Drew University On-Line Resources for Writers

 Making Presentations                            
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  Key features of a successful presentation
  Presentation skills in daily life   Presentation skills after college
  Presentation Organization
  Using PowerPoints--what to include
  Using PowerPoints--what NOT to include
  Writing the presentation
  Making the presentation
  Peer Editing Presentations
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WARNING:  Good presentations are harder to write than you may think -- bad ones are easy!

 Presentation skills in college

Many of your college classes will require you to present your work and while that might seem easy, there are a few tricks that will make it easier.  Presentations require a number of different writing skills, including summary and synthesis. They also require oral skills, organization, and a good sense of audience. These days, many students use visual aids such as PowerPoint as part of their presentations, so you may also need visual design skills and technical skills, but the key is the information itself. The links below will help you master the various elements of presentation writing that you may be required of you in college.

 Presentation skills in daily life

While you may not be asked to give a PowerPoint lecture in your community, you may be called upon to speak in your place of worship, or at a town council, planning committee, or school board meeting. You may also be asked to give a presentation of your work to an organization that has given you a scholarship, grant, or loan. Or you maybe invited back to your high school to tell them about college or to recruit for your college. The skills developed for college presentations apply to these situations as well.  

 Presentation skills after college
Whether you are selling products, ideas, or yourself, the presentation skills you learn in college are essential for life after college. Politicians, CEOs, lawyers, and those involved in media and entertainment are only as successful as their presentation skills. Whether you are pitching a story idea, a product, or a skill you are making a presentation. While each environment will have its own conventions and each audience will have specific expectations, it is still the case that basic presentation skills will win the day. 

 The key features of a Presentation
A successful presentation delivers information clearly and in a way the audience understands. Presenters must therefore
  1. organize their material in such a way that it seems to tell a story of some kind, whether it is how they conducted their research or developed their ideas, or how people will use or learn about a product or story;
  2. arrange their material so that listeners can make the connections the presenters want them to make;
  3. select examples that add to the presentation and help listeners gain a concrete sense of the idea;
  4. name experts/sources where relevant;
  5. provide visual aids that support the presentation rather than making it for them (this is really important, do not put our whole talk up on the slides);
  6. practice delivery so that it is smooth, clear, and engaging--and runs for the correct amount of time.

 Presentation organization
Obviously, presentations must be well-organized because the listener cannot re-read or look back at an outline to understand the point. Many people advise students to think of a presentation like a story.  Sharon Hall, at Colorado College suggests:
Tell a story. Even adults love to hear stories that have a beginning, middle, and an end. In the beginning, story-tellers introduce their characters (the issue), they give us some general information about the characters and their situation (background about the issue), and include foreshadowing that lets us know where the story is going (thesis statement or scientific question). In the middle, the story-teller brings these characters into a new situation that involves action and consequence (experimental design, evidence, data, arguments). In the end, the story-teller resolves the situation and tells us what happens to the characters in the future (solutions, what do we do from here).
[You can read what else she says at: http://faculty1.coloradocollege.edu/~shall/EV421/Presentation.html]
Whether your presentation adopts a story-structure, or simply follows the outline below, it should be planned to help listeners follow you easily. You might prefer the following outline or a variation of it:
  • State the issue (topic, thesis, problem);
  • Briefly outline what you will say about it (your argument and the examples or evidence);
  • Describe the background to the issue or your decisions to explore it;
  • Present your first example, piece of evidence, data, etc.;
  • Provide a smooth transition by reminding us how this relates to the topic and how it connects with your next example;
  • Present your second example, piece of evidence, data, etc.;
  • Provide a smooth transition by reminding us how this relates to the topic and how it connects with your next example;
  • Continue this pattern for the rest of the presentation (although you should generally not include too much evidence or you will overwhelm your audience. It is generally better to provide a few excellent examples than to present all of the examples or evidence available;
  • Finally, remind us of your argument again and explain how your work addresses it and also fits into the larger discussion of the topic. You might suggest further research, ways that your work could be applied to similar situations, or consequences of your findings. You could also connect your finding to your own life, experience, or plans; or those of your audience.

  Using PowerPoints in presentations--what to include

The most boring presentations consist of the presenter reading from bulleted slides. Don't do that unless you are addressing an audience of people who are having difficulty sleeping and your goal is to solve their problems. The slides should be a visual aid, helping listeners to catch your main ideas or visualize them. Here are some general guidelines of what to consider including:
  • Slides with bulleted text should not include more than three or four points, and you should discuss each point in some detail in your presentation;
  • If you use names with difficult spelling or unfamiliar terminology, include that information on slides so that listeners can make notes;
  • If you read an importation quotation that is more than three lines long, include that on a slide so that listeners can read along--written text is generally harder to follow than spoken presentations, so being able to read along with you will help them follow what is being said. This is especially important if the quotation is a definition that is central to your argument;
  • Time-lines, family trees, diagrams, maps, and other visuals should each have their own slide and be kept as simple as possible;
  • Images that relate to your point can enliven a presentation, allowing audience members to picture people, places, objects, and concepts and thereby be more engaged with your presentation;
  • Images can also be conceptual--you might show various images of mothers and children (human or animal) if you are talking about maternal/mothering issues; you can include images of nature if you are discussing the environment; or of poverty or wealth if you are discussing the economy. These images work well as background or transitional images, but do not overdo them;
  • Don't forget to cite all of your sources, ideally on the slide but definitely also in the notes section of the slide

Using PowerPoints in presentations--what NOT to include
We use PowerPoints to support a presentation, not to make it for us or to totally distract us from what is being said. For this reason, it is important to consider your slides carefully and remember the sage advice that "less is more." The following guidelines might help as you decide what not to include:
  • While sounds, dancing words, and phrases that bounce into the slide from various locations making various noises as they do so may be fun, they are not professional and they generally do more to distract your reader than inform. As a rule of thumb, only use movement or sound in embedded video or MP3s, or to deliberately pause between ideas and repeat key points--think of these as transition slides intended to step outside of the presentation for a moment. Do not overuse them!
  • Do not use images  just for decoration--these confuse the eye and distract listeners as they try to see how the image relates to what you have to say;
  • Do not use hard to read fonts--those with serif (the little bars at the top of "d," "h" and "b" and the lines at the base of "f" "m" and "r") such as Times New Roman (this one) are better as they help us to follow what we read, although if you do not use many words, a sans serif font can be fine and may be more aesthetically pleasing (Comic, Arial, and Skia are sans serif fonts);
  • Do not use fonts that are too small--fonts and images need to be large enough to be seen from the back of the room;
  • Do not use hard to see color schemes (yellow or pink on a white background for example), and do not put red and green together as people who are color blind will not be ale to distinguish the difference. Some people suggest using a light color on a solid dark background;
  • Do not use "busy" backgrounds or images with words over them unless the images are very subtle, ideally in shades of grey;
  • Do not use too many slides, allow them to stay up a while and support your words.

  Writing the presentation

You may find it helpful to write out what you will say on note cards, or to make an outline. If you are using a PowerPoint presentation you will find it helpful to print out the slides in "handout" format so you can remember the order. In this format, you can make notes next to each slide to help you remember what you intend to say, and when to change slides.  Do not try to read from a paper. Some academic conferences still use this method of presentation, but it is hard to follow and tends not to engage listeners. Instead, make an outline, practice, and use prompts to keep you focused.

  Making the presentation

You will probably be nervous, so you may want to do a few relaxation exercises before a presentation, or at least breath in and out as deeply and slowly as possible for a few minutes before it is your turn to speak. The following tips might be useful:
  • Make eye contact with your audience as much as you can;
  • Talk in your normal voice but a little louder than usual so that your voice reaches the back of the room (ask if people can hear you if you're not sure--this can be a good way to relate to your audience and make them feel that you want to engage them);
  • Speak slightly slower than usual so that people can follow your ideas (again, it is okay to ask if you are speaking slowly enough--see above);
  • Talk TO your audience as if you were talking to individual people, you might find it helpful to look frequently at a friend to focus you;
  • Never talk to your slides or poster; point to what is relevant and then turn back to your audience before speaking;
  • Explain complicated images, charts, and graphs before talking about their significance (and ask people if they can see the image from the back of the room if you are unsure--see above);
  • Practice your presentation so you can deliver it with some confidence and without too many pauses, "you knows," and "ums";
  • Practice you presentation in front of friends to see how long it takes and to help you get over your nerves (you may want to tape record yourself and play it back to hear how you sound or even videotape yourself);
  • Finally, try to be enthusiastic about the topic as this will enliven your audience (don't overdo this though!). Humor is okay, to a point--like the otherwise distracting images it can help you move from point to point and can help to reinforce a point as the change in style and tone will catch your audience's attention.


Checking your own presentation or that of your peers
Listen to the presentation carefully and answer the following questions:
  • What do you like best about your peer's presentation?  (Why?  How might he or she do more of it?)
  • Is it clear what is being argued or what the topic of the presentation is? (Write out what you think it is)
  • Did the presenter talk loud enough to be heard at the back of the room? (If some parts were too quiet, make a note of which parts they were)
  • Did the presenter articulate his or her words clearly enough for everyone to follow? (Make a note of any parts that were unclear)
  • Did the presenter talk slowly enough for everyone to follow? (If some parts were faster, make a note of which parts they were)
  • Did the presenter make eye contact with the audience and seem to be talking to you? (If not, where in the presentation did this happen?)
  • Were they any moments when you could not follow the organization of the presentation--where the transition failed? (If so, where?)
  • Were they any moments when you could not understand how the examples or evidence fit the overall point of the presentation? (If so, where?)
  • Did your peer include any unimportant or distracting details in his or her presentation? (If so, which ones fit this description?)
  • Was the overall presentation engaging and lively? (If not, how might your peer improve this aspect of the presentation?)
  • If the presentation included a PowerPoint or other visuals, could you see them easily?
  • If the presentation included a PowerPoint or other visuals, could you see how they related to the presentation?
  • If the presentation included a PowerPoint or other visuals, did they support the overall presentation or distract from it? (Give specific examples)
  • Can you think of any additional images, visuals, or documents that might strengthen the presentation?
  • If the presentation was too long, can you suggest areas that might be cut or condensed?
  • Do you have any other advice or observations?

Additional resources

                               On-line Resources for  Writers        Composition at Drew         Drew University

Sandra Jamieson, Drew University. 2006
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