Size Up The Situation : Giving Oral Presentations

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Size Up The Situation :

The first step in planning a good short oral presentation is to size up the situation. You need to know where and when the talk will be, who the audience will be and what the purpose of your talk is.

Find Out where and when the talk is scheduled? :

What are the name and address of the building and the number of the room where you will be speaking? How big is the room? A talk that works well for 20 people in a small meeting room will not work well for 200 people in an auditorium. If the room is small, you can probably be more informal. If the room is large, you will probably need to assume a more formal stance.

What kind of sound system is available in the room? Is there a fixed microphone, perhaps on a stand or on a lectern or are you able to wear a lavalier microphone? Is the room so small that no amplification is necessary? What are the sound characteristics of the room? Will there be any distracting noises - jackhammers in the street, students in the hall changing classes?

Determine what capabilities the room has for props and visuals. Is there an overhead projector, a digital projector, a Web hookup, a flip chart, a blackboard? Before deciding what props and visuals you might want to use, you'll need to figure out what props and visuals you will even be able to use.

Of course, you also must find out specifically when your talk is scheduled. Find out the date and time and write them down.

The very best way to size up the situation is by talking with the person who has asked you to give the talk. Have that person answer the foregoing questions in your conversation. Then, if at all possible, go and see the room where you're going to be talking. Check the sound, the lighting, the noise inside and out and especially what different kinds of visual aids you can use. For a short and informal talk, you will want visual aids that are quick to set up and relatively simple and foolproof to use. If the room already has a digital projector and screen in it, that is one thing - but if it would require running an extension cord to another room just to have electricity beyond the lights, that is another thing entirely.

If you cannot see the room before the day of your talk and cannot have a face - to - face meeting with the person making the arrangements, be sure to ask all these questions in an email or a phone call.

Find Out who your audience is? :

As with any piece of writing, the more you know about who your real audience is, the better you will be able to reach it in your talk.

We've all seen and heard canned talks –

The university functionary who gives the same talk to the incoming students every year

The politician who gives the same campaign speech to union workers, lawyers, farmers and the PTA

The traveling scholar who reads the same speech from the same yellowed note cards to big campuses, small campuses and prep schools

That is audienceless speaking. What you want, instead, is audience-rich speaking.

Who are the people in your audience? :

  • How many of them will there be?

  • What do they already know about your subject?

  • Are they generalists or specialists?

  • Can they be expected to sit and listen quietly or should you expect them to challenge you or ask questions?

  • What can they hope to gain from your talk?

  • Is there anything they might be worried about in connection with your talk?

  • The more you know about your audience as you plan your talk, the better a talk you will be able to plan.

    Determine the Purposes of Your Talk? :

    Perhaps the most important decision you need to make at this point concerns the purpose of your talk. Purpose here really is twofold:

  • The purpose of the person who asked you to give the talk

  • Your purpose in giving it

  • These two may not be identical, but they need to be complementary.

    Teachers assign short talks for all kinds of reasons: to have students introduce themselves to one another at the beginning of the term, to assess students' progress on a project by hearing a short report, to hear the final results of students' research. Obviously, you need to know the teacher's purpose in asking you to give a talk and how it will be evaluated. Will it be graded?

    Employers request short talks for different reasons: for you to introduce yourself during your first week on the job, for you - the junior executive - to explain to others in the firm the reasons why the Cincinnati client is so unhappy, for you and your team to practice a pitch to a potential new account. Again, the purposes for which you are asked to speak are very different from one situation to the next. Are you presenting new ideas or information to this group or is your talk just one in a continuing series on closely related subjects? Are you expected to inform, instruct or persuade?

    And finally, you need to think about what you yourself hope to gain. Maybe you want the other people in the class to feel good about you or maybe you want to show the teacher that your project is going well or maybe you just want to receive an A on the job, you may want to make a good first impression or maybe you want to convince coworkers that your analysis of the Cincinnati situation is the right one or maybe you want to be an important part of the team that landed that big new account.

    All your answers to these questions about the purposes of your talk - the purposes for which you are asked to speak and the purposes for which you do the speaking - will play a part in all your remaining decisions about your talk.

    To continue the section on
    Giving Oral Presentations,

    Size up the situation.

    Write out a rough draft of your talk.

    Outline your talk from your draft - start planning your visuals.

    Decide on props and visuals.


    Deliver the talk.

    Answer Questions Carefully.

    Get feedback.

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