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Oral Presentation Guidelines
 

The secret to successful oral presentations is preparation and rehearsal. Few people can give interesting, well organized, persuasive presentations without preparation. Don't be fooled into thinking that you can. Review the following 10 guidelines and then look at the hints for team oral presentations.

Define your objectives: You must define the purpose of your oral presentation so that you know what it is you hope to accomplish: instruct, persuade, inform, or inform and persuade. Those goals will affect what you write. Next, carefully think about your audience. Who they are, their level of expertise, their expectations, their attitudes to you and your work, their biases, and so on will all affect what you present and how you present it. Finally, consider where and when you will deliver your presentation. What equipment is available? How is the room arranged? How large will your audience be?

Select the format best suited to the audience: You should choose the delivery best suited to your audience. There are three basic kinds:

  1. A scripted talk means that you write out your entire presentation and recite it word for word either by reading or reciting from memory. The problem with this is that few people can read well. Therefore, these kinds of talks tend to be tedious and poorly delivered. Moreover, because people have the paper in front of them, they tend not to solicit eye contact, and they rarely build a relationship with the audience. My advice to you is to avoid this kind of talk unless you have the time to learn your presentation by heart.
  2. An outlined talk means that you prepare a detailed outline of what you plan to say. You plan carefully, and you can use powerpoint slides in outline view to prepare this, and you then talk about each slide in turn. The benefits of this kind of delivery are that you can be natural, interesting, and flexible. You can speed up or slow down. You can establish eye contact and form a relationship with your audience.
  3. An impromptu talk is one that you give on the spur of the moment. Obviously you would not want to give an impromptu talk to your managers if they were expecting a prepared talk. Never rely on this type of presentation. You can guarantee that you will forget key points, may misstate points, and you may become nervous.

Focus on a few points: Do not try to give a whole paper in your presentation. Realistically, most people can only listen attentively for no more than 20 minutes. Therefore, oral presentations require that you be selective. What you select depends on your audience.

Make the structure of your talk evident: In written work, you make your structure evident by means of a thesis or organizational statement, topic sentences, headings, transitions, and so on. Good speakers try to do the same things in words. So announce, explain, and review. Tell people the three or four things you will discuss. Then explain those points in the body of your discussion. Then conclude by reviewing those key points. Clearly signal transitions by using phrases like "Now I would like to discuss my second point." Pause before you shift to a new topic. Signal a transition to a new topic by stepping forward or backwards (don't leap around too much however).

Use a conversational style: By this I mean use your natural speaking voice--but make sure you can be heard. I am not suggesting that you should be informal or litter your presentation with colloquial phrases. But use "you" and "your" in the presentation so you make it clear you are talking to your audience. Keep sentences shorter than you might when you write. Choose words that will not intimidate your audience.

Look at your audience: You must establish and maintain eye contact with the whole audience as you speak. Begin by looking around at the audience before you speak. Plan to look to different parts of the room as you speak. If your audience appear hostile, look at a feature on their faces such as their noses rather than their eyes. Practice in front of a mirror looking out at an audience.

Exhibit enthusiasm: Smile. Sound enthusiastic.

Prepare for questions: Sometimes questions are asked at the wrong moment. You must maintain good relationships with those questioners. Obviously it is better to take questions at the end of your presentation, but sometimes you will be interrupted. Don't be rude to the interrupter. You can tell them that you will answer that after you have finished the point your are discussing. Always say something like "that is a good question" or "I'm glad you raised that point."

Practice if you are nervous and control yourself: Some people are less nervous than others. It's a fact of life. If you don't like giving presentations, too bad. You must work with that and practice. Stand in one place and don't shuffle. If you move, make that a deliberate move designed to highlight a new point or major point that you are making. Otherwise, stay still. Keep hands out of your pockets, away from your earrings, and out of your hair and so on. If you have nervous hands, clasp them behind your back. Rehearse so that you find your own comfortable pose.

Use visuals: Use visual aids to help your listeners. Powerpoint or a program like that allows you to prepare excellent visual aids or slides. Make sure that you use a large enough font and don't make your slides too complex. Don't try to use too many slides. Not everything needs to be on a slide. If you have to use overheads rather than the computer, practice putting them on the projector or ask one person to do that. There is nothing worse than waiting for someone to find the right overhead. So organize before hand.

Hints for Team Presentations

Today many presentations are given by the team rather than by one individual. It's more effective to have several members speak rather than one person speak for the whole group. First, the person with the most expertise for that topic can discuss it. Next, the variety of speakers can make the presentation more interesting. Finally, if the work has been done by a team, it is fairer for the whole team to present. However, to give an effective team presentation, you should consider the following:

Plan thoroughly. Decide who will present each piece and allot a time for that piece.

Allow for individual differences. In a team paper, the team tries to make the writing sound as if it came from one person. In a team presentation, the different voices should be kept, provided the general tone of the presentation is consistent.

Make effective transitions between speakers. Switch speakers when you are going on to a new topic by saying "Now Sarah will elaborate on the schedule for the project."

Show respect for one another. When one person talks, you should look at that person and look at the audience. Don't slouch, sit down, or put your hands in your pockets. Instead, appear attentive and interested.

Rehearse together as a team. Assign one person the task of time keeping. You should agree on a signal if you need to speed up, and you should watch for that signal. Don't overrun your section. It's very upsetting to be the last person who only has a minute to speak because someone else was selfish or unprepared and overran her time.

 
 

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