On Presentations

Guidelines for Presentations

This page originally prepared by Deborah Carter Peoples,
Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries
Last updated November 15, 2017

Presentations are brief discussions of a focused topic delivered to a group of listeners in order to impart knowledge or to stimulate discussion.  They are similar to short papers with an introduction, main body and conclusion.  The ability to give brief presentations is a learned skill and one that is called on frequently in the workplace. 

Preparation

Preparation is the key to giving an effective presentation and to controlling your nervousness.  Know your topic well.  You will be the expert on the topic in the classroom. Good preparation and the realization that you are the expert will boost your self-confidence.  After your research, you will find that you know much more about your topic than you will have time to present. That is a good thing.  It will allow you to compose a good introduction, to distill out the main, most important points that need to be made, and to finish with a strong conclusion.

  • Know your topic: become an expert 
  • Learn as much about the topic as you can to boost your self-confidence
  • Have an idea what the background is of your audience is so you will know how much detail to go into and what kinds of things you may have to define
  • Prepare an outline of topic.  This outline should be developed from your project proposal outline. Highlight the main sections of your work. Include subsections for each. Include notes that remind you of what to cover in each section and subsection. This outline can be used to guide your talk, and you may display it (with relevant illustrations) as a Powerpoint or Google Slides (or whatever presentation software you want) document while you talk.
  • An 8-minute talk is roughly equivalent to 4 double spaced pages in 12-pt. font and 1 inch margins however, never read a presentation.  Write out your presentation if you need to organize your thoughts, but then outline this text for the actual presentation.

Visual Aides

Visual aids (maps, photos, film clips, graphs, diagrams, and charts) can enhance a presentation. 

  • Keep visual aids simple and uncluttered. 
  • Use color and contrast for emphasis but use them in moderation
  • Use a font large enough to be seen from the back of the room
  • A rule of thumb: slides are readable from the back of a room if they are readable at a distance of 9 feet from a 15 monitor
  • Avoid video clips unless they are less than a minute long
  • Strongly resist the temptation to use sound effects and dramatic slide transitions

Handouts

Optional handouts provide structure.  They can provide supplemental material, references, a glossary of terms, and serve as a record of the presentation. The handout should be attractively laid out and inviting to read.  Leave enough white space on the handout for the listener to take notes.

A handout should be 1-2 pages long and consist of:

  • Your name
  • Title of course
  • Date of presentation
  • Title of your presentation
  • Brief abstract (50 word summary of your presentation)
  • A brief outline of your presentation including the major points
  • A bibliography of references used to inform the presentation

Practice

Practice giving your presentation to yourself.  Speak out loud and time yourself.  Practice using your visual aids.  It is absolutely important that you adhere to your time limit.  Your professor knows that you know more about your topic than you will have time to share.  Your goal is to inform, not overwhelm.  In this case, less can be more.

Delivery

To deliver your presentation you will have to overcome your nervousness and deal with room conditions. Good preparation should allay most of your nervousness; realizing that everyone feels nervous before a presentation should also help.  Your presentation will never go exactly as you think it will fortunately, they usually go better than you expect.  However, if you are using any kind of technology (overhead projector or PowerPoint) be prepared for something to go wrong and have a backup plan (such as a handout with the presentation outline!).

Equipment tips:

  • Workout details with equipment before the day of your presentation
  • Know how to operate the equipment you choose to use
  • If you are using PowerPoint or Google Slides, have a backup copy on a disk: A PDF copy of the presentation slides is the least likely to cause problems.
  • Do not expect a network connection to work when you need it.  Have any web sites you hope to show available as offline copies.  Work offline whenever possible to avoid slow network response

Delivery tips:

  • Begin your presentation by telling your audience what your topic is and what you will be covering. Audiences like to have guideposts.
  • Avoid reading your remarks
  • Dress neatly and appropriately.  The rule of thumb is to dress one level nicer than the audience will be dressed. 
  • Do not wear a hat of any kind. Avoid other disguises, or dangerous footwear
  • Speak in a clear, audible voice loud enough to be clearly heard in the back row. Never, ever mumble
  • Stand up straight, dont slouch or drape yourself around the podium.  Dont be afraid to move around the room moving around is good, it causes the audience to pay attention
  • Dont rock back and forth on your heels, don’t tap a pencil or play with pencil or pointer dont do things that will distract from your content.
  • Never apologize to your audience for the state of your knowledge or your degree of preparation. The audience wants to have confidence in you are the authority, do nothing to undermine your authority.
  • Never mention anything that could have been in your talk but wasnt
  • Make frequent eye contact with the audience.  Really look at the audience as you talk to them.  Engaging them directly with your eyes transfers a bit of your energy to them and keeps them focused on your content.  Making eye contact says that you are in charge of the room and for a presentation that’s what you want.
  • If you use PowerPoint or Google Slides avoid the tendency to speak to the screen instead of to the audience.  Be so familiar with your visual aids that the only reason you look at them is to point something out.
  • Never turn your back on the audience and try to avoid walking in front of the projector.
  • Adhere strictly to your time limit.  Organize your main points and rate of speech so that you speak for your eight minutes.  You will be surprised how quickly the time goes.
  • At the conclusion of your presentation ask for questions.  Encourage questions with your eyes and your body language.  Respond to questions politely, good-humoredly, and briefly. Take a quick moment to compose your thoughts before responding if you need to but do not fill the moment with “uh.”
  • At the end of your presentation, summarize your main points and give a strong concluding remark that reinforces why your information is of value.
  • Show some enthusiasm

A note on fear and nervousness

Accept nervousness for what it is part of the preparation for speaking and it is a good thing.  It heightens your senses and gets your blood pumping.  You will think clearly and move faster.  Everyone will feel nervous.  A good preparation will increase your self-confidence.  Once you get going, your good preparation will kick in and before you know it, your presentation will be over. 

The role of the audience

Presentations involve both a speaker and the audience.  People in the audience play a role in how well a presentation goes.  People in the audience have an obligation to:

  • Listen politely.
  • Make occasional eye contact with speaker.
  • Take notes or jot down interesting facts.
  • Control negative facial expressions.
  • Control bored body language.
  • Do not put your head down on the desk or tilt your head back to sleep.
  • Control the impulse to constantly check watch.
  • Expect a Question & Answer period to be part of the presentation.
  • Participate in Question & Answer period either by listening or by posing a question.
  • Prepare to remain attentive throughout the Q&A speakers will dismiss their audience.
  • Remain seated until the speaker is finished.

Evaluation

Presentations always undergo some type of evaluation.  You may receive a grade, you may make the sale, or your performance may be reviewed by your colleagues.  The following is a set of evaluation criteria (D’Arcy, 1998) that are commonly used. Keeping a possible evaluation in mind is a good way to prepare for your presentation.  Your goal is to be effective and evaluation criteria can give you a roadmap for measuring your effectiveness.

A. Organization and Development of Content

Opening statement gained immediate attention?
Purpose of presentation made clear?
Previewed contents of speech?
Main ideas stated clearly and logically?
Organizational pattern easy to follow?
Main points explained or proved by supporting points?
Variety of supporting points (testimony, statistics, etc.)
Conclusion adequately summed up main points, purpose?

B. Delivery

Presenter owned the space and was in control?
Held rapport with audience throughout speech?
Eye contact to everyone in audience?
Strong posture and meaningful gestures?

C. Visuals

Visuals clear and visible to entire audience?
Creative and emphasized main points?
Presenter handled unobtrusively and focused on audience?

D. Voice

Volume
Rate (pacing)
Pitch
Quality
Energetic and included everyone in dialogue?

E.  Comments

Evaluation criteria from: D’Arcy, Jan.  1998. Technically Speaking: A Guide for Communicating Complex Information.  Columbus: Battelle Press, p. 160.

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