t want to fumble around with computer and projector settings and lose valuable time–and even more valuable attention–on your big day.
David Rose’s presentation on How to Pitch to Venture Capitalists is a great place to start, even if you’re not presenting to VCs.