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Oral Presentations: Organization

A topic guide to help you create and deliver a successful oral presentation

Five Easy Pieces

 

First of all, think about what you want to achieve and think about how are you going to involve your audience in the presentation.

Then...

  1. Brainstorm your topic and write a rough outline. Don’t get carried away—remember you have a limited amount of time for your presentation.
  2. Organize your material and draft what you want to say [see Outlining section below].
  3. Summarize your draft into key points to write on overhead slides and/or note cards.
  4. Prepare your visual aids.
  5. Rehearse your presentation and practice getting the presentation completed within the time given. Ask a friend to listen and time you.

Outlining

Try organizing your content into a typical outline format, such as the following:

I.  Introduction [may be written last]

  • Capture your listeners’ attention. Begin with a question, an amusing story, a startling comment, or anything that will engage your audience and make them think.
  • State your purpose. For example, "I’m going to talk about..."; "This morning I want to explain…."
  • Present an outline of your talk. For example, “I will concentrate on the following points: First of all…Then…This will lead to…And finally…"

II.  The Body

  • Present your main points one by one in a logical order.
  • Pause at the end of each point. Give people time to take notes, or time to think about what you are saying.
  • Make it clear when you move to another point. For example, “The next point is that...”; “Of course, we must not forget that...”; “However, it's important to realize that....”
  • Use clear examples to illustrate your points and/or key findings.
  • If appropriate, consider using visual aids to make your presentation more interesting [e.g., a map, chart, picture, etc.].

III.  The Conclusion

  • Leave your audience with a clear summary of everything that you have covered.
  • Don't let the talk just fizzle out. Make it obvious that you have reached the end of the presentation.
  • Summarize the main points again. For example, use phrases like: "So, in conclusion..."; "To recap the main issues...," "In summary, it is important to realize...."
  • Restate the purpose of your talk, and say that you have achieved your aim: "My intention was ..., and it should now be clear that...."
  • Thank the audience, and invite questions: "Thank you. Are there any questions?"

NOTE:  When asking your audience if anyone has any questions, give people time to contemplate what you have said and to formulate a question. It may seem like an awkward pause to wait ten seconds or so for someone to raise their hand, but it's frustrating to have a question come to mind but be cutoff because the presenter rushed to end the talk.

Opening Words

Your First Words are Your Most Important!

Your introduction should begin with something that grabs the attention of your audience, such as, an interesting statistic, a brief narrative or story, or a bold assertion, and then clearly tell the audience in a well-crafted sentence what you plan to accomplish in your presentation. Your introductory statement should be constructed so as to invite the audience to pay close attention to your message and to give the audience a clear sense of the direction in which you are about to take them.

Talk to Your Audience; Don't Read to Them!

A presentation is not the same as an essay. If you read your presentation as if it were an essay, your audience will probably understand very little about what you say and will lose concentration quickly. Use notes, cue cards, or overheads as prompts that emphasize key points, and speak to the audience. Include everyone by looking at them and maintaining regular eye-contact [but don't stare or glare at people].

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