Like anything else, oral presentations become easier with preparation and
I. Sign up early.
Although doing your presentation first isn't a great idea because you don't have the chance to note the strengths and weaknesses of other presenters/presentations, be careful not to wait too long.
; If you go early, you have a greater chance of being
"original"--sometimes, if you delay your presentation, you get a
"great" idea...and then someone else grabs it first.
; Often the beginning of a semester is less crowded with other
assignments, tests, etc. than the middle or the end. It's useful
to do your presentation when you're not panicking about getting
other things done.
; It's nice to get oral presentations out of the way--that way you
can relax and enjoy the other guy's show!
II. It helps to know what's expected of you
Before you start researching your project, it's a good idea to ask your professor the following things:
; How much time do you have for your presentation?
1. Will you be expected to leave some time to address the
questions of your professor or classmates?
; What form is your seminar supposed to take?
1. Are you expected to read from a text? If so, are you expected
to hand out copies of your text to your professor and
classmates for consideration?
2. Are you allowed to read from a text?
3. Are you expected to use notes?
4. Are you allowedto use notes?
5. Are you expected to use various media--slides, an overhead
projector, hand-outs--to illustrate points you are making?
6. Are you allowed to use various media to illustrate points you
7. If you are expected or allowed to use media, who is going to
arrange for such things as a projector and slides; an overhead
projector and transparencies; the reproduction and
distribution of hand-outs?
8. Is there a particular style of oral presentation that your
professor expects? (Is it acceptable to simply come with a
number of provocative questions? Are you in fact going to be
expected to engage your peers in a discussion? Or are you only
responsible for conveying a certain amount of information?) ; Are you to use secondary sources? expected
; Are you to use secondary sources? allowed
; What criteria are being used to evaluate your presentation?
(Delivery? Information? Ability to field questions? etc.)
III. Choose your topic carefully.
; When selecting the topic for your presentation, it's frequently a
good idea to find a particular--frequently an oblique--angle, a
clear and narrow focus for your material.
IV. Define the scope of your research.
; It's important to figure out how much material you actually need
1. It's better to have too much material and to cut it down during
your "rehearsal" sessions than to find yourself standing
there with nothing to say. BUT don't prepare a full-length
essay. Remember that the good delivery of an oral
presentation takes time. You want to speak slowly and
clearly--you may occasionally want to repeat material for
emphasis--so, in general, it will take quite a bit longer to
read a paper aloud than it will to read it to yourself.
V. Organize your talk as you would an essay.
; Clear and logical organization is even more important in seminars
than it is in written papers.
; Start out with a very clear thesis statement in which you outline
your subject and the main points you will be addressing--in the
order in which you will be addressing them.
VI. Try to make use of supplementary media to illustrate or illuminate
aspects of your talk.
; The use of visual or auditory material to highlight points in your
seminar will encourage your audience to attend to and remember what
you are saying.
; It will also divert a roomful of staring eyes from looking at you
to looking at something (anything!) else for some of the time.
; Supplementary media can include slides, overhead projections,
hand-outs, segments on videotape and so on.
; Find interesting, unexpected and unusual material--but be sure that
it does have direct relevance to your topic.
; Be sure, too, that you have the mechanics of your media worked out
in advance--don't waste time trying to figure out how to use a slide
projector or putting slides or overheads in upside down! ; Be sure to leave time, too, for a little bit of fiddling with
equipment and for the visual images to sink in--remember that this
may take time away from your oral presentation, so adjust your
visual aids--and your presentation--accordingly.
VII. Leave time to rehearse your presentation.
; It's extremely important to leave yourself sufficient time before
your presentation for rehearsal. You need to know
1. how much to write--or how many notes to have--to fill the
2. how to hold your notes so you don't just bury your head in
them and read;
3. how quickly--or slowly--to talk;
4. whether you need to make notes on the blackboard; etc. ; Start out rehearsing by yourself.
1. Be sure you have a clock handy so that you can time yourself.
2. If you don't have enough material, look carefully at what you
do have and mark places where you could expand upon points
or develop more complex concepts.
3. If you have too much material, look to see where you can cut
your paper down. Don't actually delete "superfluous"
material. Often, 'though it's not ideal, you speed up when
you're nervous--you might find yourself able to cover more
material than you did in rehearsal. (NOTE: One way to deal
with this is to highlight central points; then, if you find
you have extra time, you can make use of elaborating or
; Practice the presentation at least three times.
1. Reading over your notes silently is not enough; you must run
through the speech out loud.
; Be sure you know how to pronounce all the words in your paper. If
you're not sure, look them up in a dictionary and make your own
phonetic notation to let you know how to pronounce them (i.e.,
"mnemonic" becomes "nuh-mon-ick").
1. Say each word you're uncomfortable with 5 to 10 times to make
sure you have mastered it.
2. If you keep making mistakes on any word or phrase, replace
; Turn your paper or notes into a script. For instance, note
1. where you're going to be emphatic;
2. where you're going to repeat points;
3. where you might make a (seemingly) casual remark, etc. ; Make sure you know your material well enough to talk comfortably
without depending too much on notes.
; After mastering your wording, give your presentation in front of
a mirror (or a video tape recorder).
1. Pay attention to any distracting habits that you might have
(shuffling your feet, waving your hands excessively, playing
with your hair).
; Finally, you may want to try your talk out on a very supportive and
honest friend, brother, sister, dog...
VIII. It's important to feel comfortable about the way you look, and to
be relaxed and confident, during your presentation.
; Make sure that you are well-rested and relatively stress-free on
the day of your presentation.
; Leave lots of time to shower, eat and get dressed. ; Be sure that you have planned in advance what you are going to wear.
1. You don't want to be surprised to find that you have nothing
clean or that you can't find a pair of matching socks.
2. Don't go out and buy something new to wear. You might be
unpleasantly surprised to find that your new sweater drives
you crazy because it's made of a particularly itchy yarn
3. Above all, choose something that makes you feel comfortable
; You may want to plan to bring something into the class with you:
a cup of coffee, cough drops--but nothing too distracting--to
IX. Treat your presentation like a well-planned performance. ; Set the stage carefully.
1. Be sure you get to the class in plenty of time to see to any
arrangements that need to be made (check the operating
condition of VCRs, etc.).
2. If you find yourself getting nervous, practice relaxation
techniques: deep breathing, the "wet-dog" shake, focusing,
3. Figure out before you start talking where you're going to
situate yourself for the presentation: standing at the front
of the class, sitting on a desk, etc.
4. Decide what you're going to do with notes: Is there a lectern?
A desk? Are you going to just hold them?
; Stay in control.
1. Talk slowly.
2. Talk clearly (enunciate).
3. Talk loudly.
4. Make eye contact.
5. Avoid staying in one place. Try not to simply stand or sit
in one spot; it's a good idea to walk around a bit, to gesture
and change the direction of your focus in order to keep all
of the audience interested.
6. Be sensitive to your audience. If you notice that people are
looking bored or distracted, change your position, the speed
or volume of your voice.
X. Handle questions with confidence.
; Don't panic (!) when you're asked a question. Give it careful--but
quick--consideration and answer it to the best of your ability. ; It's acceptable to tell someone that you don't understand his or
her questions. (This is also a good way to stall for time!) Ask them
to rephrase or clarify it--or rephrase it yourself and ask them if
that is what they meant.
; It's also all right to admit that you're not sure about the answer
to a question--sometimes a lively discussion can ensue if you turn
the question over to the class.
; Try to give everyone who wants to ask a question a turn. Don't just
"call on" friends.
XI. After your seminar, take time to assess your "performance." ; Ask friends in the class and the professor for their honest
1. Pose specific questions: Did you cover enough material? Did
you allow enough--or too much--time for questions and
; We improve only by asking for, and positively acting on,
Fastfacts: Managing Nervousness During
Many students dread giving oral presentations in class, yet sooner or later students in most programs will be obligated to do so. if you perspire at the mere thought of giving a seminar, or even if you're comfortable speaking in front of a group, there are ways and means to improve both the quality of your presentation skills and your comfort with them. Although this Fastfacts addresses only one aspect of presenting, many different skills are involved in a successful oral presentation, and they are all interrelated. for additional information, or for feedback and advice on maximizing your presentation skills, see the last section.
Nervousness: Causes and Cures
Some nervousness when speaking in front of a group is not only inevitable, it's also desirable. If it can be controlled, your nervousness can be translated into excitement or enthusiasm, and that makes for a presentation that is exciting and interesting to the audience. Excessive nervousness can take away any pleasure that doing the presentation may give you, but it may also have a negative effect on your performance. Learning more about the impact of nervousness (by reading this Fastfacts, for example) is an important first step to controlling any negative effect nervousness may have on your performance or your marks.
Choosing a Topic
A judicious choice of topic is equally, if not more, important in an oral assignment than in a written one. Your lack of interest or enthusiasm for the topic may lead to increased anxiety about your presentation and will probably be apparent to your audience in your voice, expression, and gestures. However, if you choose a topic which is fascinating to you, it will be difficult to bore your audience. Most importantly, your involvement with the topic on an intellectual and emotional level will
during the seminar, rather help to focus your attention on the material
than on your own less than perfect presentation of it.
Nervousness and fear of presenting can lead to a vicious cycle of procrastination. You put off working on the presentation because of fear of not doing well, yet the longer it is put off, the less time there is to prepare and rehearse. As your preparation time decreases, the pressure, stress, and nervousness associated with the presentation increase. Good time planning strategies can provide the preparation time essential for controlling nervousness. If you are confident in your knowledge of the material, and if you've planned enough time for rehearsal, you can face the presentation knowing you've prepared for a successful performance.
You can manage nervousness by using effective rehearsal strategies. Your performance probably won't improve much without constructive feedback, so reading your presentation in front of a mirror has limited benefits. The better the feedback, the more quickly you'll improve, so consider using Learning Peer Helpers or professional staff in the Learning Commons, rather than your roommates or family, to provide constructive (and compassionate) criticism. Another strategy is to rehearse with equipment such as tape recorders and video cameras to allow you to review, and thus improve, your performance.
Time planning is important with presentations. You must have enough time to feel comfortable with any equipment or props you use in your presentation, and to develop your personal presentation "style" - the tone and gestures which are natural and effective for you. The more you rehearse,
the more comfortable you'll become with your presentation, and the less nervous you'll be.
Regardless of your preparation beforehand, some nervousness is natural and inevitable. One performance strategy is to expect and accept nervousness. Rather than trying to stop your knees from shaking, let them shake, but realize that you can go on with your presentation. Musicians, athletes, and others who perform in public employ focusing strategies to control performance jitters. If, for example, your thoughts are on your sweating palms instead of on your material and its impact on your audience, then your audience may be attending to your nervousness as well. The strategy is to focus on one aspect of your presentation (for example, conveying your commitment to natural herbicides), rather than evaluating or criticising yourself as you go. If you can occupy your own "inner critic" with something other than evaluating your performance and feeding your nervousness, then you can free your concentration and energy to accomplish what you've set out to do - demonstrate your knowledge, and educate or motivate your audience.
Your Best Resource
Learning Services, located in the Learning Commons on the main floor of the Library, is the best source on campus for advice, information, and feedback on giving presentations and other learning, performance, and study-related issues. Our Peer Helpers provide free consultations to
University of Guelph students. Peer Helpers are academically successful
students, selected from a variety of disciplines, who have received extensive training in learning theories and communication skills. They can provide valuable advice and suggestions for improving your presentation skills. Staff are also available to provide consultation for students on presentation skills and other learning and study topics.
Other Fastfacts in this series:
; Collaborative Group Work
; Learning from Lectures
; Learning from Textbooks
; Reading and the Web
; A Classic Method for Studying Texts: SQ4R
Links to Resources Elsewhere
; Preparing Effective Oral Presentations emphasizes scientific and academic
settings for presentations.
; The Virtual Presentation Assistant, produced by the University of Kansas, is
an online tutorial to help you improve your presentation skills.
; Geared to the business world, Dealing with Presentation Disasters has some
relevant information for an academic setting.
Designing Visual Aids
; Designing Effective Visuals is an online tutorial aimed towards students and
academics in scientific fields.
; Creating Posters for Humanities and Social Sciences has information on
giving a poster presentation.
; Developing a Poster Presentation looks at designing effective poster
presentations for science majors.
Dealing with Anxiety and Nervousness
; A non academic site geared to the business world, Overcoming Speaking
Anxiety in Meetings and Presentations looks specifically at issues related to
overcoming anxiety when speaking in meetings and presentations.
Other Online Resources
Effective ; If you're doing an assignment on speaking or communicating,
Presentations has comprehensive lists of related links.