An oral presentation is a talk given to fellow students on a set topic likely to be of joint interest. The degree of formality expected and the length of presentation can vary considerably depending on the circumstances in which the talk is being given, but what is common for all presentation is the need to prepare carefully in advance. If it is to be successful, an oral presentation requires the same degree of preparation as other any other academic assignment. One useful approach to oral presentations is the three ‘P’s – Prepare, Practice, Perform.
Are you presenting on your own or as part of a team?
Do you need to allow time for questions and answers?
Are you expected to use visual aids?
Do you have to address a set topic or can you choose your own?
If you choose your own topic, think about how is it relevant to the course, to the audience’s interests, to what others will be speaking about.
Brainstorm your topic: what do you know? What do you need to find out? But don’t get carried away – remember you will only be able to cover a limited amount of material in the time you have.
Think carefully about what you want to achieve: your aim should be to educate, to inform, to explain and perhaps to persuade your audience – not to bombard them with information.
Decide how much content is appropriate for the time you have – how much ground you will cover, bearing in mind what your audience may or may not already know about the topic. Don’t be overambitious; aim to cover one or two points well. Remember, there’s a limit to how much people can take in (especially if yours is one of a series of presentations).
Organise your materials into a simple, logical order that will make sense to your audience. As with an essay, your presentation should consist of an introduction, main body and conclusion.
Once you have a good idea of what you intend to talk about, start to transpose your materials into a form that will assist you in remembering what you want to say.
Depending on how confident you feel and the nature of your presentation, this can range from a full script to prompts or ‘cues’ cards (key words/ bullet points/headings), or you may use the notes function of PowerPoint
Practice is essential if you’re going to give an effective oral presentation. Practice helps you to:
Become more familiar and confident with the material
If possible, make the presentation in advance (a dress rehearsal) to a friend or colleague, and ask them for feedback on your clarity, audibility, speed of delivery, presentation style, body language, eye contact, engagement, enthusiasm, use of gestures, use of visual aids, etc.