Guide to Preparing Oral Presentation

Some Guidelines for Preparing an Effective Presentation

A couple of useful websites: .This is a good site, aimed at scientific presentations.  Includes information on making slides and posters, as well as on structuring and delivering talks.  Also has some useful links and other sources. .More corporate than above, but still may be useful.

  1. Planning
  • Find out what the expectations are for the talk that you will be giving.  For example, is it formal or informal, can you expect interruptions for questions, or not?
  • Who is your target audience?  Guest lecture? Visiting seminar? Job interview?
  • How much total time is allotted to your talk?  What is likely to happen if you go over, or if there’s a problem getting started in time?  How much time is allowed for questions?
  • Outline your talk as early as possible.  Give yourself enough time to think about what you want to say, and what resources you will need to prepare.  Give yourself enough time to practice the talk once before making your visual aids.
  • Do at least 3 or 4 practice runs of your presentation, preferably to colleagues, before the actual presentation.
  1. Content and Structure
  • Organize your talk as a complete story, with a logical beginning and a logical ending.
  • Plan a strong, clear beginning and ending.  At the beginning, you want to catch people’s attention, arouse their interest and get them thinking about your topic.  Sometimes a question can do this.  At the end, you want to leave with a clear conclusion.
  • Provide a clear context for your work.  Explain how the material relates to the field as a whole, or how it fits into a broader research program.
  • Identify the objectives and key points of your talk and mention them early in your presentation.  Your audience will be more likely to remember elements of your talk that are presented early versus late in the talk.  Return to the key points near the end of your talk.
  • Explain key concepts that are central to understanding your talk, even if you think most people will know them. The same goes for commonly used techniques or tools in your particular field.  When deciding what to include and what to leave out, use your audience composition as a guide, but also remember that a brief review makes even experts more comfortable and receptive to your message.
  • Make the sequence logical to listen to.  You need not adhere to a strict “intro, materials and methods, results, discussion and conclusions” format.  Especially in a longer talk, with more than one type of result, it may make much more sense to discuss one set of experiments, methods, results and implications, before moving on to the next.
  • Don’t include material that does not relate to your main point, unless there’s a really good reason to (and there usually won’t be…).
  • Consider presenting materials and methods or experimental design as a flowchart rather than a series of text slides/overheads.  This will save time and often adds clarity.
  • Present results clearly and simply.  If you choose to present tables or graphs, make sure they illustrate only the points you want to make.  Be sure to describe axes before stating trends.
  • In the concluding part of your talk, don’t bring up whole new pieces of information.  It may sometimes be appropriate to mention implications for future work, but this should be brief and very clear.  The exception is a job seminar, where it can be appropriate and effective to expand on future directions at the end of the talk.
  1. Presentation
  • Timing is very important.  Practice the talk out loud, more than once to check your timing.  Most people find that they take less time giving the actual talk than they did in rehearsal.  You will have to determine this from experience.  You may want to have a contingency plan for the possibility that you run out of time.  Know in advance what you can skip if you need to.  You will be penalized for exceeding your time limit.
  • Practice in front of a mirror to try to catch distracting mannerisms.  If you tend to speak with your hands in your pockets, then empty out keys or other jingling items.  Don’t try to suppress natural gestures if they’re not unusual.
  • Get to know the room where you’ll be presenting.  Locate the pointer and light switch.  Check the blinds.  Check the alignment of the projector.  Arrange the room to suit yourself (when possible).  For example, if you are planning to stand to the left, move the podium and ask people to move before you start, if you are obstructing their view.
  • Consider starting the talk with the lights on and no slides.
  • Use humour if it comes naturally, and if there’s an appropriate spot for it.  Overuse of humour may detract from your message – the most important aspect of your talk.
  • Don’t assume you can use the question period to finish if you run out of time, or that everyone will stay to allow you to finish.  Plan to end on time.
  • Try to speak as naturally as possible.  Do not read your talk – no matter how good you are at this, it will not seem natural, and you will be forced to look down to keep your place.  If you must, use point form notes in very large writing so you can glance at them easily.  Even better, skip the notes altogether.
  • Don’t bother memorizing a text, though there may be certain sentences that you want to commit to memory.  You want to try to appear natural; as though the talk was just a flowing (one sided) conversation.
  • Always face the audience and make eye contact throughout the room as you speak.  If eye contact is too intimidating, try focusing on eye brows.  Move your glance around the room.  This will help ensure that you project your voice around as well.
  • Speak clearly.  Avoid jargon and slang.
  • Project you voice to the back of the room.  Use a microphone if the room is too big for your voice.
  • If you are right handed, stand to the left of the screen (from your perspective, when facing the audience) and point with the right hand.  In this way, you won’t turn your back on the audience.
  • Use the pointer when you need it.  Be aware that laser pointers will amplify shaky hands.
  • Never apologize for the talk or its components.  The audience will likely never notice a flaw unless you point it out.
  • Acknowledge collaborators if appropriate.  This is often done at the end, but might be better at the beginning
  1. Question Period
  • Try to repeat or paraphrase the questions before answering.  This gives you time to think, and ensures that you, and the rest of the audience have understood the question.
  • Ask the questioner to clarify if you are unsure of the meaning of a question.
  • Don’t interrupt the questioner.
  • Prepare for obvious questions.
  • Be gracious about aggressive or simplistic questions.  Never insult an audience member.  If someone in the audience corrects you or adds to an answer, simply thank them and move on.
  • Don’t bluff an answer – better to admit that you don’t know and say that you will look it up and get back to the person.  If you say this, actually get back to the person.
  • If a question is going on forever and becoming a conversation, offer to discuss it at a later time.
  • Anticipate follow up questions.  If you are unsure if the questioner was trying to lead you somewhere, ask them.

Visual Aids

  • Keep your slides simple, clear and have everything large enough to read.
  • Each slide should make only a single point.
  • An often heard rule of thumb is no more than one slide per minute of talk.  This may vary.
  • The font should be very large (18-24 point minimum)
  • Pick a font with evenly drawn lines (e.g. helvetica, arial) and no decorations (this is called sans serif), but avoid ambiguities in symbols that are important (1 versus l).
  • Pick a single colour scheme for your talk and stick with it.  If you are drawing from existing slides for your talk, make your new slides the same colours.
  • Consider how dark the room will be if you choose a dark colour scheme and there’s no supplemental lighting.
  • Keep text slides concise.  There should be six or fewer lines of text on each slide and no line should have more than seven words.
  • Remember not to use red and green to distinguish key items because some members of your audience may be red-green colour blind.
  • Contrast that looks good on the computer may not show up when projected.  Pay attention to colour schemes that work well in other presentations.
  • Keep graphs and tables simple, with a minimum of extraneous lines and symbols.  The axes of graphs should be legible from the back of a large room.
  • Fill the area of your slide.  Don’t put all of the material in one part of the slide.


An important facet of this course involves peer evaluation.  You are required to fill out evaluation forms for all of the presentations given in this class, and will also be asked to provide oral constructive criticism for some presentations.

Feedback is meant to provide the speaker with guidance on how to improve, as well as indicating positive aspects of the presentation.  Feedback helps the speaker to present material more effectively the next time.

Giving Useful Feedback

  • Use descriptive rather than evaluative language.  For example, it is much easier to be told “the example that you used didn’t help me understand your key point” rather than “your example was poorly chosen”.  Don’t judge the speaker.
  • Be specific rather than general.  For example, “your results would have been easier to understand if you had first stated the hypothesis that you were testing”, rather than “the organization of the talk was not logical”.
  • Consider the needs of the speaker.  They need specific enough information to allow them to improve next time, but they need not be told about a typo that they made while writing on the board.
  • Direct your feedback towards behaviour that the speaker can change.
  • Address any points that the speaker has specifically requested feedback on.
  • When giving oral feedback, speak directly to the speaker, rather than directing your comments to the course coordinators, or the general audience.
  • Present your feedback as your opinion.  For example don’t say “no one could make any sense of that overhead”.
  • Remember to comment on strengths as well as shortcomings.
  • Make one or two important points or suggestions.

Receiving Feedback

  • Acknowledge individual feedback.  For example say “maybe I could empty my pockets before speaking next time so there’s nothing to jingle”.
  • If you want to know if a particular aspect of the presentation worked, specifically ask for feedback.
  • Paraphrase what you have heard if you are unsure of the meaning.
  • Make eye contact with the person providing the feedback.
  • Accept all feedback.  Try not to take anything personally, and don’t get defensive.
  • Focus on the constructive aspects of the criticism, i.e. what can you use to improve your next talk.

SourceInstructional Skills Workshop:  Handbook for participants, produced by the Province of BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology, and the Centre for Curriculum and Professional Development, 1993.