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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Oral presentations: Part 1-4


This series of four videos covers preparing for a group presentation, how to structure your presentation, presentation skills and having a clear message.

Organising group work

A group presentation does not involve separate parts getting stitched together at the last minute. Group members need to collaborate at key points throughout the whole process. Watch this video and see how.

Your talk may be a group effort and this introduces organizational issues that can make or break the success of your presentation.

It's not appropriate to dissect the talk like a cake and distribute the parts to individual members to take care of. The body needs to be worked on by everyone collaboratively.

Specific sections of the body may be divided between your team to be deeply researched or delivered. But at some stage you need to regroup to put those pieces back together again. First of all, you need to be able to meet face-to-face preferably, and it would be good to have a regular time when this is convenient for all of you. At least once each week.

Don’t forget to exchange phone numbers and emails as well.
 If this is not a familiar topic, everyone should just go there own way at first and read broadly to get a feel for the area. But sharing any articles are particularly good of course.

You need to regroup soon, and decide what two to four topics should be covered. That is, if these are not already specified by your lecturer and it would be excellent to agree on a central message before you start writing the body, if possible.

If you want a central theme, this should be defined early on if you can to guide people's research from the beginning. >When the topics are decided you can go your own way and research your section deeply.

Keep in touch regularly with any of the other group members, whose area may overlap yours, because you don’t want to repeat material.

It is most satisfying and effective if you get to talk on the topic that you have researched yourself. You want to sound like the expert.

Remember not to measure your contribution to the group in terms of minutes standing up in speaking. This is never the hardest part. The hardest part lies in the researching, collaboration and preparation of visual resources.

Once the body of your talk is defined, the group should get together and outline the introduction and conclusion together.

One person might write from the perspective of the part that they researched, and introductions and conclusions need to have a sense of overview.

Writing the introduction and conclusion will be easy once the body is done.

But they are almost impossible to write in isolation from the body.

In the next chapter we will be looking at part two of oral presentations a sample structure.

A sample structure

Just as writing tasks have a structure, oral presentations have structure too. Without the structure, your key points will lack strength or be lost entirely. Watch this video and get some tips on how to get your message across effectively.

A sample structure of an oral presentation that I will outline here is about ‘autistic spectrum disorders’. This sample is supposed to be the outline of a twenty-minute in-class presentation.

To hold the whole talk together, I’ve also thought about the central point or message that I would like to get across. In this talk, I would like to emphasise the idea that autism encompasses a very broad range of severities – from profoundly affected to mildly affected individuals – and for this reason, it often goes unrecognised when the autism is at high functioning levels.

In the introduction, I need to establish my topic and it’s importance. Of course, this is the best place to establish your central theme or message, if you have one. If you have a particular reason for talking about this topic from your own work, life, or experience, that is always very engaging for the audience as well. Briefly outline the points you will cover, This is very important if you do not have a projected slide or handouts, where the audience can keep track of this. But avoid any detail at this stage. In a twenty-minute talk, you should limit the introduction to two minutes if possible.

The conclusion will consist of no new information about autism itself. The conclusion is the space to recap and remind the listener what we have touched on. If anything that is mentioned is new, it will be about the future needs and directions. The conclusion would be a great place to make recommendations about what should be done at a society level or what needs to be investigated further in research.

Once again, this could be made to tie in with our message, that some people can have some form of autism and yet many of their teachers or colleagues do not fully recognise or understand their condition because they expect it to be more noticeable.

The number of points that you will cover will vary from topic to topic. The advice is to have fewer points than too many in your body. If you have a lot of points, try to group them under three to four themes Talk about less, and go for depth rather than briefly skimming through a shopping list of ideas. If you decide to do an activity in your presentation, put it in where it’s most relevant. However it is probably better to do it earlier in the body or even in the introduction. because it can pique the listener's curiosity before they receive a lot information.

If you do have a central message, become skilled at saying the same thing in many different ways. Just as I’ve been doing. It would be very tedious to repeat exactly the same words of course. But, if you do it in a very subtle way, your audience will appreciate the enforcement of that idea.

Presentation skills

Being a good speaker is something that can be learned and practised. This video will give you some tips for delivering an effective and professional talk.

Many students approach writing their oral presentation the same way they approach writing an essay when, in fact, the two are completely different. An oral presentation is assessed on how well you can communicate your message or If you like, how you perform. You may get some assessment marks for the slides you produce or the handouts you’ve made, but essentially you will be marked by how well you communicate your message on the day.

So, do not write pages of sentences as you would in an essay. You cannot read these out. Natural speech does not use the long and grammatically complicated sentences that you would write in a text. Your audience would have to concentrate very hard to listen to that.

Think of your audience. and how you will keep their attention. You need to make it relevant for them, and not just show how much you’ve read. You cannot deliver all of the information you might fit into an essay. For an oral presentation, you need to reduce the amount of detail and repeat key ideas a lot more. What helps a lot is to have a key idea, or message, that you want your audience to remember. They may forget 80% of your talk, but if you have a key theme or a main point that you emphasise over and over again, they will likely remember that. And later, it is easier to remember details in relation to that key point.

Do not give the impression that you are relating what you have recently read in textbooks. Aim to give the impression that you know a lot about this, topic and that you’ve been working in the field for years. You need to have that air of confidence that comes from talking about something you know really well and have a lot of experience in. Generally, this will not be the reality of course, but you can get very familiar with your topic by reading lots and lots of literature. Five minutes of effective speaking does not mean you have only gathered five minutes of information.

As mentioned, you need to talk to your audience in a relaxed and natural, but still professional manner. You still want to keep on track, so dot points on cards – instead of, or in addition to your PowerPoint – can be quite useful. You don’t want the presentation to sound scripted, but you still want to keep on track; so speaking from dot points is efficient because you are on limited time. It also jogs your memory just in case you’re a little bit nervous.

Whether you use cards or the screen, remember to look up and look at your audience. This is very important if you really want to communicate with them. You need to relax because when you are nervous, you tend to rush onwards. Breathe deeply, stop to think for a moment. A moment may seem a long time to you, but to your audience it is not noticeable.

It’s also very helpful to indicate when a new topic is being moved onto. The audience do not have the visual cues of a new paragraph as you do when you’re reading. So these shifts in topic need to be shown or expressed. A fresh PowerPoint slide indicates a new shift in topic. But sometimes, it’s hard to know when a speaker has moved onto a new point within that slide. You can do this with words like: secondly, or on the other hand, or let us consider a further example. You might emphasise a new point by moving to a different spot on the stage, changing the quality of your voice, or just pausing for five to ten seconds.

The important thing is that these non-native features of your language do not interfere with the meaning of the message you are trying to communicate. Saying that, however, if you do have a strong or unusual accent; it may be wise to practice in front of a native speaker, and make sure that they can understand your terminology and what you are trying to say.

Thinking about the content

Do you have a message for your audience? Do you know what to say at each stage? Watch this video to avoid the ‘blah blah blah’ delivery and make this an interesting learning experience for your audience.

It is a good idea to establish your presence in the introduction of your oral presentation. This is the time to introduce yourself and your team, but keep it brief. Most importantly, establish what you will be talking about. Remember that your audience may know very little about your topic, if anything.

So, you may need to set the scene in a very simple and general way. If you have a key idea you’re building your talk around, it is good to identify that in your introduction. It always helps the audience to relate to the speaker and to the topic, if the speaker has a personal reason or a particular experience related to the topic. At least explain why you chose the topic and why you believe it will be worthwhile to listen to. However you do it, this is your chance to capture their attention.

If possible, structure your talk around a simple, one-line message. Think of one general concept that you want your audience to remember. If you build your talk around a simple message, it has much more coherence. It avoids the shopping list structure, where you present fact after fact after fact. Your audience will remember very little of this sort of talk because it presents a mass of detail and the focus is not clear.

You do need to read a lot to discover the overview off the topic, what is important, and what are the significant debates that are going on around this topic. You may need to answer questions on the spot, so you will need deep knowledge to draw from.

From the background that you have gained from your reading, it is up to you to decide what to include in the talk. Avoid looking to one book and structuring your talk around it’s headings, chapters or sections. Take a wider perspective. You are now the expert, you decide on the most interesting and important ideas to include in your talk.Because you are the expert, you determine where the talk goes. Don’t tell the audience what information is in the book for its own sake. Be selective and tell them what is important and most interesting, and tell them what the literature says about this. because different research journals often do not agree with one another.

Actually, the topics where there is disagreement are places to be explored rather than avoided. These are often the most engaging. If you do have any personal or professional experience in the topic, that is fantastic! Draw on this as well, but be sure to make clear where ideas are from your own perspective, and what things are actually from research. Include an activity if you can – if your audience is small enough to fit in a classroom.This will allow you to have some personal interaction. It is always more engaging if you can get the audience involved.

Your time is limited, so this need not be an activity on a large scale. You can get people to just “think of a time when”, or get the people to turn to the person next to them to discuss something for a minute, or make list of five things related to your topic. The tighter your schedule is, the less flexibility you will have with participation. But it adds a great deal in communicating your message.

Handouts may be a required part of your assessment. If you do not have a PowerPoint projector available, it may be helpful for your audience to have a visual guide or a program of what you will cover. Handouts like this can support your talk and the audience can have them in front of them while you are delivering your presentation. It can be useful for the audience to have a handout for other reaasons: it might be a part of one of your activities, or it may provide stats or formulae, because these may be difficult to express verbally or to copy down.

Handouts could also add to your talk by giving further information. This may include more details that you could not fit onto your talk, .or further readings or so on. However, handouts giving further information are not always a good idea to give out beforehand because they will take the audience's attention away from your presentation.

Just remember, an oral presentation is not like an essay. Do not think you would be able to cram in all the detail you would be able to put into a two-thousand-word text. You need to keep it simple, and in an oral presentation, you need to reinforce ideas a lot more.

If you are daunted by the idea of standing and talking for five to ten minutes, you will be surprised how little time this actually is when you have plenty to say – it goes very quickly. It is important to practice over and over again. And do this as you intend to do on the day. A full dress rehearsal is very necessary. This must be out loud, full volume, and with all the slides and charts you are planning to use. Practice with an audience if possible. Make sure you time yourself as you practices as well.