Oral Presentation Guidelines

You need to engage your audience if you are going to convey information effectively during your presentations. Some of the main points to consider are given below. They are mostly rather obvious - basically a matter of common sense. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that they must, therefore, be easy to follow!

1) Don't mumble

Speak slowly and at a volume that will be clearly audible, even at the back of the room.

2) Don't stare down at your feet

Look at your audience while you are speaking. This will allow you to gauge whether they are following what you say. If you are looking out at a sea of puzzled faces then you may need to go back and explain some of the material again.

3) Don't use bad slides or overheads

Do not use small fonts that cannot be easily read from the back of the room. Do not present unlabelled graphs and figures. Do not be tempted to pack too much information into your slides. Large amounts of text are particularly distracting because the audience will try to read this text and listen to you at the same time. They will probably fail in both tasks. Finally, try to avoid red-green combinations that might be a problem for people who are colour-blind.

4) Don't pack too many slides into your talk

It is not really possible to give firm guidelines about the number of slides that is appropriate for a given length of talk. If the necessary information can be very quickly gathered from a single image, then this type of slide need only be up for a short time. However, slides conveying scientific information often require considerable explanation. This information has to be delivered slowly so that it has time to "sink in". In this case, 2-3 minutes per slide might be required.

5) Pitch your talk at the right level for your audience

Explain each slide clearly and don't use too much jargon unless you know that the audience will be familiar with it, and indeed expecting it. If in doubt, it is usually best to pitch your talk at a lower, rather than higher, level.

6) Speak naturally

Giving a talk you will often find that you are nervous. Under these circumstances it is all too easy to either hesitate or talk too quickly. Try to make a conscious effort to pace yourself. Another danger is that you may forget what you were going to say entirely. To avoid this some people write their talks out in their entirety. However, it is difficult to talk naturally when reading word-for-word from a script and it is also difficult to keep an eye on the audience reaction. A useful compromise is to memorise the first couple of lines of your talk. This will get you into the flow and you can then talk in a less scripted way about the remaining material.

7) Rehearse at least once

A practice talk is often an enormous help when it comes to identifying problems and sorting them out.

8) Talk about the right material

Make sure that you clearly convey what it is you intend to do, or what you have done for your summer project. Do not give a great talk about background information only.

P.S. When presenting at the end of the summer do not assume your audience will remember the talk you gave at the start of the summer!