Guidelines for Oral Presentations

HA Program/Political Science Department, Auburn University -- Mark Burns, Instructor

[IMAGE: Giving
a presentation]

1. Consider Your Audience

What is their current level of knowledge of the subject? If possible, convey to them information they haven't heard before, or weren't aware of.

2. Practice

At a minimum, review your notes a few times before your presentation. Unless you are already familiar with the presentation equipment you're going to be using, be sure to use it in your practice so you will be less likely to have embarassing "equipment flubs."
If you have not done many presentations before, practice before a knowledgeable friend who is willing to help you correct any problems, or else tape or videotape your practice sessions and review them yourself.

3. Be Positive

If you begin the presentation with obvious attitudes that suggest that you're shy, uncertain or uncomfortable, the audience will rapidly agree with you and be turned off. If you maintain at least the appearance of confidence in your own ability, you'll reassure your audience and everyone, yourself included, will enjoy the presentation more.

4. Avoid Reading

Insofar as possible, give your presentation extemporaneously from notes, rather than reading through pages and pages of material.

5. Get Abstractions Down to Earth

When you must present theoretical or abstract material, use specific examples, perhaps including a few humorous anecdotes, to enliven the presentation.

6. Use Visual Aids

When feasible, and relevant, visual aids can be a helpful addition to your presentation. Examples could include handouts, charts, transparencies, slides, or use of a presentation software such as Microsoft Powerpoint.

However, avoid using extensive films or recordings which might consume over one-quarter of your time unless such aids are explicitly requested. Your remarks, not the audio-visual aids, should be the prime source of attention. However, selective use of aids will increase audience attention and understanding.

7. Maintain Eye Contact

Keep as much eye contact with members of your audience as possible. Gauge their reaction to your presentation and adjust accordingly.

If you are a shy person, one way to begin this practice is to look slightly above the eye level of members of the audience. In most cases, they will not notice the difference. However, there is no real substitute for developing genuine eye contact.

8. Involve Your Audience

For large audiences, you may have to rely more on a lively presentation and on visual aids. For smaller audiences, you may want to involve them on a more personal level.

Some speakers in very small settings seek to learn the names of members of the audience initially, then directly involve them through questions to specific individuals or by making remarks during the presentation such as "Now suppose Maria, here, was faced with the following situation. . ."

If the standard call for questions at the end of the presentation falls flat, you may wish, depending on the exact situation, to pose one or two questions of your own to the audience to help them summarize or apply key points you've made.

9. Don't "Preach"

Convince your audience rather than haranguing them. Don't try to awe your audience with big words, flowery phrases, or ego-inflating anecdotes ("As I once told a friend of a friend of the President. . ."). Be relaxed, conversational (unless the occasion is extremely formal), and succinct. Above all, be yourself.

Have ideas for other information that should be included here? Send your suggestions!

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Oral Presentation Page by MB, Ver. 4.00 (5/2/08)

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