Presentations

Career advancement in both the academic and the professional arenas may well depend upon your ability to communicate to a variety or audiences. For example, you may be asked to present lab reports, technical briefs, or training instructions. You can make the large task of constructing and delivering an oral presentation more manageable if you divide the assignment into small goals and then approach the overall task methodically.

Being systematic in your preparation for a talk helps with anxiety. Nearly everyone is nervous when speaking before a group, and thus audiences are generally sympathetic. Luckily, most of the symptoms of nervousness that plague the speaker remain hidden to the audience. Nervous tension also allows speakers to deliver a charged rather than a flat performance. So relax and enjoy helping your audience understand the technical information you can deliver. You can use these instructions as a guideline to help you both organize the material and structure your presentation to meet your audience’s informational needs. This handout helps you:

Know Your Task and Audience
When you first begin this project, make certain you can clearly explain what you are attempting to accomplish and for whom. You can think about your task in these ways:

In addition , you will need to carefully assess the knowledge, expectations, and values your audience brings to the exchange. It is only when the audience’s needs are genuinely acknowledged by the speaker that effective communication can take place.

Determine the nature of the background information that the audience brings to your subject by listing key terms and concepts that you can reasonably assume they understand.

Describe what the audience needs to learn from you about the specific topic and focus upon these items as controlling concepts for your presentation.

Identify the significant values that the audience brings to the presentation. Ask yourself:

All of the ideas about your task and audience need to be shaped with the time and space constraints you face.

Structure Your Presentation

Consider the location, size, and spatial arrangement of the presentation area, as well as the length of time associated for the speech when you begin to envision your presentation.

Match the length of time for the presentation with the focus of your topic.

Identify key physical characteristics of the space, including size, seating arrangement, lighting, etc.

These physical constraints play into how you decide to organize your presentation. An accomplished speaker should fully understand his/her subject. And one very useful method for this is to organize your material as if you had to explain it to another person.

Provide an illustrative example for each main point and explain the relationship of the example to the point it supports.

Use a variety of different kinds of support or proof for your statements, such as facts, statistics, examples, comparisons, testimonies (an eye witness account or a direct quotation), narrative (a story). This way you reach and persuade various members of your audience.

Repeat key concepts/points by expressing one idea in several different ways, thereby reinforcing important points.

So, for example, the problem-solution framework might be appropriate for a speech on waste management. You could structure the presentation as a series of key dilemmas, each one followed by a number of possible responses, the first being the ineffective response, and the second the better choice. Each time a problem is introduced, the listener could begin to anticipate a range of possible solutions and thereby become more receptive to the information that follows. With a stellar organization your presentation also needs a frame to introduce and conclude it.

Frame Your Presentation

The Introduction
With an attention-grabbing introduction, you can establish a framing device for the entire presentation. You may find it more efficient to construct the introduction after the body of the speech has been developed. Then you can clearly see the nature of the technical material that must be introduced to the audience so that you attract their interest and meet their informational needs. The introduction must draw the audience’s attention, identify your topic, and create expectations in the audience that you will satisfy in the course of the presentation.

Immediately gain the audience’s attention by connecting their needs/values/knowledge to the topic of the speech. Maybe by including:

  • an interesting fact, statistic, anecdote, etc.
  • an appeal to a common ground of understanding or experience between audience and speaker
  • a narrative or story to draw the audience into your domain
  • an overview of your speech to provide audience with a rational framework

Create expectations in your audience that you will fulfill in the course of the presentation.

  • create and repeat an organizational structure or pattern
  • acknowledge and then answer questions you know the audience will broach
  • introduce and then reference key terms throughout the course of the presentation
  • offer periodic overviews and then periodic summaries of material

Your introduction will be half of the framing devices needed; the other half is the conclusion.

The Conclusion
An effective conclusion seems to develop naturally from the structure and content of the preceding material. A conclusion isn’t simply a rewording of the introduction; the conclusion is a separate and distinct part of your presentation and as such presents particular challenges for you to meet. In it, you need to:

  • identify for the audience the most important point of the presentation
  • connect with the framing context that you introduced in the beginning
  • reaffirm the connection between the audience and the material presented

Match the tone of the final remarks to what you perceive is the audience’s primary need. You might offer

  • a summary of key points and/or sections of the presentation
  • a personal anecdote
  • a restatement of the problem and a brief summary of the solution
  • a resolution of the shocking statistic
  • an answer to a significant question

Even with an organization and frame, you still need to polish your work with visuals and practice.

Select Visuals

Since most people rely heavily upon visual information cues, you can assist your audience by incorporating visual aids into your presentation. These help you to emphasize key points your audience will understand and remember. Choose these sparingly, otherwise they could become distracting.

Identify the purpose of your visual aid:

Select types of visual aids well matched to the needs of your audience with respect to specific portions of your presentation.

Select presentation vehicles (and make sure they’re working) based upon the audience’s seating arrangement.

Critique your visual aid from the perspective of the audience’s needs.

Remember to Practice
You can meet the needs of your audience best by personally connecting with them, and by practicing your presentation. You need to

If possible, practice your presentation in the very place you’ll deliver it. Use you visuals when you practice so they integrate well into your talk. Finally, don’t feel you have to memorize the entire piece. In many cases you will be able to use memory prompts such as note cards or an outline. Most people find the more they practice, the more at ease they feel when they give their presentation.

Works Cited

Galke, Sue. 101 Ways to Captivate a Business Audience, New York: Anacom, 1997.
Morrisey, George L., etal. Loud and Clear. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997.

Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.