Doing oral presentations

In many classes students are expected to present material in oral presentations. Preparing for an oral presentation requires a somewhat different kind of writing than a research paper though the same material might be presented.

Most people have experienced sitting through a lecture, a speech, or another oral presentation and suddenly found themselves thinking about the weekend, what to eat for dinner, or something else. This is not necessarily because the topic of the presentation was not interesting but perhaps rather because the speaker did not organize and present the material in an engaging way. Being able to deliver an efficient and engaging oral presentation is helpful in many different business and career situations and is essential in academia. Below you will find some advice on how to prepare and deliver oral presentations.

  • Have a clear structure in your presentation.
  • Write out your presentation so you know what you are saying. You can do this in as a complete text or a list of points that you want to cover. However, do not just read what you have written. Audiences will stop listening if you simply read what's on the page. The best public speakers make their audiences feel they are speaking directly to them about something that matters to them both.
  • Practice before you give the presentation, but do not over-rehearse your presentation. It is a good idea to give the presentation to your parents, friends, or colleagues so you know what it feels like.
  • Be yourself. It is important to speak with confidence as the person you are. You can choose a rhetorical strategy of being very serious or intersperse your presentation with humor. If you do choose to be humorous, make sure that you do not overdo it. A humorous remark can relax your audience and make them pay attention, but ten jokes might make your audience doubt that you take your topic seriously. Your goal is to grab people's attention and then teach them something.
  • Look at your audience – even if you do follow a manuscript. Establish contact and maintain this throughout your presentation.
  • Make sure that you stay on time. Good speakers respect the limits they have been given.
  • You might want to use handouts so your audience will have something to take home with them and, particularly, if you use a lot of hard data, look at during your presentation. Also, if your teacher tells you to prepare one or more handouts, make sure that you follow your teacher's instructions in preparing them. If you do use handouts be sure to only give them out when you refer to them. Otherwise, your audience will be paying attention to the handout and not to you.
  • Be prepared to take questions after your presentation. There is no way of knowing exactly what you will be asked, but if you have practiced with family or friends, you might have an idea. Try to answer the question as thoroughly as you can and acknowledge your colleague's question. If you don't know the answer, acknowledge this and move on.
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