How to Ace Oral Presentations
Posted on May 4, 2018 by Patrick Condliffe
Are you terrified of public speaking? Do your oral task marks hold your grades down? Fear no more! In this post, we will give you a straightforward process for how to ace oral presentations.
We’ll look at the common struggle students encounter and look at a process for you to produce the best oral presentation you can.
Why do Students Struggle with Oral Presentations?
Many students suffer from stage fright and presentation anxiety. Other students either rush through their material too fast, or they are underprepared and try to pad out their speeches with “fluff”. But the real “secret sauce” to any oral presentation is in the preparation:
- Detailed research of your topic;
- Preparation in writing your oral presentation;
- Preparation in revising your oral presentation;
- And preparation in rehearsing your oral presentation.
In this post, we will give you a straightforward process for nailing your oral task. You can break an oral task into three steps:
- Knowledge Preparation;
- Presentation Practice and Presentation Delivery;
- Anxiety Management.
Step 1: Knowledge Preparation
Knowledge preparation is where you do your research, plan out your speech, and then produce your final version.
Here are the eight key rules for researching and writing a killer speech.
1. Know more than is required
Make sure you know your material extremely well. Know more than you need to present. This will, amongst other things, develop your confidence. If you know more than you need to, you will have no difficulty finding things to discuss in your speech.
2. Review the marking criteria
Before you put pen to paper, read the marking criteria so you know what is expected of your for a Band 6 result. The marking criteria explains what you need to address in your presentation.
3. Review your previous oral task feedback
Learning from your past mistakes will help you improve in the future. Before you write the new oral presentation, see what feedback you received from the previous one. This can be broken down into two categories:
- Content: What criticism did you receive about the content of your speech. For examples, your ideas, the structure of your argument, or your use of evidence?
- Presentation: What were you told you could improve about your delivery? For example, could you improve your pacing, eye-contact, or use of palm cards, etc.
4. Determine a word limit
You need to figure out what the ideal pace of your speech is. Most people retain information best at between 100-130 words per minute. You need to decide which pace best suits your delivery. Once you have established this, you need to work out what the ideal length of your speech should be.
For example, if you feel you present best at 120 words/minute and you have to present a four-minute speech, then your word limit is 480 words.
Think about that for a moment, because it is an important limit.
Why do you think is is an important limit?
That’s right, 500 words isn’t much, and less than 500 words give you little room to discuss things. A 480-word limit means that you must be both concise and focused. So, you must only choose one or two things to discuss and only focus on one example for each.
5. Write a snappy introduction
Speeches require you to engage your audience from the first sentence. It is a universal truth that nobody enjoys listening to mundane speeches. Winning your audience over and engaging them early on is essential.
“A clearly engaged audience will also limit your presentation anxiety.”
So, consider beginning with a startling fact, snappy quote, thought-provoking question, or an anecdote to get your audience on-board.
This is a good opportunity to develop a dialogue with your audience.
Remember, asking your audience questions….and then pausing for a moment… will help them digest your ideas.
6. The body of your speech must develop your argument!
Once you’ve presented the overview of your argument you need to get into the nitty-gritty of supporting it.
When writing your body, you must consider what is the logical order of information for your presentation. What does the listener need to be told first to be convinced by your argument? For example, if you are arguing about why sonnets are better love poems than ballads, you would need to give an overview of both poetic forms first, before trying to distinguish between them.
“Don’t be afraid of repetition.”
Repetition is your friend in a speech. Humans are actually pretty poor at retaining information. We think that we are far better listeners than we actually are.
Repeating your key ideas regularly will ensure that your listeners retain this information.
7. Conclude succinctly but strongly
Make sure you present a conclusion. You’re presenting a persuasive argument, to ensure that you persuade your listeners, you must reiterate your key ideas and argument to conclude. Your conclusion will often be the thing foremost in your listeners’ minds once you finish. You need your oral presentation to make an impact and stick in your audience’s mind.
To achieve this stickiness, employ the following structure for a conclusion:
- Reiterate your thesis;
- Summarise the logic of your argument;
- Finish with a statement that you feel best encapsulates your response to the task you were set.
8. Prepare cue cards
Not everyone can speak off the cuff. Some people need memorise speeches and others need cue cards.
If you need the prompts, make sure to produce cue cards well in advance. Some good practices to follow are:
- Clearly number your cards so that you don’t get muddled.
- Use a font size that you can comfortably read at a glance. For example, don’t use a size 6 font because you’ll spend more time squinting at your cards than making eye-contact to engage your audience.
- Organise your cards by ideas.
- Use cards that are a reasonable size to hold. You want to feel confident that you have a back-up to your speech; you don’t want to feel like you are in a Bob Dylan parody video.
- If you are using slides, make note of when you need to change your slides on your cue cards.
Step 2: Presentation Practice and Delivery
Before you start practising your speech, you should listen to or watch some other famous orations. Like anything, watching exemplary speeches will give you a benchmark for your own performance.
Here are some examples that are worth a look for inspiration:
- Michelle Obama, Speech to the 2016 Democratic Convention
- Martin Luther King, I have a Dream
- John F Kennedy, Inauguration address
- Hillary Clinton, Remarks to the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women
Practise! Practise! And then, practise some more!
If you want to nail that speech without a stutter or moment of hesitation, you must rehearse. You need to rehearse to:
- Learn the material thoroughly; and,
- Get your delivery down.
To rehearse properly, first read your speech aloud a few times to learn the material. You want to get a sense of the flow of your argument and make sure that there are no typos or grammatical issues that may trip you up.
Once you’ve done this, practise in front of the mirror with a timer. You need to get your delivery pace correct to match the time-limit and word count of your speech. You should run through your speech 3 or 4 times like this to help build your confidence.
Once you’ve got your confidence you need to get an audience. Grab a parent, sibling or friend, and deliver your speech to them.
Use this as an opportunity to get feedback on your:
- Content: Is the material persuasive? Is it presented in a clear and logical manner?
- Pacing: Is the pacing of your speech appropriate? Are you speaking at the right speed for your audience to absorb your ideas?
- Delivery: Are you speaking at the right volume? Are you making eye contact enough and not staring at your cue cards all the time? Are you being animated using your body language or you moving too much? (remember, you need to be animated and engaging to watch, but you are not doing an interpretive dance).
The 4 Must-Dos of presenting
- Eye contact: Look directly into the audience and focus on one or two faces to begin with. If you feel particularly nervous, try continually glancing around the room.
- Engage your audience: Use hand gestures and body positioning to accentuate a particular point. Use your body to express enthusiasm and energy.
- Don’t apologise: If you make a mistake, simply continue without apologizing or laughing. Resist apologising for nervousness, as it is often undetectable by the audience.
- Answer questions: This gives your audience a better opportunity to engage with your ideas and understand your thinking. If you are required to answer questions following your presentation, make sure you do the following:
- Acknowledge the person asking the question,
- Let them complete their question before jumping in,
- Rephrase the question to indicate you have understood what they’re asking, and respond by making eye contact with the questioner first before addressing the audience.
- Pay attention to the body language of the questioner and audience to make sure they understand your answer, and elaborate or your answer if they aren’t following your answer.
Step 3: Conquering Presentation Anxiety
The biggest challenge for many during their presentation is keeping in control and keeping a lid on anxiety. Fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is one of the most common phobias around the world. If you are uncomfortable speaking in public, you are not alone. Below are some useful strategies for staying calm and remaining in-control.
Relaxing before your speech will help you remain calm during it.
One relaxation strategy that you can try right before your presentation is progressive muscle relaxation. In fact, this can be done by tightening a particular muscle in your body, holding it tight for five seconds and then slowly releasing it, focusing your mind on the relaxation of the muscle. Repeat this move with other muscles.
Alternatively, you can also try the ‘4-2-4 breath’ technique, which involves inhaling to a count of four, holding to a count of two and exhaling to a count of four.
Recognise self-doubt and negative self-talk
Firstly, don’t let negative thoughts take hold. Conquer them first by recognising them for what they are.
Additionally, challenge negative thoughts by considering what evidence you have that the thought is true and then replace these unfounded negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Think about what you would say to a friend in the same situation and/or visualise a positive scenario occurring.
Write down what you are worried about and try to address each concern or consider whether it would be as catastrophic as you believe if it were to come true.
Find an aspect of your speech that you’re really proud of and focus on that part as you work through your presentation.
Are you ready to go slay in-class? Do you really think so?
Well, let’s make sure.
Below is the Oral Presentation Checklist you should follow to guarantee that you have this in the bag.
Part of Speech
|Knowledge Preparation||Does my speech:
|Delivery Practice||During practice, I:
If you need to produce a multimodal presentation, you should take the time to read Part 10 of our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English.
Do you lack confidence presenting?
- Find out how Matrix English Courses have helped hundreds of students ace their oral presentations by teaching how to write and deliver insightful presentations. Book a free trial lesson!
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