Preparing and Delivering Oral Presentations
The fundamentals of public speaking remain the same in any context, be it classroom, conference, parliament or crowded city square. Good public speakers use simple and clear language to communicate complex points. They pause when they speak, and they deliver their message with confidence derived from their knowledge and preparation.
A good presentation:
Has a focused and relevant message
- Is clearly organized and supported by evidence
- Demonstrates understanding and analysis of ideas
- Is delivered calmly and confidently
Focus and Purpose
A presentation is not a dry list of disconnected facts. Like lab reports or essays, it makes a specific point. Start by asking yourself “So What?” Determine thethe most important point you wish to make and identify why it is important.
Plan your presentation to suit your audience. Consider their familiarity with the subject and their purpose for listening to your presentation. Classmates will likely have some background on the topic, and because they are keenly aware that they will eventually present to you, they are usually quite generous in their reception of your talk.
A logical structure supports a clear and focused message, and it stops you from leaping from idea to idea, which can make it difficult for your audience to understand your talk.
- Tell the audience who you are and present your main argument with key background information.
- Explain why your presentation is important.
- Build a rapport with the audience to help them follow what comes next.
Body of your presentation:
- The largest section of your presentation
- It supports your main argument with specific examples.
- Visual aids clarify your points and lend credibility to your presentation.
- A strong conclusion summarizes your main points.
- Use key words from your introduction to briefly re-state your argument.
- End your presentation with a simple, strong statement.
Rather than prepare a script, create a plan for each section or idea with point form notes. A good presentation is not written down word for word or memorized but instead is a discussion of a subject you know inside and out. Speaking from point form notes keeps your delivery fresh. Remember, you are talking to people, not reading at them.
Key technical details can be written down, but it make sure that you include only essential information as too many technical details may confuse your audience and cause them to tune out.
Visual aids, like PowerPoint slides or printed handouts, offer structure for your presentation and help the audience follow the main points. Visual aids may be bulleted lists or outlines, charts or figures, or images that show important details that would take time to explain orally. Use visual aids to complement, rather than compete, with your presentation. If they are not necessary or helpful, don’t use them.
And never read the exact words from slides that you present.
For a detailed examination of using PowerPoint, explore our “Using PowerPoint" guide.
Rehearse! Focus on tone, volume, word choice, transitions, pauses and pacing. Note time limits. Time yourself and revise as appropriate. Practice your presentation before a friend or family member and ask for feedback.
Get to the room well ahead of time. Listen to some relaxing music if this helps you. Make sure the technology is all up and running if you need to use it.
Chat with people in the audience before you present. This breaks the ice, creates connections, personalizes the encounter and helps you feel more confident.
Experts often suggest that you focus your presentation on a group of individuals instead of the entire audience. This makes it seem as if you are speaking to a smaller group
Pace and Volume
Take it slow. The single biggest mistake inexperienced speakers make is going too fast. [SB1] Remember that your audience is hearing the material for the first time and isn't nearly as familiar with the topic as you are.
Speak loudly and clearly. Practice pronouncing difficult words in advance.
Body Language and Eye Contact
Make and maintain eye contact with your audience. Always face your audience; avoid reading from your slide presentation and try to look up from your notes regularly.
Stand tall at the front of the room. Don’t sit down, lean on a desk or hide behind a lectern. Try not to sway back and forth.
Leave time to answer questions, and prepare in advance for possible questions your audience may ask. You can pause to gather your thoughts before you reply, and if something is outside of your comfort zone, simply (and confidently) say “that is outside the scope of this research.”
Share your Personality
Try to have some fun, put your personality into the presentation while maintaining professional decorum. Make the presentation uniquely yours – people will remember you and your message.