The posting below looks at skills needed to successfully plan, prepare, and deliver oral presentations. It is from Chapter 6: The Postgraduate-Level Linguistic Skills, in the book, Your Guide to Successful Postgraduate Study, by Geoffrey Elliott, Karima Kadi-Hanifi and Carla Solvason.Published by SAGE Company, SAGE Publications Ltd, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP www.sagepublishing.com Copyright © 2008 Sage Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Planning and Presenting Work Orally
When you are planning to present your work orally, you must remember to prepare just as thoroughly as when you are writing. In some ways, it is even harder to present orally than it is to write because you have to be doubly succinct and find ways in which to engage your audience through voice, body language, eye contact and well-worked out visual and/or audio material. The key is to rehearse your presentation and to think of your audience all the time. At the forefront of your thinking must also be the quality of your content, which has to be engaging and inspiring. Any topic can be made to be enjoyable, and you must find ways to introduce the support of aids like PowerPoint presentations that are well sequenced, with clear, short text and, if relevant, punctuated by interesting images or even short films.
Drawing up a plan of what you need to cover will help you formulate aims and objectives for your presentation. Why are you presenting the content (your aims) and what do you expect your audience to get from it (your objectives), are key components of your talk. When planning your introduction, think of a ‘hook’ that you can present to engage your audience from the start. Good orators are always inspiring in how they engage their audience and perhaps use humour or images to set the context of their talk. The structure is very important, too, in that there must be a good flow between the different aspects of your presentation. Signposting with phrases like, ‘I will demonstrate next what I mean by …,’ or words that list the different phases of an argument, like ‘first, second, third …’, can help listeners access the meaning more easily and meet the objectives that you have set for your presentation. In a PowerPoint presentation, you can also repeat key slides to bring the audience back to your objectives and to consolidate learning of the material that you are presenting.
Just as in writing, you need to make sure that there is a clarity and structure to what you present. The difference with oral presentation is that you need to arrange and punctuate your material in a more visual and engaging and often very succinct way, leaving you with the chance to talk about the detail whilst your slides are summarizing your key ideas. Spoken punctuation is also about having the right level of eye contact, which is inclusive and shows that your audience is the most important aspect of your talk. As you reach the end of your talk, you need to go over the material once again, summarizing the key points that have been covered and linking back to the start of your presentation so as to show how you have addressed the aims and objectives that you set out for your audience.
Just as in writing for a reader, you speak for a listener and need to remind yourself that listening to a talk is an ephemeral activity where information is not easily retained, unless the speaker has planned meticulously well how to engage his or her audience fully. In that sense, presenting by reading long texts from slides or from notes is not at all conducive to engaging your audience. You would need to rehearse speaking the material (rather than reading) and making eye contact with your audience whilst showing a high level of preparation in the visual material that you show via PowerPoint, Prezi or other means for communicating complex academic content. During practice of your presentation, you will be in a position to refine your script and perhaps highlight phrases and key words that you need to remember or emphasize.
Some students like to use sketches or diagrams to remind themselves of the structure, with key content to go with it. This technique will stop you from reading and give you more confidence when speaking about your content. It is also very important to know your specialist subject vocabulary, both in terms of what it means and how to pronounce and spell it, as well as being meticulous about the referencing and citing of your academic sources. Just as you would produce many redrafts of a finished essay or dissertation, the point is to remember that spoken material will also need to be honed through a few rehearsals and redrafts of the final script and its visual summary.
You could also introduce literary devices such as figures of speech or rhetoric, which is the study of the art of discourse for purposes of engaging and persuading audiences. Literary devices can be effective, if only to pose a problem, for example at the start of your presentation, or to encourage imagination and open up the floor to questions and discussion. It is therefore worth listening to good lectures and talks and to note down the devices used by good speakers, such as repetition, rhetorical questions and metaphors (Student Example 6.3).
Student example 6.3 Presentation format
If you are new to giving presentations, you would need a tried-and-trusted formula. Ask about examples from past papers and look at the structure and content expected for an oral assignment. One such format or formula is as follows and it can be adapted for Professional Studies, Health and Education:
· Theoretical framework/research questions/problem-posing
· Methodology/case selection/sampling/ethical issues
· Literature review
· Discussion of data/findings