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:
- Purpose: Another way to find a topic is to think about the
purpose of your talk. Is it to instruct (for example, to explain how to
run a text editing program on a computer), to persuade (to vote for or
against a certain technically oriented bond issue), or simply to inform (to
report on citizen participation in the new recycling program).
- Informative purpose: An oral report can be primarily informative. For
example, as a member of a committee involved in a project to relocate the
plant, your job might be to give an oral report on the condition of the building
and grounds at one of the sites proposed for purchase. Or, you might be
required to go before the city council and report on the success of the new
city-sponsored recycling project.
- Instructional purpose: An oral report can be primarily
instructional. Your task might be to train new employees to use certain
equipment or to perform certain routine tasks.
- Persuasive purpose: An oral report can be primarily persuasive. You might
want to convince members of local civic organizations to support a city-wide
recycling program. You might appear before city council to persuade its
members to reserve certain city-owned lands for park areas, softball and
baseball parks, or community gardens.
- Topics: You can start by thinking of a technical subject, for
example, solar panels, microprocessors, drip irrigation, or laser surgery.
For your oral report, think of a subject you'd be interested in talking
about, but find a reason why an audience would want to hear your oral
report. (See Appendix on analyzing or inventing report situations.)
- Place or situation: You can find topics for oral reports or make
more detailed plans for them by thinking about the place or the situation
in which your oral report might naturally be given: at a neighborhood
association? at the parent teachers' association meeting? at a church
meeting? at the gardening club? at a city council meeting? at a meeting of
the board of directors or high-level executives of a company? Thinking
about an oral report this way makes you focus on the audience, their
reasons for listening to you, and their interests and background.
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
Figure 12-1. Diagram of the oral presentation.
- Plan to explain to the class what the situation of your oral report is,
who you are, and who they should imagine they are. Make sure that there is
a clean break between this brief explanation and the beginning of your
actual oral report.
- Make sure your oral report lasts no longer than 7 minutes. Your
instructor will work out some signals to indicate when the 7-minute mark is
approaching, has arrived, or has past.
- Pay special attention to the introduction to your talk. Indicate the
purpose of your oral report, give an overview of its contents, and find
some way to interest the audience. (See the example text of an introduction
to an oral report in Figure 12-2.)
- Use at least one visual--preferably a transparency for the overhead
projector. Flip charts and objects for display are okay. But please avoid
scribbling stuff on the chalkboard or relying strictly on handouts.
- Make sure you discuss key elements of your visuals. Don't just throw
them up there and ignore them. Point out things about them; explain them to
- Make sure that your speaking style and gestures are okay. Ensure that
you are loud enough so that everybody can hear, that you don't speak too
rapidly (nerves often cause that), and that your gestures and posture are
okay. For example, don't slouch on the podium or against the wall, and
avoid fidgeting with your hands. As for speaking style, consider slowing
your tempo a bit--a common tendency is to get nervous and talk too
fast. Also, be aware of how much you say things like "uh,"
"you know," and "okay."
- Plan to explain any technical aspect of your topic very clearly and
understandably. Don't race through complex, technical stuff--slow down and
explain it carefully so that we understand it.
- Use "verbal headings"--by now, you've gotten used to using
headings in your written work. There is a corollary in oral reports. With
these, you give your audience a very clear signal you are moving from one
topic or part of your talk to the next. (Examples of verbal headings are
shown in Figure 12-3.)
- Plan your report in advance and practice it so that it is
organized. Make sure that listeners know what you are talking about
and why, which part of the talk you are in, and what's coming
next. Overviews and verbal headings greatly contribute to this sense of
- End with a real conclusion. People sometimes forget to plan how to end
an oral report and end by just trailing off into a mumble. Remember that in
conclusions, you can summarize (go back over high points of what
you've discussed), conclude (state some logical conclusion based on
what you have presented), provide some last thought (end with some
final interesting point but general enough not to require elaboration), or
some combination of these three. And certainly, you'll want to prompt the
audience for questions and concerns.
- As mentioned above, be sure your oral report is carefully timed to 7
minutes. Some ideas on how to do this are presented in the next section.
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.
- Write a script, practice it, keep it around for quick-reference during
- Set up an outline of your talk, practice with it, bring it for
- Set up cue cards, practice with them, use them during your talk.
- Write a script and read from it.
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
Delivering an Oral Presentation
When you give an oral report, focus on common problem areas such as
Figure 12-3. Examples of verbal headings in an
- Timing--Make sure you keep within the 7-minute time limit. Anything under 6
minutes is also a problem. Do some rehearsal, write a script, or find some other
way to get the timing just right.
- Volume--Obviously, you must be sure to speak loud enough so that all of your
audience can hear you. You might find some way to practice speaking a little
louder in the days before the oral presentation.
- Pacing, speed--Sometimes, oral presentators who are a bit nervous talk too fast.
All that adrenaline causes them to speed through their talk. That makes it hard
for the audience to follow. In general, it helps listeners to understand you better if
you speak a bit more slowly and deliberately than you do in normal conversation.
Slow down, take it easy, be clear.
- Gestures and posture--Watch out for nervous hands flying all over the place.
This too can be distracting--and a bit comical. At the same time, don't turn
yourself into a mannikin. Plan to keep your hands clasped together or holding
onto the podium and only occasionally making some gesture. As for posture,
avoid slouching at the podium and leaning against the wall.
- Verbal crutches--Watch out for too much "uh," "you know," "okay" and other kinds
of nervous verbal habits. Instead of saying "uh" or "you know" every three
seconds, just don't say anything at all. In the days before your oral presentation,
practice speaking without these verbal crutches. The silence that replaces them
is not a bad thing--it gives listeners time to process what you are saying.
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.
- Transparencies for overhead projector--For most college
classrooms and, in fact, business conference rooms, the overhead projector
is the best way to show things to the whole group. Design your visual on a
sheet of blank paper, then photocopy it, and then get a transparency of
it. You may have access to equipment like this at your work; most copy
shops can make transparencies for you; and your instructor can make
transparencies for you, given a few days lead-time.
- Posterboard-size charts--Another possibility is to get some
posterboard and draw and letter what you want your audience to see. If you
have a choice, consider transparencies--it's hard to make charts look neat
- Handouts--You can run off copies of what you want your listeners
to see and hand them out before or during your talk. This option is even
less effective than the first two because you can't point to what you want
your listeners to see and because handouts take listeners' attention away
from you. Still, for certain visual needs, handouts are the only choice.
- Objects--If you need to demonstrate certain procedures, you may
need to bring in actual physical objects. Rehearse what you are going to do
with these objects; sometimes they can take up a lot more time than you
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
- Drawing or diagram of key objects--If you describe or refer to
any objects during your talk, try to get visuals of them so that you can
point to different components or features.
- Tables, charts, graphs--If you discuss statistical data, present
it in some form or table, chart, or graph. Many members of your audience
may have trouble "hearing" such data as opposed to seeing it.
- Outline of your talk, report, or both--If you are at a loss for
visuals to use in your oral presentation, or if your presentation is
complex, have an outline of it that you can show at various points during
- Key terms and definitions--A good idea for visuals (especially
when you can't think of any others) is to set up a two-column list of key
terms you use during your oral presentation with their definitions in the
- Key concepts or points--Similarly, you can list your key points
and show them in visuals. (Outlines, key terms, and main points are all
good, legitimate ways of incorporating visuals into oral presentations when
you can't think of any others.)
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).
This information is owned and maintained by David A. McMurrey. For
information on use, customization, or copies, e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 476-4949.