24 Oral Presentations

Many academic courses require students to present information to their peers and teachers in a classroom setting. This is usually in the form of a short talk, often, but not always, accompanied by visual aids such as a power point. Students often become nervous at the idea of speaking in front of a group.

This chapter is divided under five headings to establish a quick reference guide for oral presentations.

A beginner, who may have little or no experience, should read each section in full.

 

 

 

 

For the intermediate learner, who has some experience with oral presentations, review the sections you feel you need work on.

 

 

 

 

If you are an experienced presenter then you may wish to jog your memory about the basics or gain some fresh insights about technique.

 

 

 

 

The Purpose of an Oral Presentation

Generally, oral presentation is public speaking, either individually or as a group, the aim of which is to provide information, entertain, persuade the audience, or educate. In an academic setting, oral presentations are often assessable tasks with a marking criteria. Therefore, students are being evaluated on their capacity to speak and deliver relevant information within a set timeframe. An oral presentation differs from a speech in that it usually has visual aids and may involve audience interaction; ideas are both shown and explained. A speech, on the other hand, is a formal verbal addressing an audience, without visual aids and audience participation.

Types of Oral Presentations

Individual Presentation

  • Breathe and remember that everyone gets nervous when speaking in public. You are in control. You’ve got this!
  • Know your content. The number one way to have a smooth presentation is to know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Write it down and rehearse it until you feel relaxed and confident and do not have to rely heavily on notes while speaking.
  • Eliminate ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ from your oral presentation vocabulary. Speak slowly and clearly and pause when you need to. It is not a contest to see who can race through their presentation the fastest or fit the most content within the time limit. The average person speaks at a rate of 125 words per minute. Therefore, if you are required to speak for 10 minutes, you will need to write and practice 1250 words for speaking. Ensure you time yourself and get it right.
  • Ensure you meet the requirements of the marking criteria, including non-verbal communication skills. Make good eye contact with the audience; watch your posture; don’t fidget.
  • Know the language requirements. Check if you are permitted to use a more casual, conversational tone and first-person pronouns, or do you need to keep a more formal, academic tone?

Group Presentation

  • All of the above applies, however you are working as part of a group. So how should you approach group work?
  • Firstly, if you are not assigned to a group by your lecturer/tutor, choose people based on their availability and accessibility. If you cannot meet face-to-face you may schedule online meetings.
  • Get to know each other. It’s easier to work with friends than strangers.
  • Also consider everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. This will involve a discussion that will often lead to task or role allocations within the group, however, everyone should be carrying an equal level of the workload.
  • Some group members may be more focused on getting the script written, with a different section for each team member to say. Others may be more experienced with the presentation software and skilled in editing and refining power point slides so they are appropriate for the presentation. Use one visual aid (one set of power point slides) for the whole group. Take turns presenting information and ideas.
  • Be patient and tolerant with each other’s learning style and personality. Do not judge people in your group based on their personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender, age, or cultural background.
  • Rehearse as a group, more than once. Keep rehearsing until you have seamless transitions between speakers. Ensure you thank the previous speaker and introduce the one following you. If you are rehearsing online, but have to present in-person, try to schedule some face-to-face time that will allow you to physically practice using the technology and classroom space of the campus.
  • For further information on working as a group see:

Working as a group – my.UQ – University of Queensland

Writing Your Presentation

Approach the oral presentation task just as you would any other assignment. Review the available topics, do some background reading and research to ensure you can talk about the topic for the appropriate length of time and in an informed manner. Break the question down as demonstrated in Chapter 17 Breaking Down an Assignment. Where it differs from writing an essay is that the information in the written speech must align with the visual aid. Therefore, with each idea, concept or new information you write, think about how this might be visually displayed through minimal text and the occasional use of images. Proceed to write your ideas in full, but consider that not all information will end up on a power point slide. After all, it is you who are doing the presenting, not the power point. Your presentation skills are being evaluated; this may include a small percentage for the actual visual aid. This is also why it is important that EVERYONE has a turn at speaking during the presentation, as each person receives their own individual grade.

Using Visual Aids

A whole chapter could be written about the visual aids alone, therefore I will simply refer to the key points as noted by my.UQ

To keep your audience engaged and help them to remember what you have to say, you may want to use visual aids, such as slides.

When designing slides for your presentation, make sure:

  • any text is brief, grammatically correct and easy to read. Use dot points and space between lines, plus large font size (18-20 point).
  • the colour theme is simple and the background colour provides enough contrast
    • Resist the temptation to use dark slides with a light-coloured font; it is hard on the eyes
  • if images and graphs are used to support your main points, they should be non-intrusive on the written work

Images and Graphs

  • Your audience will respond better to slides that deliver information quickly – images and graphs are a good way to do this. However, they are not always appropriate or necessary.

When choosing images, it’s important to find images that:

This is a general guide. The specific requirements for your course may be different. Make sure you read through any assignment requirements carefully and ask your lecturer or tutor if you’re unsure how to meet them.

Using Visual Aids Effectively

Too often, students make an impressive power point though do not understand how to use it effectively to enhance their presentation.

Tips

  • Rehearse with the power point.
  • Keep the slides synchronized with your presentation; change them at the appropriate time.
  • Refer to the information on the slides. Point out details; comment on images; note facts such as data.
  • Don’t let the power point just be something happening in the background while you speak.
  • Write notes in your script to indicate when to change slides or which slide number the information applies to.
  • Pace yourself so you are not spending a disproportionate amount of time on slides at the beginning of the presentation and racing through them at the end.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

Nonverbal Communication

It is clear by the name that nonverbal communication are the ways that we communicate without speaking. Many people are already aware of this, however here are a few tips that relate specifically to oral presentations.

Being confident and looking confident are two different things. Fake it until you make it.

  • Avoid slouching or leaning – standing up straight instantly gives you an air of confidence.
  • Move! When you’re glued to one spot as a presenter, you’re not perceived as either confident or dynamic. Use the available space effectively, though do not exaggerate your natural movements so you look ridiculous.
  • If you’re someone who “speaks with their hands”, resist the urge to constantly wave them around. They detract from your message. Occasional gestures are fine.
  • Be animated, but don’t fidget. Ask someone to watch you rehearse and identify if you have any nervous, repetitive habits you may be unaware of, for example, constantly touching or ‘finger-combing’ your hair, rubbing your face.
  • Avoid ‘voice fidgets’ also. If you needs to cough or clear your throat, do so once then take a drink of water.
  • Avoid distractions. No phone turned on. Water available but off to one side.
  • Keep your distance. Don’t hover over front-row audience members; this can be intimidating.
  • Have a cheerful demeaner. You do not need to grin like a Cheshire cat throughout the presentation, yet your facial expression should be relaxed and welcoming.
  • Maintain an engaging TONE in your voice. Sometimes it’s not what you’re saying that is putting your audience to sleep, it’s your monotonous tone. Vary your tone and pace.
  • Don’t read your presentation – PRESENT it! Internalize your script so you can speak with confidence and only occasionally refer to your notes if needed.
  • Lastly, make good eye contact with your audience members so they know you are talking with them, not at them. You’re having a conversation. Watch the link below for some great speaking tips, including eye contact.

Below is a video of some great tips about public speaking from Amy Wolff at TEDx Portland[1]

 

 


  1. Wolff. A. [The Oregonion]. (2016, April 9). 5 public speaking tips from TEDxPortland speaker coach [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNOXZumCXNM&ab_channel=TheOregonian

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Academic Writing Skills by Patricia Williamson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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