HIS480 logo

TECHNIQUES FOR ORAL PRESENTATIONS

Copyright 2004 by Dr. Jim Jones
of West Chester University


Go to the syllabus or return to the assignment instructions .

Oral presentations are designed to present a summary of a longer research paper in a way that enables the listener to udnerstand the content of your research and to decide if s/he should read the entire paper.

Although it is shorter, an oral presentation is harder to do well than a written presentation because it makes the presenter entirely responsible for clarity. If a reader has difficulty understanding a portion of a written paper, the reader can reread it, put it asside until later or consult other works (like a dictionary) in order to understand it. That is impossible with an oral presentation, when the only opportunity to clarify unclear material comes during the question-and- answer period. With that in mind, an oral presenter should make sure to take the following items into account:

  1. The human attention span is short--only a few minutes in some cases.
  2. Visual aids help a great deal. Use the blackboard or computer display to present key words to the audience.
  3. Chose language that your audience is certain to understand or, if you must use specialized terms, explain them when you first introduce them.
  4. If you want to make sure that your audience retains specific information, distribute it to them in the form of a handout.
  5. Remember that as soon as you distribute a handout, your audience will stop listening to you and start reading it. If you make the handout short and allow a moment for your audience to look through it when you hand it out, then you can hold their attention for the duration of your presentation and refer to the hnadout as necessary.

Your oral presentation should open with a statement of the topic that you investigated. Do not begin with a joke or anecdote--that is appropriate for a speech at a social gathering, but not for an academic presentaiton.

You should describe your approach to the topic, the sources you used, and the conclusions you drew. If you did not reach a conclusion, then describe the direction in which you think further research should go to reach a conclusion.

Practice your oral presentation before you give it in front of an audience. Read it out loud, perhaps in front of a mirror, and time yourself as you read it. It takes about 2.5 minutes to read a double spaced page of text, but some people read faster or slower than others. Whatever you do, do not exceed your time limit, and if possible, leave time for questions from the audience.

A Testimonial: Dr. Jones gave his first professional oral presentation in 1992. To prepare, he read his paper out loud five times before reading it in front of an audience. He also made notes on the paper to indicate when to pause and where to add emphasis. When it came time to read his paper, he read it about 33% faster than he read it in practice, due to nervousness. That left plenty of time for questions.


Go to the syllabus or return to the assignment instructions .