The Structure and Principles of Giving an Effective Oral Presentation

The Oral Presentation

The Oral Presentation Assignment

During the last week of class, you and/or your collaborative writing group will be asked to make an oral presentation communicating some dimension of your final research paper to the rest of the class.  While it may seem strange at first that a writing class would require an oral presentation, this exercise will prepare you for advanced college work and the world after college.  This assignment will provide you with a general format and some basic principles that you can adapt to any number of future speaking situations.
Every presentation in this class will observe the following outline:
Overview: You will provide a description of your overall presentation—what your topic is, what dimensions of it you will cover in your presentation, and (for collaborative groups) an introduction of the other speakers indicating who will being discussing which aspects of your presentation.
Content: The purpose of your talk is to inform your audience about the key findings of your research in a way that is relevant to them.  This part of the presentation will lay out these findings in a clear, logical manner.
Conclusion: Please don’t end your presentation with a summary of all that you just said.  Rather, conclude your talk by indicating explicitly what significance the information you just shared has for your audience and/or the future directions research in your subject area is likely to take.
Evaluation Criteria: Your grade on the Oral Presentation will be based on the following criteria:
1. Introduction: Did the introduction capture audience interest; was necessary background given; was a clear purpose conveyed?
2. Organization & Content: Was there a clear pattern of organization; were transitions between sections clear and effective; did the presentation lead the audience through the most significant research findings; did the presentation adequately anticipate audience questions; were all of the most significant issues included in the presentation?
4. PowerPoint slides: Were your slides effective? Were they well-designed? Did you time the revelation of your slides to your talk?
5. Conclusion: Were key points reinforced in terms of why they are relevant to the audience; was a sense of closure provided or a call to action given?
6. Discussion: Were questions answered accurately, clearly, effectively?

Preparing for an Oral Presentation

The following observations and basic principles will help you connect with your audience.
Deal with Your Fear: Everyone has anxiety about speaking to a group.  We fear having all eyes on us and being the only voice in a crowded room.  We fear being judged.  We fear looking nervous and making mistakes in front of others.  But like all fears, we can only conquer the fear of public speaking by embracing it.  Here are several strategies for dealing with fear of public speaking:
Know you audience:  A good oral presentations, just like good writing, accurately assesses an audience’s knowledge-level, its needs, and its likely attitude toward your topic.  Knowing your audience makes it possible for you to determine what information to include and what information to exclude—and it will help you decide how to present it.  For this particular assignment, this job is going to be relatively easy.  You’ve worked with your audience for the entire semester; you have an accurate gauge of what they know and don’t know about your subject because they are much like you were before you started researching your topic.
Understand your purpose:  Have you been asked to motivate?  Inform?  Persuade?  Teach?  Every purpose requires a different approach.  The oral presentation in this class asks you to inform an audience of your peers about a subject that you and the rest of your group have spent several weeks getting to know well. 
Be concrete:  Good oral presentations, like good writing, are rich in specifics, details, and are always on the look-out for the amazing, the impressive, or the emotionally potent story, example, or fact.  If you found a story or fact interesting, chances are good that most others in your audience will as well.  It is good strategy to introduce a general idea, explain that idea, and then give an interesting example to illustrate it.
Structure your talk carefully. Like a good story, every presentation should have a beginning, middle, and end. This story must, above all, be relevant to your audience. In other words, the topic of your oral presentation isn’t, “This is what our paper was about.” Rather, the topic of your presentation should always be, “Here’s how some dimension of our paper affects you/us and what you/we can do about it.” Here are several things to keep in mind when creating an oral presentation:
  • Provide Context or an Overview:  Every piece of communication, whether written or oral, needs to answer two audience-oriented questions: “So what?” and “Why should I pay attention?”  To make your presentation interesting to others, focus your remarks on information, issues, and actions that have direct relevance to your audience.  Take care of this in your introductory remarks.  Show them, through a story, a series of rhetorical questions, or a “thought experiment” that they are in some way connected to or affected by your topic.  Provide your audience with a “map” of your presentation.  Tell them what areas you’re going to cover, but do so in a way that is all about them.  Since you’ll be giving this presentation with your group, part of that roadmap will indicate who has what roles in your presentation.
  • Be logical: Just like your papers, you need to take your audience through the information you’re presenting in a logical way.  Usually this is accomplished by moving from simple to complex—or by following a timeline. 
  • Be credible: You need to show your audience that you know your subject well—from all sides.  If you’re discussing a controversial issue, be sure to outline carefully—and fairly—the main issues on all sides of a controversy.  If you’re presenting information about a process, a historical event, or a discovery, you build credibility with your audience by demonstrating your familiarity with all aspects of it. 
  • Use PowerPoint: This assignmnet requires you to make use of PowerPoint slides. For detailed information on using PowerPoint effectively, go here.
  • Bring back-up. Projection lamps burn out. Software and hardware sometimes fail. But the show must go on! Therefore, it’s essential to have a low-tech back-up for your PowerPoint-supported presentation. You can print your PP slides and distribute them as a packet. It’s good practice to print out 10% more handouts than you think you’ll need.
Practice your delivery. Every presentation, no matter how well you know your audience, is to some extent a formal occasion. To prepare, you need not ony to cultivate expertise in relevant knowledge domains, you need to practice the art of speaking. Consider the following:
  • Find the right tone: Project controlled enthusiasm for your subject.  Speakers who sound bored or uncertain will bore or confuse their audience.  Effective speakers communicate through their posture, their facial expression, and their gestures that the information they are sharing is important to them—and should matter to everyone else. 
  • Appeal to the head and the heart: Effective oral presentations engage the mind and the heart.  Speakers satisfy the so-what question by appealing to the intellect, but they hold an audience’s interest by appealing to human emotions.  Convey a range of appropriate emotions—concern, excitement, dismay, wonder, etc.
  • Avoid distracting mannerisms: Be aware of your body.  Are you pacing?  Fiddling with a marker or pencil?  Picking your nose?  Making overly dramatic hand gestures?  Movement is an important part of holding your audience’s attention—as long as it doesn’t distract attention away from what you are saying.
  • Physically signal your desire to connect: Make eye contact with every member of your audience.  Do so in rotating random order.  Stand or sit in such a way that you enhance your rapport with your audience.  Podiums can communicate authority, but they can also come between you and your subject.  Effective speakers, even when they stand behind a podium, will move out from behind them sometimes to remove any barrier between themselves and their audience.
  • Provide variety: This applies to all aspects of an oral presentation.  Alternate between motion and stillness, talking and listening, quietness and loudness.  You should also provide stories, personal anecdotes, analogies, and physical demonstrations to provide a little variety as you communicate information.  Humor is good—when it works!  But humor can also easily offend—or fall completely flat.  Humor directed at yourself is safest—and joking about your anxiety about speaking in public can serve to relax you and your audience.