Writing Tips for Hum 1

Oral presentations

Other writing tips:

Oral presentations are a fact of life in many courses at Harvey Mudd simply because HMC graduates frequently find themselves in situations where they have to give such presentations as a regular part of their employment. In addition, good speaking skills are a valuable part of future classroom interaction in all courses, but especially in the humanities and social sciences.

The organization of oral presentations should be very similar to that of papers. You need to have:

  • an introduction, where you grab the reader's or listener's attention and let her know what it is you are going to show,
  • a single point to be made (a "thesis"),
  • three or so clearly delineated sub-points that make up the body of your paper or presentation,
  • and a conclusion in which you sum up.
However, a paper and a presentation also have their differences. A paper is generally somewhat longer and more in-depth than a presentation. Also, the language in a paper is more formal and can be somewhat more complex (though never unclear!). The language of a presentation must be more immediately grasped -- the listener cannot go back and review a paragraph like a reader can.

The structure of a presentation must also be extremely clear because we don't have the cues of paragraphs, among other things, to help. Thus in the introduction of your speech, you should explicitly tell us very clearly the overall point you want to make as well as the three or so sub-points. As you begin every new section in the speech, explicitly tell us what you will now talk about. Then, at the conclusion, review one more time the three or so sub-points and how they have proven or contributed to your thesis.

Most oral presentations will be extemporaneous. That is, you won't be reading a manuscript word for word or reciting one from memory. You can have some cards or a single sheet of paper with your outline and perhaps some notes to help jog your memory, but you should choose the exact wording at the time you speak. Extemporaneous doesn't mean that you are "winging it" -- you should carefully prepare and practice your speech, but it might be a little different each time you give it.

The timing of a speech is critical in most situations. In this class, each speech should last no more than 8 minutes. Longer speeches will be penalized. Practice carefully so that you know exactly how long it will take. (Never look at your wrist watch while you're speaking, though!)

While most of the success of a speech depends on the clarity and organization of your information, delivery is also important. So, here are the:

Top Ten Tips for Class Presentations

  1. No ums, uhs, or y'knows. In everyday speech, people usually insert "placekeeper" words and sounds when pausing--"um," "er"--to let people know that they are not yet finished, to solicit agreement, or simply to fill time while we think. Avoid doing so in formal oral presentations, even if it means having several seconds of silence while you form your next sentence. Of course, it's best not to have silence at all, and the better you prepare, the less likely you are to have such pauses. Here are other words and phrases to avoid: "basically," "you know," "kind of," "okay?"

  2. Look 'em in the eyes. Do not simply "scan" the audience, but look at each person for several seconds as you speak. It's all right to glance at your notes as necessary, but try not to keep your eyes on your notes for more than a few seconds at a time. Ideally, you want to hold your notes up in front of you when you look at them, so you don't have to bow your head down as you talk.

  3. Stand (or walk) tall. Always stand and stand up straight. Plant your weight on both feet. Do not shift your weight back and forth. Do not hide behind a desk or lectern. It's OK to walk, but don't pace: walk with purpose to another spot and stay there for a while. On the other hand, don't be a statue.

  4. Hand jive. It's good to gesture, as long as the gestures are not so constant that they lose their effectiveness. Gestures should never distract, but always appear natural and spontaneous. Otherwise, simply keep your hands by your sides or holding your notes. Don't put your hands in your pockets, and don't make invisible quotation marks with your fingers.

  5. Speak up! Speak loudly and clearly. Aim at the person in the very back of the room. Know that you must articulate more deliberately than you do in normal conversation. Try to vary the pitch and tone of your voice -- most Americans normally speak in the very bottom of their vocal ranges.

  6. Never apologize.

  7. Happy to be here. Always look confident and happy to be speaking. Don't groan or give a nervous laugh when it's your turn to speak. Likewise, don't give a big sigh of relief when it's over.

  8. Exhibit A. Whenever possible, do not pass out multiple copies of supporting materials while you are speaking. If you need to demonstrate something, use an overhead, large poster, or other medium that can be easily seen by the whole class.

  9. Inhale! Taking a deep breath before you start helps calm your nerves and sends much needed oxygen to your brain. Speak from your diaphragm.

  10. ...and the number one most important tip for a good presentation is...

  11. PRACTICE! That means saying your presentation out loud many times, both by yourself and in front of friends.