In three years of graduate school, I've taken twenty classes and had ten different professors. Presentations have been part of the final grade In nearly two thirds of those classes (indeed, sometimes they take up the bulk of the semester's classtime). Very often I've learned from my preparation and, despite fretting and moaning before its my turn, in the end that I enjoyed my few minutes in the limelight.
I'm not always so sure my classmatesthe audience learns as much as the presenters, however. I think we spend our time in the audience either politely trying not to cringe or trying not to look overbored. I will admit that I certainly don't look at my peers as experts on their topic, and essentially perk up towards the end when the professor adds the necessary pertinent comments to make sense of the conglomerate of information that was just tossed at us haphazardly.
I have a few pointers-not that I am super amazing and give the best presentations ever (in fact I just gave a doozy of a flop recently!), but that I would appreciate someone giving their advice to me in this matter, because so few professors ever give feedback (out of the twenty classes and ten professors, two presentations have ever gotten feedback, and that feedback was invaluable to me. Otherwise, the presentation took up about 10-30% of my final grade without any explanation or commentary).
--stick to your topic.
While sometimes it is helpful to give some historic background or set the scene a bit, do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. An example of what is not necessary: if you are presenting on a particular work, do not spend time talking about where the author went to college, or what awards they won as a writer. Unless biographical information is germane to the information you're presenting about the work, leave it out--at least don't spend more than a sentence or two on it.
--(related to the first) be as specific as possible.
If you are expected to present on how a particular theorist contributed to a new theory, do so. It is not necessary to refer to the individual's other work (again, unless it is germane to the information you're presenting). Talk more about their theoretical contributions and less about their expulsion from X university.
--if you've been asked to present on an article or set of ideas, be sure to state the main argument first and foremost in your presentation and on your handout, if you've provided one.
--if you're going to use a handout, use it wisely.
Make it easy to follow. Posting a few various pictures or quotes on there does not impart information. Your audience should be able to use the handout to follow along; don't make them question where you are in terms of the handout (i.e. your presentation should work with the handout). I personally prefer a brief outline which, on your (the presenter's) version, has the more fleshed out script included. In my opinion, you should not provide a handout that is essentially a copy of your paper, and read straight from it. Cite your sources on your handout and in your presentation, so your audience is clear what parts are your thoughts and what parts are paraphrases or quotes.
--stay within your alloted timeframe.
This is important, particularly if you think of classroom presentations as preparation for conference panels. Anyone can blather on about a topic. Be succinct, get your point across, and get out of there. In the end, it is more impressive to make your argument clear in a short amount of time, rather than filling up the entire class period with miscellaneous tidbits about some topic. *This also means practice your presentation before you begin.
--make sure you can pronounce all the words you are using. Please. Practice beforehand and if you've got any 4-5 syllable doozies in there, make sure you can say them correctly. If you do find yourself stuttering or slipping over a word in the heat of the moment, don't respond by getting frustrating and saying "bleah, I can't talk today" (this is always a pet peeve of mine). Pause, get yourself together, and move on.
--don't apologize through the duration of your presentation for being unclear, or taking too much time.
The more flustered you get, the more awkward it is for your audience. Put your game face on and pummel through. Of course, if you'd practiced beforehand you'd know how long your presentation was, and if you were more prepared you'd be less unclear. But things happen. If you feel unclear about your topic, visit your professor beforehand and attempt to gain clarification. The more specific your questions are, the more helpful this session will be. Do not repeatedly refer to said conversation with professor in the hopes that they will explain the topic for you.
--oh, and--it doesn't hurt to look nice.
I'm not saying go buy yourself a new suit. But get rid of the baseball cap, the sweatshirt, and--regardless of what you're wearing--the slouch.