Chapter 12: Oral Presentations

One of the assignments in this technical writing course is to prepare and deliver an oral presentation. You might wonder what an oral report is doing in a writing class. Employers look for coursework and experience in preparing written documents, but they also look for some experience in oral presentation as well. That's why the real name of this course is "Introduction to Technical Comunications."

The following was written for a standard face-to-face classroom setting. If you are taking the online version of technical writing, the oral reports are sent in as "scripts"; students evaluate each other's oral-report scripts by filling out an online form and sending it to the instructor. See the assignment for details.

Note: Students enrolled in the online version of TCM1603 at Austin Community College, please take the reading quiz on this chapter. (Anybody else is welcome to try it as well.)

Topic and Situation for the Oral Presentation

For the oral report, imagine that you are formally handing over your final written report to the people with whom you set up the hypothetical contract or agreement. For example, imagine that you had contracted with a software company to write its user guide. Once you had completed it, you'd have a meeting with chief officers to formally deliver the guide. You'd spend some time orienting them to the guide, showing them how it is organized and written, and discussing some of its highlights. Your goal is to get them aquainted with the guide and to prompt them for any concerns or questions. (Our class will gladly pretend to be whoever you tell us to be during your talk.)

As you can see, you shouldn't have to do any research to prepare for this assignment--just plan the details of your talk and get at least one visual ready. If you have a topic that you'd prefer not to present orally to the group, discuss other possibilities with your instructor. Here are some brainstorming possibilities in case you want to present something else:

Contents and Requirements for the Oral Presentation

The focus for your oral presentation is clear, understandable presentation; well-organized, well-planned, well-timed discussion. You don't need to be Mr. or Ms. Slick-Operator--just present the essentials of what you have to say in a calm, organized, well-planned manner.

When you give your oral presentation, we'll all be listening for the same things. Use the following as a requirements list, as a way of focusing your preparations:

Figure 12-1. Diagram of the oral presentation.

Preparing for the Oral Report

Pick the method of preparing for the talk that best suits your comfort level with public speaking and with your topic. However, do some sort of preparation or rehearsal--some people assume that they can just jump up there and ad lib for 7 minutes and be relaxed, informal. It doesn't often work that way--drawing a mental blank is the more common experience.

Here are the obvious possibilities for preparation and delivery:

Of course, the extemporaneous or impromptu methods are also out there for the brave and the adventurous. However, please bear in mind that up to 25 people will be listening to you--you owe them a good presentation, one that is clear, understandable, well-planned, organized, and informative.

It doesn't matter which method you use to prepare for the talk. Of course the head-down style of reading your report directly from a script has its problems. There is little or no eye contact or interaction with the audience. The delivery tends toward a dull monotone that either puts listeners off or is hard to understand.

For some reason, people tend to get nervous in this situation. Try to remember that your classmates and instructor are a very forgiving, supportive group. You don't have to be a slick entertainer--just be clear, organized, understandable, informative. The nerves will wear off someday, the more oral presenting you do.

Figure 12-2. Introductory remarks in an oral presentation.

Delivering an Oral Presentation

When you give an oral report, focus on common problem areas such as these:

Figure 12-3. Examples of verbal headings in an oral presentation.

Planning and Preparing Visuals for Oral Presentations

Prepare at least one visual for this report. Here are some ideas for the "medium" to use for your visuals:

Please avoid just scribbling your visual on the chalkboard. Whatever you can scribble on the chalkboard can be neatly prepared and made into a transparency or posterboard-size chart, for example. Take some time to make your visuals look sharp and professional-use a straightedge, good dark markers, neat lettering or typing. Do your best to ensure that they are legible to the entire audience.

As for the content of your visuals consider these ideas:

During your actual oral report, make sure to discuss your visuals, refer to them, guide your listeners through the key points in your visuals. It's a big problem just to throw a visual up on the screen and never even refer to it.

If you've read the chapter thoroughly, you're ready to take the oral-report reading quiz.

Return to the table of contents for the TCM1603 Course Guide (the online textbook for Austin Community College's online technical writing course).

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