Making Oral Presentations - Viestintäpiste Laurea Leppävaara

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Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
PREPARING AN ORAL PRESENTATION
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
PREPARING AN ORAL PRESENTATION
1. Introduction
A common mistake is to “jump” straight into a presentation at high speed without giving
the audience adequate preparation for what’s coming, and before they get used to the fact
that a new person is standing in front of them with a new subject. So try to begin
confidently and clearly without rushing. Don’t get down to solid facts before you’re sure
that you’ve got your audience’s attention, and that they have some kind of picture of what
to expect in the next 10 minutes or so.
Typically, the introductory section of your talk will include the following 3 elements:

a brief explanation of who you are, what the subject is, and possibly why you are
talking about this particular subject.

a statement of the objectives of your presentation, in other words what you plan to
achieve during the next 5 minutes/ half an hour/ or whatever.

a brief outline of the main points you plan to cover during your talk. Be careful not
to go into any more detail than is necessary at this stage.
2. Content
It’s difficult to give black-and-white advice about content which would be appropriate in all
situations, but careful planning is what makes a difference, especially with regard to the
time frame you’ve been given. If your presentation is noticeably shorter it leaves an
unsatisfactory feeling, but even worse is to go significantly over time. This shows a
disrespect for your listeners, even more so if you are just rambling, wasting time without
presenting much solid information at all. Audience time is valuable time.
So at an early stage of your preparation you need to map out what areas you feel you need
to cover, including the introduction mentioned above. As you prepare, keep an eye on the
overall balance of the content and on whether there is any superfluous information - don’t
be afraid to leave it out if time is short. During the preparation phase, your task is to
prioritise.
Check also that you are presenting your information systematically within a framework that
is gradually revealed to the listeners, in other words that you progress clearly through a set
of points. You need to avoid wandering around aimlessly, leaving the listener wondering
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
what the point of all this interesting information is.
Partly for this reason, you need to create links (sometimes called “road-signs” or, more
officially, metatext) between one small information area and the next. This is more
important than in written material, where an overview of everything on the page can be
taken in at a glance with possible section headings for further guidance, but in oral work
there is a clear need for such bridging phrases as “Now that we understand how … works, “
or “Let me next describe how ….” or “I now want to move on to ….”. The listener needs to
be given a feeling of where we are coming from and where we are going.
No presentation is complete without some kind of conclusion. This doesn’t need to be
anything very dramatic or significant, sometimes just a quick summary of what’s been
covered will be enough, but all too often students finish a talk by working through the last
main point, and then simply walking away or collapsing into embarrassed silence. You need
to create a clear feeling of having now arrived at the end.
3. Language
Most people when preparing a presentation rely fairly heavily on external sources such as
Internet documents for the facts, information and data which they are going to present. If
you simply lift the language of the original document into your presentation too, the result
is almost always weak, possibly disastrous. There are two main reasons for this:

the register (meaning the style or level) of the language is unsuitable for this task

the language is “dead” or inexpressive, too divorced from you the presenter.
So even though you’ve borrowed the information from an external source, it’s very
important that you present it in your own words, and in a lively and interesting way so that
it sounds and feels like you are thinking aloud. It’s almost impossible to genuinely contact
an audience if you are reading a prepared script, even one you have written yourself. The
only thing that really matters is the effect your words are having on the audience.
As a general rule, if you’re unsure of your language skills and are afraid you might not
manage, it’s important to be fully confident of the information you’re planning to present
to us, and then let the words take care of themselves. They will come, even if not exactly
as planned. It’s not a crime during a presentation to have to think aloud while searching for
a word or how to explain something, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
Here is a list of points to keep in mind when planning the language of your presentation.

Your language doesn’t need to be perfect as it does in a written document. Instead
you should concentrate on making the language interesting and alive.

Use notes to guide and remind you, but never a ready-written script and never a
text written by somebody else. Keep the notes as minimal as you dare, for example
on Keycards.

Keep the language on a level which your audience can handle, in other words don’t
let it become too technical or complicated. This is an oral situation.

Make sure there is some variety in your language, so not all short simple sentences,
and not all heavy complicated sentences.
4. Delivery
The key point in your delivery is to keep in mind how things look from the listener’s point
of view. If the way you are handling things wouldn’t keep you interested either, then you’re
not doing a good job. There’s no point in expecting an audience to come to a lecture hall
and listen to a presentation, if you don’t offer them something more and different from
what they would get by reading the text themselves at home. You therefore need to pay
attention to the following factors :

Volume. Most students aren’t used to speaking publicly and so speak much too
quietly. Aim at somebody at the back of the room and speak loud enough that
he/she can listen to you comfortably. On the other hand, bellowing is also
undesirable unless your intention is to intimidate your listeners.

Intonation and expression. Speakers use this to create interest and also to highlight
key words and ideas. Without it a spoken text quickly becomes monotonous and the
listener finds it difficult to separate ideas and phrases from each other. Typically
Finns use a minimum of intonation and English people a lot, but in any case students
need to practise using it as a tool for creating interest.

Pauses. As with intonation, use pauses to help the listener to follow the structure of
your sentences. Avoid rushing forwards at the same pace all the time.

Speed. Not too fast and not too slow. Students rarely talk too slowly unless they
don’t know what they are trying to say.

Short phrases. In an oral presentation the listener only gets one chance to hear
information, so as well as keeping an eye on the speed, you also need to keep
phrases short enough to be digested and even to use repetition, for example saying
the same thing twice in different ways (as I have just done!) to drive the point
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
home. This doesn’t mean that sentences need to be short.

Pronunciation. This isn’t a coffee-table chat, so be sure to enunciate everything
more clearly and carefully than normal, especially when you have a noticeable
foreign accent in English.

If at all possible, try to cut out such natural sounds as “er” and “um” and replace
them with a “thinking-aloud” short phrase.
5. Body language
This is something most people would prefer not to pay any attention to, or to pretend that
it doesn’t really matter. It does. As with meeting people face to face, first impressions are
very important. Most audiences will be very sympathetic towards a new speaker but you will
find it easy to destroy this sympathy totally in about 2 minutes if your delivery and body
language are wrong. The following is a list of matters which actively need attention before
you arrive in front of your audience, as you might not even be aware of them yourself.

Standing. Except in very special circumstances you obviously can’t give a
presentation sitting down. You need to project an image of authority and
confidence.

Eye contact. You need to show the audience that you are interested in them and
that you have something to communicate to them, so don’t keep your eyes fixed
downwards or on the piece of paper in your hands. It’s often a good idea either to
talk to a point at the back of the room, or to direct your words to one individual
who changes fairly often so that your staring doesn’t become threatening or too
personal. But keep those eyes up!

Facial expression. Not too passive or you’ll look disinterested. Don’t let your face
show them the truth, that you’d rather be somewhere else! And remember
(especially Finns) that in Anglo culture a small smile represents a neutral attitude
whereas a passive expression is already a negative comment.

Personal space. Whether you like it or not, you are in control of the whole situation
during your presentation, and your body language must confirm this. Come out and
stand clearly in front of the group, taking care that you don’t give the impression of
hiding behind a desk, projector, screen or even window curtain (I’ve actually seen
this!) Define a not too extensive area at the front of the room that belongs to you,
and remember to move around inside that area, but in a slow, controlled purposeful
manner otherwise you’ll destroy the focus. Just don’t stand like a lamp-post in
front of us!

Gestures. Be careful with your hands, they tell too much about you, so try to avoid
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
fidgeting with papers, pens, pointers etc. It’s often acceptable to have one hand in
a pocket (or resting on a desk, holding a card etc) but an equally good idea to use
the free hand to demonstrate to a certain degree. But unless you come from a
Latin-type culture it’s best to avoid anything too dramatic with your hands. Keep in
mind that with your palms towards yourself, you project an image of selfconsciousness, while with your palms turned outwards you are creating a line of
contact with your listeners.

Posture. Without overdoing it, stand straight and tall. Signal that you are worth
listening to. Feet planted firmly and confidently on the ground.

Dress. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie, but you can’t avoid the fact that the
way you are dressed gives a clear indication of your attitude towards this
presentation. So within the limits of your own generation and culture, be smart,
tidy and stylish. In the same way that humour is a risky tool that too often has the
opposite effect of what was intended, so wearing a scruffy cap signals that your talk
shouldn’t be taken seriously.
6. Visual aids.
As a general rule, it’s almost inconceivable that you can talk effectively to a group of
people for more than 5 minutes without using some form of visual aids. There are two main
reasons for using them, and a good talk will usually combine both. First, visual aids
reinforce memory by helping the listener to focus on the main points and the overall
scheme, and secondly they provide variety and relief from the non-stop flow of information.
Visual aids can take many forms, but the most common is slides, either on a data projector
using Powerpoint or on the overhead projector. First-class professional performers can give
a very interesting presentation without using any slides at all, but from your point of view,
if you choose not to use them in your presentation, then your instructor has a right to ask
why you chose to do so.
Here are some key rules for preparing slides:

Keep it short. As a rule of thumb, no more than 5 lines per slide, and rarely more
than 5 words per line. So headlines rather than full grammatical sentences.

Use a large clear font. People at the back of the room need to be able to see it, so
size 16 with boldfacing is probably the absolute minimum.

Don’t overdo colour for text slides. An unobtrusive background colour only, and be
sure the text stands out clearly enough from the background.

Don’t have a huge number of slides. It’s almost always more effective to have
Laurea U.A.S.
Laurea Leppävaara
GUIDELINES
00463 Business Communication Skills
Mike Vollar
August 2008
fewer, and to leave them in view for a bit longer, e.g. a few minutes. If you can cut
out one or more slides, then do so.

When presenting charts or statistics, keep them simple enough to be visually
understandable, and remember to guide the audience in how to look at them. It’s
easy to forget that when seeing statistics for the first time, it takes time to see
their significance.

Risks. It’s amazing how often students turn their back on their audience and start
addressing the talk to the wall or screen. You shouldn’t ever totally break eyecontact with your audience. Another danger is to stand in the light from the
projector, so that a magnified profile of you or your hand – which unfortunately is
trembling slightly from nervousness – is projected for all to admire.
And finally, don’t forget that you are the one who is responsible for the well-functioning of
the equipment you use, and who will pay the price if it doesn’t. A presentation really isn’t
the right forum for learning how to switch on or focus a projector, and even one minute
spent waiting for your computer to boot up and then for Powerpoint to load can be deadly
from the point of view of audience attention. (Only English teachers have the right to stand
helplessly in front of a class and expect someone in the class to come and sort things out for
them!) So get to the room early so you can check things and have everything ready to go
once “the floor is yours”. If the technical aspects are too much for you to handle when
you’re already nervous about the presentation itself, then arrange for an assistant to
change slides and so forth for you. You’ll need to agree on what signals you’re going to give.
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