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Academic Skills

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Giving an Oral Presentation

Preparing your oral presentation

First of all, think ...

  • Think about what you want to achieve:
    do you want to inform your audience, inspire them to think about your topic, or convince them of a particular point of view?
  • Think about your audience:
    what background knowledge do they have about your topic? Do they have any particular interests? How are you going to involve them in your presentation?

Then ...

  • Brainstorm your topic and write a rough outline.
  • Research your topic. Don’t get carried away—remember you have a limited time for your presentation.
  • Organise your material and write a draft—think about the length of time you have to talk.
  • Summarise your draft into points to write on overheads and/or cards.
  • Plan and prepare your visual aids.
  • Rehearse your presentation and get its length right. Ask a friend to listen and time you.

Organising the content

Introduction (may be written last)

  • Capture your listeners’ attention: Begin with a question, a funny story, a startling comment, or anything that will 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…’

The Body

  • Present your main points one by one in 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 absolutely clear when you move to another point. For example:
    ‘The next point is that ...’
    ‘OK, now I am going to talk about ...’
    ‘Right. Now I'd like to explain ... ’
    ‘Of course, we must not forget that ...’
    ‘However, it's important to realise that...’
  • Use clear examples to illustrate your points.
  • Use visual aids to make your presentation more interesting.

The Conclusion

  • It is very important to leave your audience with a clear summary of everything you have covered.
  • It is also important not to let the talk just fizzle out. Make it obvious that you have reached the end of the presentation.
  • Summarise the main points again, using phrases like:
    ‘To sum up...’
    ‘So, in conclusion...’
    ‘OK, to recap the main points…’
  • Restate the purpose of your talk, and say that you have achieved your aim:
    ‘I think you can now see that...’
    ‘My intention was ..., and it should now be clear that ...’
  • Thank the audience, and invite questions:
    ‘Thank you. Are there any questions?’

Delivering your presentation

Talk to your audience, don't read to them!

A presentation is not the same as an essay.

If you read out your presentation as if it were an essay, your audience will probably understand very little and will lose concentration quickly.

So use notes, cue cards or overheads as prompts, and speak to the audience. Include everyone by looking at them and maintaining eye-contact (but don't stare or glare at people).

Watch your language!

  • Keep it simple. The aim is to communicate, not to show off your vocabulary.
  • Emphasise the key points—and make sure people realise which are the key points. Repeat them using different phrasing.
  • Check the pronunciation of difficult, unusual, or foreign words beforehand.

Use your voice to communicate clearly

  • Speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you.
    This may feel uncomfortably loud at first, but if people can't hear you, they won't listen.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
    Don’t rush! Speaking fast doesn’t make you seem smarter, it will only make it harder for other people to understand you.
  • Key words are important. Speak them out slowly and loudly.
  • Vary your voice quality. If you always use the same volume and pitch (for example, all loud, or all soft, or in a monotone) your audience will switch off.
  • When you begin a new point, use a higher pitch and volume.
  • Slow down for key points.
  • Use pauses—don't be afraid of short periods of silence. (They give you a chance to gather your thoughts, and your audience a chance to think.)

Use your body to communicate, too!

  • Stand straight and comfortably. Do not slouch or shuffle about.
  • Hold your head up. Look around and make eye-contact with people in the audience. Do not just address the lecturer! Do not stare at a point on the carpet or the wall. If you don't include the audience, they won't listen to you.
  • When you are talking to your friends, you naturally use your hands, your facial expression, and your body to add to your communication. Do it in your presentation as well. It will make things far more interesting for the audience.
  • Don't turn your back on the audience!

Interact with the audience

  • Be aware of how your audience is reacting.
    Are they interested or bored? If they look confused, ask them why.
    Stop if necessary and explain a point again.
  • Check if the audience is still with you.
    ‘Does that make sense?’
    ‘Is that clear?’
  • Be open to questions.
    If someone raises a hand, or asks a question in the middle of your talk, answer it. If you can't answer it, turn the question back out to the audience and let someone else answer it!
    Questions are good. They show that the audience is listening with interest. They should not be regarded as an attack on you, but as a collaborative search for deeper understanding.
  • Be ready to get the discussion going after your presentation. Just in case nobody has anything to say, have some provocative questions or points for discussion ready to ask the group.

Using visual aids

It is very helpful to use visual aids in your presentation, as it helps people to understand. People learn visually as well as orally. Particularly if your accent is different from your audience's accent, it can be very helpful to let them see your keywords.

Overheads

Overheads are the easiest and most reliable form of visual aids. You can use them as a prompt for your talk, so that you may not need cards. [But don't read word-for-word from your overheads!]

Be careful to:

  • Use bold typeface, and a minimum of size 16 font [Check that your overheads are readable by placing them beside you on the floor and looking down at them. Can you read them?]
  • Use no more than seven or eight main points on an overhead [Overheads that have too many words on them are no use at all]
  • Give your audience time to take notes from your overhead
  • Make sure your audience can see the overhead screen [Where are you standing? Is it directly in front of the screen?]
  • Using colour, pictures and graphs can make your overheads more interesting [But don't overcrowd your overheads with too much detail]

PowerPoint

  • You can use PowerPoint software to produce very professional overheads, or to make a computer-based presentation. If you would like to learn more about it, you can ask the Computer Centre Service Desk for more information.
  • Remember that PowerPoint may look great, but if the technology goes wrong you may be very embarrassed. It's a good idea to print out a handout, or have some overheads as a backup just in case.
  • Sometimes students are tempted to spend more time on producing PowerPoint graphics than on the actual talk. Remember—if your talk is poor, no amount of fancy graphics will save it!

Handouts

Handouts are a great idea. Think about whether you want to distribute them before or after your presentation. It is a good idea to include your references on a handout, so that people can follow up on them later. You could also include some follow-up questions for discussion.

Using the whiteboard (or blackboard)

If possible, put your information on the whiteboard/blackboard before the talk begins, otherwise you will have to turn your back on the audience and break your eye contact with them, which is never a good idea. Writing on a board is also time-consuming. Use alternative visual aids wherever possible.

If you really must use a whiteboard, come prepared with the right pens (use pens clearly marked 'Whiteboard Marker'— don't use anything else) and write in large neat writing, so that people can read it.

Checking out the facilities

Whenever possible, check the facilities of the room where you are going to deliver your talk. Does the overhead processor work? How does it turn on and off? Where is the plug for the computer? Is there a whiteboard, or is it a blackboard? If a blackboard, is chalk provided? 

Dealing with nervousness

The first few times you make a presentation, you will be nervous. That's quite a good thing—a bit of adrenalin often helps you to perform well.

However, to make sure that your nervousness does not become a problem, here are some things to consider:

  • Smile! Your audience will react warmly to you if you smile and at least look relaxed.
  • Treat your audience like friends.
  • Confess that you are nervous! Your audience will be very sympathetic—they know how you are feeling.
  • Breathe deeply. It will calm you down and help to control the slight shaking that you might get in your hands and your voice.
  • Be well-prepared. Practice giving your talk (you can ask one of the Academic Skills lecturers to listen to your presentation)
  • Be organised. If you are well organised, your task will be easier. If your overheads are out of order, or your notes are disorganised, you may get flustered.
  • Slow down! When people are nervous, they tend to get confused easily. So your mind may start to race, and you may feel panicky. Make use of pauses: force yourself to stop at the end of a sentence, take a breath, and think before you continue.
  • Remember: The way you perform is the way your audience will feel. Giving an oral presentation is a performance—you have to be like an actor. If you act the part of someone enjoying themselves and feeling confident, you will not only communicate these positive feelings to the audience, you will feel much better, too.
  • Accomplished public speakers feel nervous before and even during a talk. The skill comes in not communicating your nervousness, and in not letting it take over from the presentation. Over time, you will feel less nervous, and well able to control your nervousness.