Oral Presentations
R.J. Carson, 1999

The most important guideline is "be professional". As in the case of written presentations, do not rehash an old paper or speech. There are two exceptions. One is that you may be required to make oral and written presentations in a course or in some combination of senior thesis/senior seminar. The second exception is that, if you have faculty authorization, you may substantially alter an old paper for an oral presentation.

There are several ways to make oral presentations. If you "wing it" without notes or a text, at least rehearse it, and know what you're talking about. Notes are usually preferable, but, as always, rehearsal is essential. A third choice is to read the paper, but you should be so familiar with the text that you can look at both your audience and your audiovisual aids. A fourth way is to memorize your paper, but you better have notes or text handy in case you forget it.

Audiovisual aids usually substantially add to a speech. These could include power point, slides, overheads, an audio and/or video tape, large samples, large posters, or some form of computer assistance. Handouts are also possible, but passing maps, pictures, and even handouts to the audience may be disruptive. Do you want the audience to be listening to you, or looking at maps, newspaper clippings, graphs, pictures, samples, or whatever it is you are passing around? You can make slides or overheads of most of these items, or scan them for a power point presentation. Samples can be on a table for the audience to inspect before and/or after your presentation. In summary, avoid passing anything around!

Plan ahead and make the slides, overheads, and or other audiovisual material well in advance. Make sure your audiovisual aids will be readable from the back of the room. Include a map to alert the audience to the geographic location. Maps or other materials on 8-1/2" x 11" sheets of paper, held up in front of the audience, even a few people in a small room, are generally useless (not to mention frustrating to the audience). If it can't be read from the back of the room, make it bigger.

Order any equipment necessary (VCR, laptop computer, projector, etc.) well in advance. Be sure to give credit to authors of material in your audiovisual aids if it is not yours; otherwise, you are plagiarizing.

There is a tendency to project too much onto the screen at once. Audiovisual aids are meant to be key points, outlines, maps, cross-sections, diagrams. Audiovisual aids are not meant to be text. The audience can read faster than you can talk, and may get bored by the reading/listening repetition. Don't read your powerpoint screen or turn away from the audience to read what you are projecting.

Some speakers have a major problem with timing. There is usually a fixed amount of time for your presentation: 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 50 minutes, or whatever. Often this time limit includes time for questions and discussion. Don't be a person who hasn't even made your main point when time is up. Practice, and time your rehearsals! Use the time allowed or slightly less. Fifteen minutes does not mean 20 or even 16 minutes. In a short talk, you probably do not have time to go over an outline of your presentation; just get on with it!

Here are some other suggestions for a good presentation:

1. Audience contact: look people in the eye.
2. Practice your presentation to friends. Ask for suggestions for improvement.
3. Speed: few oral presentations are too slow; many are too fast. If the rehearsal is long, don't just talk faster. Cut out non-essentials.
4. If the moderator has introduced you and stated the title of your presentation, do not orally repeat the title.
5. Make sure the audience knows when your speech is over. Say "thank you" and/or ask for questions.
6. Finally, never ever apologize for anything: for few or poor audiovisual aids, for not knowing enough, for being ill prepared. Obviously, plan for a professional presentation, but if you think some aspect of your presentation is not so good, don't tell the audience. The audience will judge your presentation anyhow, so don't negatively prejudice your listeners.

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