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Training students to give effective presentation

The second hallmark of O courses at UH reads: "Each student will receive explicit training, in the context of the class, in oral communication concerns relevant to the assignment or activity." In thinking about the particular elements of oral communication activities that you would like to offer students training in, we offer below nine steps that students can follow so that their oral communication presentation is successful. Any or all of these offer topics on which students can be given explicit instructions, opportunities to practice behaviors, and so on. These nine steps are especially relevant to formal presentations, the most common type of oral communication activity practiced in OC courses at UH, but many of the pointers are also useful for in-class discussions, debates, and other kinds of OC assignments.

At the end of this section, we offer some thoughts about helping students to self-evaluate and overcome any fear of public speaking.

Steps to effective oral communication: Typical steps students should follow when preparing to give an oral presentation

Step 1. Determine general purpose
Step 2. Analyze the audience
Step 3. Determine the specific purpose
Step 4. Research the presentation
Step 5. Organize and outline the presentation
Step 6. Prepare visual aids
Step 7. Rehearse the presentation
Step 8. Deliver the presentation to the class
Step 9. Self assess the presentation

Step 1. Determine general purpose

First, either assign or have students decide on the general purpose of their oral presentation: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain or move an audience.

Oral Communication Foundations & Impromptu Speaking (PowerPoint presentation)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Then, you can help your students by pointing out that effective oral communicators are concerned with three elements: (1) content; (2) organization and (3) delivery of messages.

  • Content is the actual information that is conveyed in an oral presentation.

  • Organization is how the presentation is structured, including the organizational pattern as well as the inclusion of an introduction, body, and conclusion to the message.

  • Delivery includes the verbal and nonverbal means by which the message is conveyed to the audience.

Step 2. Analyze the audience

Communicators often say things they regret or that are not well-received by audiences simply because the communicator failed to properly analyze his or her audience before speaking. Students must analyze their audience in order to tailor their message to that audience.

Speakers analyze their audience prior to a presentation so she/he can determine the knowledge level of an audience as well as factors such as likes and dislikes, attitudes, values, and so on. Speakers should also analyze demographic characteristics of an audience such as sex, age, ethnicity, religion, political affiliations, and so on. In short, a speaker should gather as much information as possible prior to giving a presentation, so that she or he presents the most useful, relevant information possible and avoids offending or embarrassing audience members during the presentation.

A speaker analyzes an audience by making observations of audience members prior to the presentation, or by having audience members complete a questionnaire that includes demographic and attitudinal information. Information about audience members in a particular organization can be provided by a contact person in the organization or from the organizationís Web site.

Audience Analysis (PowerPoint presentation, 5 slides)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 3. Determine the specific purpose

While a general purpose is to inform, to persuade, or to entertain or move an audience, a specific purpose indicates the thesis, or the specific content, of a presentation. For example, you may ask your students to give an informative presentation on the work of an eminent architect. The general purpose is to inform, and the specific purpose might be to provide the audience with information about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The specific purpose narrows the topic and focuses the presentation. The specific purpose should be stated in the presentation so the audience knows exactly what to expect.

Informative Speaking (PowerPoint presentation)

Persuasive Speaking (PowerPoint presentation)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 4. Research the presentation

Students should gather facts, figures, examples, testimony, and so on to present to their audience. This information is gathered, for example, from library sources, the Internet, interviews, periodicals.

Establishing Your Credibility & Presenting Evidence (PowerPoint presentation, 10 slides)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 5. Organize and outline the presentation

After gathering information regarding the topic of the presentation, students should organize the information. This requires determining an appropriate organizational pattern and dividing the information into major points.

Presentations can be organized chronologically, topically, spatially (how things relate to one another by location or position), or by cause-effect or problem-solution patterns. Typically, presentations contain two to five major points.

It is helpful to have students prepare written outlines of their presentations, including an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

The introduction of a presentation outline usually includes some type of device to gain the attention of the audience, such as a story, an anecdote, a quotation, or a question for the audience to think about or to answer aloud. Also in the introduction is the thesis or specific purpose statement, which is typically a single declarative sentence. Finally, it is helpful to include a sentence which previews each of the major points to be included in the body of the presentation.

The body of the presentation outline includes the major points and sub-points or details to be covered in the presentation.

The conclusion of the presentation outline includes a summary of the major points covered and a statement that concludes the presentation smoothly. Preparation of a concluding statement helps students avoid an awkward ending to the presentation.

Sample: Oral Presentation Outline Format for Students

Organizing (PowerPoint presentation)

Outlining (PowerPoint presentation)

Introductions & Conclusions (PowerPoint presentation)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 6. Prepare visual aids

It is useful to have visual representations of material in a presentation. Visual aids make a presentation more clear, interesting, and memorable. Visual aids help a speaker capture the attention of the audience and also make the presentation more understandable to the audience.

Types of visual aids that students may use include PowerPoint, overhead transparencies, videotapes or DVDs, objects, models, drawings, people, slides, maps, photographs and charts or graphs.

Since the purpose of using visual aids is to enhance a presentation by providing a visual representation, it is important that students follow some basic rules in using visual aids:

  • Visual aids should be substantive. Visual aids should add to the presentation

  • Visual aids should be easily seen by the audience. Words, charts, photos, and so on need to be large enough so that everyone in the room can see them. Visual aids that are too small to see do not add to a presentation; indeed, they compromise the credibility of the speaker.

  • Speakers should not obstruct the audienceís view of the visual aids. If a speaker displays visual aids on a screen in front of the room, he/she should not stand in front of the screen.

  • Maintain eye contact while using the visual aids. In other words, talk to the audience, not to the visual aid.

  • Explain the visual aids. A speaker cannot assume that the audience will understand the visual aids; interpret and explain the visual aids.

  • Do not pass objects among the audience. Speakers sometimes do this so that audience members can get a closer look at the object. However, if the object was too small, the speaker should not have used it. Passing objects among the audience is distracting. It would be better for the speaker to invite audience members to look at the objects after the presentation, or after class.

  • Use handouts appropriately. Unless a speaker will refer to a handout throughout the presentation, it is best to wait until after the presentation to distribute handouts. Audience members can become distracted by reading the handout rather than listening to the speaker.

  • Use appropriate visual aids. Dangerous or illegal visual aids should be avoided.

  • Practice the presentation with the visual aids. Students should prepare visual aids well enough in advance so they can practice their presentation with them. This will give the students a good indication of how long it will take to display and discuss the visual aids during the actual presentation in class.

  • Learn how to use the equipment in the classroom. It is helpful to emphasize to students the importance of planning visual aids in advance and making sure they know how to use any electronic or computer equipment ahead of time.

Many classrooms at UHM contain computers and other electronic equipment, and include instructions for using the equipment. To determine what equipment your classroom has, see the UHM Center for Instructional Support Web site: www.cis.hawaii.edu

Visual Aids (PowerPoint presentation)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 7. Rehearse the presentation

It is helpful for students to rehearse their presentations many times before delivering the presentation to the class. The best way to do so is for students to practice the presentation from beginning to end (from introduction to concluding statement), following their outline and incorporating their visual aids.

If you have given students a time limit for the presentation (e.g. 10-12 minutes), encourage them to time their presentation when they practice. Students often think that five minutes is a very long time to speak in front of the class, and are quite surprised to learn that their presentation was actually 15 minutes long!

Delivery & Nonverbal Cues (PowerPoint presentation, 7 slides)

PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft - download free viewer if you do not have PowerPoint software.

Step 8. Deliver the presentation to the class

Finally, students are ready to give their presentations to the class. There are various modes of delivery, and it is helpful to direct students to use the most appropriate mode for the situation.

A manuscript mode of delivery involves writing a presentation word-for-word and reading the presentation to the audience. It is used when a speaker needs to be very precise in what she/he says. For example, the President of the United States primarily uses a manuscript mode so as not to say something inappropriate or inaccurate.

A memorized mode of delivery involves writing a presentation word-for-word and reciting the presentation from memory. It is used for shorter presentations, such as introducing a speaker or delivering a toast or a eulogy.

An impromptu mode of delivery involves very little or no preparation or practice time. It is used for "on-the-spot" presentations such as participating in class, giving directions to someone on the street, or for presenting results of in-class activities.

An extemporaneous mode of delivery involves thorough preparation and practice and is conversational in style. It is used for most types of in-class presentations because it allows students to use notes while they speak and allows for flexibility during a presentation. For example, if a student is presenting from a manuscript, he/she cannot adapt to audience feedback by deviating from their script. With extemporaneous delivery, students can adjust the complexity or the length of their message to fit the situation at hand. Perhaps the best argument for an extemporaneous mode of delivery is that it is conversational and therefore more interesting for the audience to listen to.

It is important to look at various aspects of delivery when evaluating a speaker: Gestures and movement, vocal variety, eye contact, and use of visual aids.

Gestures and movement. Speakers should be encouraged to move about the room as they speak, rather than standing behind a podium or lectern for the entire presentation. This movement makes the presentation more interesting to listen to, creates a more immediate environment in which the physical and psychological distance between the speaker and the audience is lessened, and also helps a speaker channel their nervous energy. A moderate amount of movement is best; more movement than simply standing in one place but not so much movement that it seems the speaker is pacing during the entire presentation. Gestures should not be planned but rather should occur naturally as a speaker delivers her/his presentation.

Vocal variety: Vocal variety includes tone of voice, the rate at which we speak, pitch, volume, proper pronunciation, articulation, and the use of pauses. Effective vocal variety is crucial to effective delivery. We are all familiar with speakers who talk so fast that their words become jumbled, or those who talk so slow and monotone that they put us to sleep.

Speakers should avoid using filled pauses such as "um," "uh," "like," and "you know." Speakers often vocalize pauses because they are uncomfortable with even a second of silence while standing before an audience. Emphasize to students that unfilled pauses are perfectly acceptable and can be used to emphasize important points in a presentation (e.g. the dramatic pause).

Eye contact and facial expression. Eye contact with an audience makes a speaker seem more believable and trustworthy and it also helps speakers gauge audience feedback. Speakers can use facial expressions to convey their feelings, attitudes and emotions. Appropriate facial expressions make a speaker more interesting to listen to and enhance a speakerís credibility.

Step 9. Self assess the presentation

In our public speaking courses, student presentations are videotaped and the students watch the tape and write a self-evaluation of their performance. Even if videotaping is not possible, it is useful to have students reflect in some way on their presentation - the strengths of the presentation as well as things to work on for the next presentation.

Sample: Self Evaluation Form for Students

Fear of public spekaing

Many students suffer communication apprehension (CA) -- "a fear or anxiety associated with communicating" (Richmond & McCroskey, 1998). CA is quite common, especially when it comes to public speaking. Highly apprehensive students are hesitant to take courses where oral communication is a component, and do so only if they need to fulfill certain requirements for their major and/or graduation.

CA is experienced not only in public speaking, but in any oral communication situation such as interpersonal communication, meetings, small group communication, talking on the phone, employment interviews, and so on. CA is experienced differently by everyone. Some people are not apprehensive about communicating regardless of the situation.

Students can assess their level of apprehension in different settings by completing the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA-24) (McCroskey, 1982).

Personal Report of Communication Apprehension - web format

Personal Report of Communication Apprehension - Acrobat (PDF) format for easy printing

Here are a few tips for highly apprehensive students to help them deal with their fear of oral communication:

  • Prepare thoroughly. Outline the presentation and practice it several times before delivering the presentation to an audience.

  • Speak about a familiar topic. It is much easier to speak on topics that we already know about, rather than trying to tackle unfamiliar territory. Students sometimes choose topics because they know they can find a great deal of information on that topic. However, it is best to stick with topics that interest you and that are familiar.

  • Realize that you are not alone. Most people are apprehensive about speaking in public and just as nervous as everyone else about giving a class presentation.

  • Focus on getting the message across to the audience rather than on what the audience is thinking of you as a speaker. Realize that you feel more nervous than you actually look. The audience is focused on listening to your message, not on how nervous you look.

  • Use positive visualization. It is helpful to imagine yourself giving a successful presentation to an appreciative audience. Negative thoughts and doubts increase anxiety, whereas positive visualization makes you feel more comfortable and confident.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. It is helpful to manage speaking anxiety by using techniques such as deep-breathing, exercise, meditation, or yoga. Students may want to take a walk across campus before a presentation, for example.

  • Use visual aids in your presentation. Students report that using visual aids is helpful in managing anxiety. This is because the attention is diverted from the speaker to the visual aids and also because visual aids give the speaker something to work with while they speak. This gives the speaker something to do with their hands and helps to channel nervous energy.

  • Practice. The more a speaker practices, the more familiar he/she is with the information and the more comfortable he/she will be during the actual presentation. The value of practice cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to giving class presentations.


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