Preparing the Presentation

Analysing the Task

What is the assigned task? Ensure that you understand the assignment topic and have access to a suitable range of relevant references to support your background reading. Remember that if you are required to field questions from the audience as part of the presentation then you will need to have an understanding of the broad range of issues associated with your talk. Ensure that the scope of the talk is clearly defined.

What are you required to achieve? The style of presentation may differ depending on your purpose. Is the intention to:

  • present information to inform the audience 
  • stimulate discussion 
  • persuade the audience of the value of a particular idea, point of view or course of action 
  • entertain 

Also, is your talk intended as a stand-alone exercise or as part of a wider program involving a number of speakers?

Who is your audience? You will need to target your presentation to suit your particular audience. This means that you will need to analyse your audience.

  • What characteristics do they possess which may be important to your presentation (age-group, professional or laymen, diverse or belonging to a particular cultural or interest group)? 
  • Why has the audience come to hear you speak? 
  • What expectations will the audience have? 
  • Are there any sensitive issues that you should be aware of (such as political or cultural bias)? 
  • Is the audience likely to be supportive of or hostile to your own point of view? 
  • What presentation methods will be most effective with the particular audience you are targeting?

What is the venue for the presentation? Collect information about the venue such as its size and layout, and the facilities that will be available to you to enable you to adequately plan for your talk. Clearly there is little point preparing visual aids based on computer-based applications if these applications are not available to you at the venue; while a particularly large venue to a large crowd of people may preclude the use of some types of visual aid (such as whiteboard sketches or hard copy maps) if it is likely that these will not be visible to people at the back of the room. The size and acoustics of the room may also be important – will you be able to readily project your voice to the back of the room or will you require a microphone? Also, if you are distributing handouts to the audience, how will this be managed?

How much time do you have available to talk? This will have implications in terms of how much detail you are able to cover. As a matter of courtesy and good planning try to stick to your allotted time.

Preparing for the Oral Presentation

Do your research

  • Do sufficient background reading to ensure that you are fully familiar with the topic being covered and sufficient to enable you to field questions from the audience, if required
  • Take notes as you go to be used later to construct your presentation notes
  • As well, collect items of interest such as interesting facts, anecdotes, cartoons, up-to-date statistics that might prove useful in supporting your presentation

Prepare your presentation notes- Presentation notes are different to the written paper that often accompanies an oral presentation. While the latter might be in the form of a full essay or academic paper, your presentation notes should take the form of a list of main points, possibly with some expanded text, to which you will add dialogue during the course of the presentation. (NB. It is possible to prepare a full text that can be read as a speech, but this tends to be lifeless and boring for the audience and it is recommended that this approach be avoided.) Remember that a full written paper typically includes more detail than can be covered in a talk. It is necessary in your oral presentation to limit yourself to discussing a few main points only and not attempt to cover all of the detail that would be possible in a written paper.

The aim of an oral presentation is to use written notes and other prompts as a basis for delivering an interesting and lively presentation. The aim is neither to read directly from a written paper nor to deliver a speech which has been rote learned – both of which tend to produce a talk that is boring and lifeless.

Notes should be prepared well in advance of the time that the presentation needs to be given to enable you to practice and refine the text.

Notes should include memory prompts – such as key words or phrases which provide you with the main signposts for your talk. Notes can be written on cards which fit into the palm of the hand (palm cards). Ensure that cards or pages are numbered so they can be easily re-ordered in the event that they become jumbled.

Structure your presentation - As with an essay, a good talk will have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

Introduction. This is a critical element as it forms the basis for you developing a rapport with the audience, and it enables you to provide the audience with a ‘road map' to assist them to follow your discussion as it progresses. In the Introduction you should:

  • state the topic (which may. be an assignment question)
    • state your position on the topic and the aims or purpose
    • outline the scope of the talk
    • provide a plan for the discussion

Body or Discussion. This is the section in which your arguments are presented and developed. It is critical for the talk to be presented in such a way that the audience can follow it and keep up with it. The presentation should flow smoothly from one point to the next with the linkages between different points clearly indicated in order to tell a coherent story. Consider the use of ‘signpost' words (eg Firstly, As well as, Next, In contrast, However, Finally, etc.) to assist your listeners. This section makes up the bulk of the presentation - as a general rule, the Body should make up 80-90 per cent of the presentation time.

  • Organise your material according to some ‘organising principle'. This may be organising facts in chronological order, by theme, or in the order of importance. The following strategy can be useful:
    • write down all of the main points that you wish to cover
    • decide on appropriate sub-topics
    • fill in the detail using the research material you have collected
  • Do not try to cover too much material in your talk. Limit the discussion to a few main points Eliminate unnecessary or distracting dross
  • Present your arguments clearly and concisely
  • Connect the points of your discussion with the overall direction of your talk
  • Restate important points
  • Make sure you stick to the road map that you provided in your Introduction

Conclusion. In this section you should aim to tie the whole talk together. You should summarise and emphasise the main points presented in the body of the talk, develop conclusions and review any implications.

  • No new ideas should be introduced in the conclusion
  • Link the Conclusion with the Introduction. Restate the assignment question/topic and show that you have covered all of the points that you said in your Introduction you would cover
  • Use the Conclusion to reinforce your main arguments and to motivate the audience. Be emphatic
  • Try to leave a lasting impression on your audience

Prepare your support materials – visual aids and handouts. Visual aids – in the form of overhead projection (OHP) slides, projector slides or (computer-based) Microsoft PowerPoint presentations – provide an important ‘visual dimension' that greatly enhances any oral presentation. (Visual aids can also take the form of whiteboard sketches, models, maps, charts or videotapes.) This visual dimension will not only enhance the audience's ability to follow and understand your oral presentation but it provides the opportunity for devices such as cartoons, graphs, diagrams and pictures to be used to enhance the talk's interest; and also provides visual prompts that assist the speaker during the course of the presentation.

It is essential for visual aids to be both well designed and effectively used. The following is provided as a guide for effectively developing slides.

  • Limit the number of slides that you use to a workable number. Frequent changing of slides can distract or annoy an audience. Remember that you need to provide the audience with enough time to completely absorb the information provided on the slide, in conjunction with the text of your talk
  • Slides should enhance your talk, not compete with it
  • Keep slides simple, neat and uncluttered. Use large fonts (18-24 point) – as a general rule slides should be able to be seen from a distance of about 20 metres
  • Employ dark colours, which can readily be seen. Using different colours can be valuable, but limit the number of different colours used on a slide to no more than three
  • Slides should be consistent in format and appearance but not boring
  • Restrict the information provided to around six points per slide – with each point written in as few words as possible (say, in five or six words, if possible – not necessarily as fully grammatical text)
  • Include graphs, diagrams, tables etc. in your presentation. It is best not to take these directly from a reference source (as this typically involves too much detail) but they should be redrawn and adapted. The source of the work should always be cited
  • Leave space around the margins of the slide to ensure that the whole slide can be projected

Audience handouts can also be used. These can take a number of forms, including:

  • a list of the main points of the talk, possibly with sufficient blank space for the audience members to take their own notes. This is typically distributed prior to the talk
  • a summary of the main message of the presentation, which may be handed out prior to the talk but is probably best kept until after
  • detailed information that adds to the presentation but which could not be accommodated in the time provided for the talk. This sort of information should be available in a form that is suitable for the knowledge levels of the target audience and is best handed out after the presentation so that it does not serve as a distraction while the presentation is underway. To ensure that the audience is aware of the existence of handouts, the presenter should mention them at appropriate times during the presentation
  • a full paper may be required to be handed out to the audience at the time of the talk or at some time after, for example, as part of a meeting or conference proceedings. These may take the form of a professional academic article

Practice, practice and more practice. Rehearse your presentation several times prior to the actual presentation time. Ensure that the timing is correct, that you can respond appropriately to the visual prompts in your notes and that the visual aids work. Practice enables you to refine your talk – reorganising points or trimming the discussion, as needed. It also ensures that you become fully familiar with your material which will help to improve your presentation skills and build confidence. Ask someone to view your practice session(s) to provide suggestions and advice, and also to ask some sample questions for you to practice on.

Practise as many times as you have to to ensure that you can deliver the presentation confidently from your notes. When timing your rehearsals ensure that you fully utilise the visual aids you intend to use as this activity can take up much more time than you'd expect.

Plan for unexpected contingencies. It is always possible for happenings to occur on the day which will serve to disrupt your talk. For example, the time actually available for your talk may be shortened due to unforeseen delays elsewhere in the program (or lengthened due to the unexpected cancellation of another planned speaker), or equipment may fail.

The wise speaker plans for such contingencies. For example, give some thought to which parts of your talk could be omitted if the time for your talk needs to be reduced. Also, make contingency plans in the event of possible equipment failure. For example, if you intend to provide your visual aids through a PowerPoint (computer-based) presentation then it is advisable to also have your slides available in another format – such as overhead projection (OHP) slides or as handouts - as a back-up in case the computer equipment fails on the day.