Effective Oral Presentations

Effective Oral Presentations

The following module provides suggestions and guidelines for creating effective oral presentations.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the necessary steps in preparing an effective oral presentation.
  • List guidelines that can be used in delivering the presentation.


Oral presentations, particularly at academic conferences, provide researchers and faculty another way to disseminate their work.  It is important that presenters be able to deliver their results and ideas in a clear, concise and logical way.  Disciplines may vary a bit, but overall the following guidelines will help ensure the presentation is a success:

Prepare  -  An academic presentation is not the time to "wing it" and there is no substitution for adequate preparation.  Most importantly, know your topic.  Become an expert on your topic and it will boost your confidence level.  Then use the following tips to prepare an effective presentation that will demonstrate your knowledge to your audience and lend credibility to your talk.

Know Your Audience -  Learn about your target audience.  Find out about their knowledge of the subject and their backgrounds.  What do you think they are hoping to get out of your presentation?  Use that information to ensure that your presentation is at the appropriate level and that the presentation is on topic.

The Content -  The content of your presentation should have a logical flow, much like your research paper which has an introduction, body and conclusion.  Your subject matter is best conveyed through a clear, concise presentation.  If you try to provide too much information, the take home message will not be remembered and will get lost in the details.  Often, less is more.  For example, 10 minutes of the history of something may not really be pertinent and necessary and may result in losing your audience.  In regards to getting the audience to understand and remember your main focus, it is helpful to preview the talk at the beginning and tell them exactly what you will be covering.  Then cover the points and finally re-cap them in the conclusion.  The repetition is helpful and keeps you on target.

Visual Aids -  Visual aids can be an excellent tool to enhance a presentation.  However, visual aids must be used sparingly and should not overwhelm the audience, and thereby detract from what you are saying.  A useful rule of thumb followed by many presenters is to have no more than one visual for each minute that you are talking. For example, if you using PowerPoint, the one slide per minute rule serves as good guideline when creating your presentation.  For other rules and guidelines for using PowerPoint in your presentations, please see the resources on this page.  Other types of visual aids may include photos, posters, videos, graphs, diagrams, and charts.  All visual aids should be simple, clear and focused and should support the main points of your presentation.  They must be uncluttered and easy to read. Excessive use of color, animation, sound effects, and so forth is distracting and should be avoided.

Handouts -  Handouts provide structure and allow the reader to "take home" the take home message.  Handouts should not be more than 1-2 pages and should include your name, contact information and a short summary of the presentation at a minimum.  Handouts may also provide supplemental information, references, a glossary of terms or other types of useful information for audience members.

The Presentation and Delivery -  Following is a list of important guidelines and tips regarding the delivery of the presentation:

  • Practice, practice, practice.  You should practice the presentation out loud. The better you know the presentation and the more comfortable you are with it, the less nervous you will be.  It may be helpful to record yourself and review it.  You may have habits that you are not aware of that the audience may find distracting such as rocking on your heels, tapping a pencil and so forth.
  • It is absolutely critical to adhere to the time limit.  This will require practice.  You need to leave time for questions and answers as well so consider that in your timing.
  • If using technology, arrive early enough to work through technology issues.  Always have a backup plan in case of technology failure.
  • Dress appropriately.  It is typically best to dress one level nicer than your audience.  Speak clearly and do not rush. Stand up straight and do not hang on the podium, sit on the edge of something or appear unprofessional in any way.
  • Begin presentation with a road map.  Tell them what the presentation will be about and what you plan to cover.
  • Remember that people can read! Do not read slides or visual aids.  Face the audience and make as much eye contact as possible.  The presentation will seem more interesting and you will appear more confident.  You should also never turn your back on your audience.  Know your visuals aids so that you do not need to turn to them constantly.
  • Stick to the presentation you prepared!  Do not start inserting material you did not plan to talk about.  It will throw off your meaning and your timing.
  • Be enthusiastic and smile!  If you do not appear excited about your content, your audience certainly will not be!

 Provide Acknowledgements -  Be sure to appropriately acknowledge and thank those that have contributed to your work.  This should be built into your presentation.

Notes on Nerves -  Nervousness is a normal part of giving a presentation.  Accept it and plan for it.  A certain level of nervousness is a positive in that it provides adrenaline which will heighten your senses and have you thinking clearer.  Once you get into the presentation, the nervousness will likely subside to a degree.  Remember that the more knowledgeable you are about your topic and the more you prepare, the more confident you will appear and the presentation will be more effective.  A good presentation will give you a boost of confidence for your next presentation!

For additional information on how to create and give an effective oral presentation, please see the following YouTube video:   

Suggested Readings: 

  • Bovée, C. L., Thill, J. V., & Schatzman, B. E. (2003). Business communication today. Prentice Hall.
  • Collins, J. (2004). Education Techniques for Lifelong Learning Giving a PowerPoint Presentation: The Art of Communicating Effectively1. Radiographics, 24(4), 1185-1192.
  • Miracle, V. A., & King, K. C. (1994). Presenting research: Effective paper presentations and impressive poster presentations. Applied Nursing Research, 7(3), 147-151.
  • Nicol, A. A., & Pexman, P. M. (2003). Displaying your findings: A practical guide for creating figures, posters, and presentations. American Psychological Association.
  • Shalom, C. (1993). Established and evolving spoken research process genres: Plenary lecture and poster session discussions at academic conferences. English for Specific Purposes, 12(1), 37-50.

Resource Links

Oral Presentation Tips and Guidelines - Following are links to short, but concise, lists of tips/guidelines for giving an effective oral presentation:

Tips on Giving Oral Presentations - This YouTube video gives general guidelines and helpful tips for giving oral presentations.

Sites to See:  PowerPoint Presentations - Explore the dozen Web sites below filled with free templates, tutorials, downloads, and tips for making effective PowerPoint presentations.

PowerPoint Tips & Tricks - The links on this website will offer instructions and how-to information to use when creating your PowerPoints.

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