Spoken Presentations

The ability to communicate effectively through the spoken word is just as important as the ability to write well. When you graduate you may encounter all kinds of situations that require you to give spoken presentations such as interviews, pitches or demonstrations. During the course of your studies you may be expected to do spoken presentations in seminars, studio or workshop crits and for assignments. Here are some notes to guide you.

Where should I begin?

First consider the following questions:

  • Who is the audience? You need to consider how many people you are speaking to, their degree of knowledge and language level so you can pitch it correctly
  • How much time do I have? Remember you need to keep to the time allowed. A time limit is like an essay word count, prepare sufficient material but avoid over-running
  • What do I know about the topic? Research your topic well so you know a lot more about the subject than your will use in the presentation. That way you will feel better prepared to field questions from the audience

Organisation

Remember that the spoken word is not the same as the written word. In a ‘live’ presentation your audience only have one chance to hear what you have to say so clarity is important. The key to a good presentation is this: tell them what you are going to say, then tell them again and then tell them what you told them (is that clear?)

Like all good stories, a spoken presentation should consist of three main sections: a beginning, middle and end.

  • The introduction should do just that: introduce you and the topic and tell the audience how you intend to approach your subject
  • The main body must present and explain the topic described in the introduction and illustrate with examples
  • The conclusion should summarise, make recommendations to the audience of further sources of information and have a clear, positive end statement

Preparation

  • Write the presentation out in rough, just like an essay draft and then review and delete the things you find irrelevant. Check for consistency and flow. If ideas seem too difficult to express, better leave them unsaid
  • Familiarise yourself with the material Try not to read from a script. Instead prepare cue cards with key points, phrases and ideas. Postcards work well for this. Don’t forget to number the cards in case you drop them. Mark cards with the visual aids that go with them
  • Rehearse by yourself at first and then in front of friends or family to get use to having an audience.

Visual aids

It can be helpful to use visual aids in your presentation to help the audience to understand your approach to the topic and help you keep your presentation on track.

  • Check what facilities will be available in the room. There are usually several options to choose from. These include computer with PowerPoint, or similar, paper/object handouts, DVD video playback, whiteboard or overhead projection transparencies, (OHPs). What you choose depends on the type of talk you are giving but here are some basic guidelines:
  • The golden rule is – keep it simple! The more complicated the visual aids, the more opportunities there will be for things to go wrong
  • Wherever possible, check the facilities of the room where you are going to deliver your presentation and make sure you know in advance how to operate the equipment
  • PowerPoint slides should contain the minimum information necessary. Try to limit words per slide to a maximum of 10 and use a font size and typeface which will enlarge well
  • Always check your slides for typographical errors, consistent use of fonts, layout etc. Spelling mistakes look far worse when they are projected on a screen, 2 meters tall!
  • Practice coordinating the spoken presentation with your visual aids

Delivery

  • How should I look? Your appearance matters. First impressions influence the audience’s attitudes to you, so dress to suit the occasion
  • How should I start? Remember to greet your audience (e.g. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen) and prepare your exit line (e.g. Thank you for listening)
  • What about the audience Q & A? Unless explicitly instructed, leave time at the end of the presentation for audience discussion and invite your audience to ask questions
  • How shall we work as a group? Group presentations require careful organisation, so decide who is responsible for what and leave plenty of time for rehearsals

Remember

Giving a presentation is a performance, so think of yourself as an actor. This may make you feel nervous which can be a good thing – the adrenalin will help you perform well. However, here are one or two ways you can make sure nervousness does not become a problem

  • Take a few deep breaths before you begin – it will help to calm you down
  • Smile, be enthusiastic and your audience will react warmly to you
  • If your hands are shaking, give them something to hold
  • Avoid pacing about, locate a place to give the presentation from and stay there
  • Avoid reading from a script: try cue cards instead
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience where possible (if you find this difficult look at the tip of their noses, they won’t know the difference!)
  • Don’t shout or mumble – speak clearly and project your voice to the back of the room
  • Don’t rush. When people are nervous they tend to talk faster
  • Moderate your language to suit the situation

And finally…

Enjoy yourself! Remember you are the expert in the room. No one else has done the research and preparation you have done on this topic. The audience wants to hear what you have to say. And you’ll feel so much better when it’s all over…

Further Information and Suggested Reading

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