Rhetoric and Composition/Oral Presentations
Oral presentations use many of the same techniques that are used in rhetorical writing. Planning your topic, researching, editing, reviewing, and revision are all important steps in producing a good oral presentation; the same as they are when writing an essay or research paper.
The best way to ensure that your speech is a success is to have enthusiasm for your topic and to give yourself adequate time to develop that enthusiasm into a workable talk.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Methods of Presenting Your Speech
- 3 Do's and Don'ts
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 External Links
Once your topic has been decided upon and research is underway, it's time to think about how you plan to present your information.
Of the several angles that need to be addressed in regards to delivering a speech, the most important thing to keep in mind is, "Who is my audience?" Never underestimate the importance of knowing your audience.
If you're planning to present information about new advances in interactive role-playing games on the Internet to a group of senior citizens, chances are you will need to use different terminology and examples than you would with a college-age audience composed of aspiring Software Engineers. If your audience can't understand what you're trying to say, you'll find it much harder to accomplish your objective.
This brings us to consideration number two: what is the purpose of your speech? Is it a call to action? Strictly to inform? To persuade? Just as you will adjust your language for various audiences, so will you use different rhetorical strategies to achieve different goals.
In tandem with keeping your information audience-appropriate and on topic, your decision to use visual aids such as Powerpoint, charts, or any kind of props (in the case of demonstration presentations) will have a sizable impact on your audience, and as such should be given careful thought.
A question that you may want to ask yourself is, "How do I want to present the information?" You might want to give a bare-bones speech, have a Powerpoint presentation, or use exhibits to add character to your information. You also may ask, "How much information can I present in the allotted amount of time?" Sometimes starting a speech with something everyone can relate to helps to ease in the audience and make them more interested in what you will be discussing. Be sure to "trim the fat" off of your presentation if you are strapped for time. If you are running far over the amount of time that you have been allotted, you may need to re-assess your information and further narrow your scope. One of the most important things you should ask yourself is, "What ideas and thoughts do I want to leave the audience with?" These are the key points that you want to center your presentation around.
Knowing your audience gives you the key to gain and hold their attention, which is a central task for any presenter. Use your knowledge of the audience's demographics to draw them into the presentation from the very first sentence. By knowing what sorts of examples and illustrations you can use to make the contents of your presentation relevant and interesting, you have unlocked the door to understanding and persuasion.
Ways of Beginning a Speech
When you begin your presentation, you want the audience to feel interested and invested in what you have to share. The more interested you get them right off the bat, the more they are going to pay attention throughout the rest of the presentation. This can be done in a multitude of ways, but it is important to remember to keep your introduction relatively short; wordy introductions can lose your audience before you actually get to the speech itself. It is also important to remember that whatever opening line you choose, you must connect it to the content of your speech.
The use of quotations is a tried-and-true way of introducing a subject--if it is done correctly. Here is an example using Albert Einstein:
Startling statistics might help to open the eyes of your audience. Here is an example concerning incarceration rates:
Sharing a personal experience is an effective, but risky way of opening an oral presentation. Use this option only if it's the right fit for your audience. For example, if you are presenting to a group of Video Game Design students at your school on the topic of fun game play elements, you might use a personal experience like this:
Using a joke to start a presentation is often a good idea. You just better hope that your audience thinks it's funny! In most cases, this means keep your joke clean. Also, try to make the joke pertain to the subject you are presenting on. Here is an example that you might use when doing a presentation on football:
If the presentation is more formal, you may just want to give an overview of the main topics you will cover in your speech. Here is an example using college dropouts:
Methods of Presenting Your Speech
When it comes time to present your speech, there are several methods of delivery to choose from. In most cases, your subject matter will be the main criteria for deciding whether to read verbatim, memorize your script, or work from cue cards. In the case of a scholarly presentation with an extensive amount of detail, you may choose to write out your speech and deliver it as written. If your goal is to persuade your audience through high-energy speaking and eloquent prose, you may choose to script and memorize your argument. When introducing an informal topic with which you are familiar, you may find that index cards and an outline will suffice. No matter which way you choose to present your speech, you need to be prepared!
Written preparation can include notecards or a fully spelled-out speech. In any case, it is essential that as a speaker, you provide clear talking points and transitions for your audience. When you write an essay, your audience or readers have the advantage of clearly seeing your paragraph, section, and page breaks; when you speak to an audience, you must recreate this experience verbally. To provide a recent example, President Barack Obama is known for numbering his extemporaneous responses to questions from the press or during election debates. When outlining a proposed solution, he will clearly mark its steps with one, two, and three. This rhetorical strategy is effective in helping his audience easily follow his logic and responses; though you can opt to use transitions that are somewhat more subtle, never forget that your audience cannot see the progression of your argument and you must visually outline it for them.
Writing the content of your speech out word for word may be appropriate for certain situations. For instance, when you are presenting critical facts or statistics, having the data at your fingertips helps to prevent errors. While misquoting information might sound like a minor offense, under certain circumstances it can have grave repercussions, such as being sued for slander. Though in most cases incorrect information will only confuse your listeners and embarrass you, it's good to remember that such mistakes won't be tolerated in many professions, including law and politics.
The drawback to a scripted speech is that the audience will almost certainly know that you are reading word for word. This has several drawbacks, including decreased eye contact and stilted delivery, both of which leech power away from your presentation and tend to create a feeling of disconnect between the listeners and the speaker.
If giving a manuscript speech is necessary, practice is the best way to avoid a bad presentation. By reading your speech aloud several times, you will become more comfortable with the rhythm and inflections of your writing. Make sure that you are thinking about where and when you can make eye contact with your audience to underscore your points and add emphasis to important parts of your speech. Particularly with a written speech, you can add visual cues to your speech to remind you when to look up or emphasize a certain point.
When a presenter memorizes a speech, it's basically a manuscript speech minus the paper. Memorizing a speech can improve eye contact with an audience. Body language may also improve because the speaker has more freedom to move about the area, since papers/notes will not be used.
A problem posed by memorizing a speech arises when the presenter forgets the speech. This can cause an embarrassing, awkward situation and make the speaker appear inept. Plus, the speaker's tone tends to sound artificial and rehearsed.
If you choose to memorize a speech, you might want to have a sparse outline with you just to remind yourself of your talking points.
An extemporaneous speech (extemp speech) is delivered from a prepared outline or note cards. The outline and/or note cards include the main ideas and arguments of the speech. The only information that is typically copied word for word are quotes. Outlines and note cards should be used for keeping the presentation organized and for reminding the presenter what information needs to be provided.
Extemp speaking has many advantages compared to the other methods of delivery.
For one, an extemporaneous speech sounds spontaneous because the presenter is not reading word for word. Glancing at an outline or a note card that has key ideas listed allows the presenter to add detail and personality to the information being presented.
Second, similar to memorized speaking, eye contact and body language can increase. The speaker’s head is not down, buried in a manuscript.
Third, the speaker is able to take in audience feedback and respond to it as it occurs. An audience tends to change moment by moment, and a good speaker can tell when more or less detail is needed for different parts of the presentation.
In order to ensure an extemporaneous speech’s strength, it is important to practice presenting with the outline or note cards being used. Inexperienced speakers tend to worry that they will forget important information if they do not write it out on their outline/note card.
Practicing your speech, even if it's just to your pet or mirror, will help increase your confidence level in both delivery and knowledge of the subject.
Do's and Don'ts
Now that you have familiarized yourself with the various methods of preparing and delivering oral presentations, it's time to discuss the best way to present your information. You may be familiar with Marshall McLuhan's adage "the medium is the message." Don't forget that in the case of an oral presentation, you ARE the medium. In other words, no matter how well-researched and cunningly written, your speech will only be as professional as your look and manner suggest it is. Your appearance and delivery are just as important as the content of your presentation.
You've no doubt heard this from your high school guidance counselor, your parents, and a dozen brochures about successfully interviewing for employment, but it bears repeating: First impressions are important. It is imperative that you dress to impress. For most situations in which you will be delivering an oral presentation, this means "Business Casual."
For men, business casual usually consists of a button-front shirt, tie, dress slacks, and dress shoes (blazer is optional). Men should also be clean-shaven or else properly groom their facial hair. For women, business casual includes a button-front shirt (or professional-looking sweater or top- on this point, women tend to have more business casual options than men), dress pants or skirt (of appropriate length), and dress shoes. Both men and women should take care not to expose too much skin.
If the speech will be presented before an audience that will be dressed formally, wear a suit. You should try to get plenty of sleep the night before your presentation, so that you will be fresh and well rested. Before approaching the podium, take a quick look in the mirror--Hair tidy? Teeth clean? Tie straight? Under no circumstances should hats or anything that obstructs eye contact with the audience be worn.
As with other elements of public speaking, consider what your particular audience will expect of you. In some cases, dressing casually is entirely appropriate; in others, only a suit (for women and men) is acceptable.
Delivering The Message
When speaking to the audience, act poised and confident, even if that's not how you feel on the inside. Some of the most common "tells" that a person is ill at ease include fidgeting, throat clearing, and speaking too rapidly. Stand up straight and stay relatively still--don't shift your weight from foot to foot. Keep your hands quiet, and avoid putting them in your pockets. Also, try to prevent yourself from adjusting your shirt or glasses or from playing with your notecards, hair, or writing utensils. Concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and even, and try to relax. Most importantly, make eye contact with the audience, not the floor. You should be as confident in your vocal delivery as you are in your posture. Avoid saying "Um", "Uh", or "Like". These words make you seem uncertain, unprepared, and undermine your credibility. Vary the tone of your voice and talk at a steady, conversational rate. Last, but not least, do not chew gum or suck on candy while speaking. If you're afraid that your mouth will go dry, it is acceptable to have a small glass of water at hand to sip discreetly.
Again, the most important preparation you can do is to practice your speech several times to a mirror, your pet, a friend, or family member. The more comfortable you feel with your material, the more confident you will be when presenting it to an audience.
Leaving the audience with a bang is necessary in order to ensure a lasting impression. Remember, the last thing presented tends to be what the audience remembers the best. The ending of a speech can be as important as the beginning and body. The conclusion should do what the introduction did, except in reverse.
Ways of Ending a Speech
After completing the presentation, the presenter should summarize the main points again without repeating verbatim what was said in the introduction. After that, you want to "Wow" your audience again with one of the techniques for introducing your speech. This can include: a quotation, a startling statistic, a personal experience, a joke, or a formal closure. Particularly if you are presenting persuasive information, you may want to end your speech with a call to action. What are you asking of your audience? What can they do after listening to your speech? Finally, asking for questions is a good way to minimize any confusion that the audience might have or bring to light any relevant connections which you may have overlooked.
Thank Your Audience
While this is one of the most important things to do at the end of a presentation, it is also one of the most forgotten things. Remember that the audience has given up their time to listen to you. They could have been anywhere else in the world doing anything they wanted to do, but they were there with you. You should appreciate that. An example of thanking your audience could look like this:
- General Information and Advice
- Managing Nervousness During Oral Presentations
- An Online Handbook
- Presentation Tips for Public Speaking