Chapter 9: Oral Presentations

9.1 Organizing Your Presentation

You will have either an assigned topic or one you choose yourself. Topics can vary from your favourite hobbies to academic articles on assigned topics. If you are asked to find your own article or site about your topic, make sure to check with your instructor ahead of time to make sure the source is academically appropriate. If your instructor asks you to present on a poem, for example, they probably are thinking that it should be one that has been traditionally published, by a recognized poet, rather than a poem written by a high-schooler with no previous experience. Maybe not, though, so your best bet is to ask.

Consider using props, as they will make your presentation stand out. Wear panda pyjamas to present on pandas, and give out slices of bamboo for your classmates to try. Declaim a poem, or if the poet comes from a different time, try carrying a prop from or dressing in the style of that era. Capturing the interest of your audience is easier if you give them something novel to look at.

Although many students default to slides because of their professional look, they are entirely optional unless your instructor assigns them. You can easily make a compelling presentation by speaking, writing relevant points on the board, giving your classmates a handout, and leading a discussion. A piece of paper has the bonus of being much more technically reliable than a projection on a screen.

If you are using slides, make sure to have the right number for the time you are allowed—not too many, so that you have to race through, or too few, so that you have to spend a long time dragging out the information on each slide. Make a printout of the slides so you have a guide and can present, even if they fail to project or are otherwise unavailable.

One of the advantages of slides is that you can incorporate visuals. Make sure the ones you use are not copyright protected and that you have the right to use them. Search Google Images, select “Tools,” and then select “Labelled for Reuse” in the “Usage rights” drop-down menu. Other sites that can be searched for images holding a Creative Commons licence include Flickr, Wikimedia, and CC Search.

The last page of your slides is your reference page. Use the reference format assigned in your classroom (e.g., MLA or APA). Reference any videos or images used as well as any print source.

The key to any good presentation, after preparation of materials and research on your topic, is practice. Experienced speakers can sound spontaneous and unrehearsed, but this is an illusion. The more times you go over your presentation in advance, the easier it will become on the day. Aim to read the entire presentation out loud, with visuals or props, at least three times. If you can persuade someone to listen to you, great. If not, even an empty room is better than not practising. It does not matter, by the way, if the person listening pays attention. An inattentive listener can even stimulate you to make your presentation more exciting in a bid to capture her attention!

Time your practices so you can see how long your presentation will take. Classroom schedules can be tight, and if you go over, your instructor may have to stop you in the middle. If you run out of material before your minimum time requirement, you’ll be standing at the front of the room with nothing to say. Knowing how long your material takes to present alleviates both of these problems.

Review Questions

  1. Write a ten-minute freewrite on a topic of your choice. Highlight or select those aspects of your freewrite that you could incorporate into a presentation.
  2. Find (or create) five images for a deck of slides on your presentation topic.
  3. Practise your presentation and time it. How could you make the presentation half as long? Twice as long?


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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