You have been asked to do an oral presentation. This requires you to stand up in front of a group and convey information. You might not realise that an essential element of good communication is to recognise the needs of the audience. You need to consider how much of your material they will understand as this helps determine what you need to present, both in terms of content and structure.

Content

You should make sure the ideas and terms you use are appropriate to your audience. Your teachers and fellow students will usually understand the same terminology that you do, but some tasks involve a scenario where you present to a different audience. Imagine how the following scenarios would impact the content you present: 

  • An analysis of the current financial situation in Australia for the Reserve Bank
  • Designers pitching their suggestions for a playground to a council
  • Historians teaching a group of school students about the role of gender in the past
  • A business report being presented to a company with recommendations for the future

Some of these scenarios place you in a role of specialist talking to other specialists, so you would need to be careful not to talk down to these audiences by explaining concepts they already understand, or by simplifying the information too much. Other scenarios require you to simplify the material to ensure all of the listeners understand what you mean.

Even if you are presenting to the class and the teacher, if the task requirements tell you that you are presenting to an alternate “imaginary” audience, you need to tailor the content accordingly.

Structure

When presenting information verbally, you should make the structure of your talk explicit. A written text can be reviewed to make sense of the information, but when information is presented verbally, there is no “go back” switch, so you need to give signposts to your audience about where you are up to in your presentation. This starts in your introduction when you describe the outline of what you are going to present. For example, “This presentation will touch on three main points, which are one……., two………and three……..”.

Following this, continue reminding the audience where each point fits within the presentation. This can be done by spelling out the points, one, two three. A more sophisticated approach incorporates linking statements like; “Now we have discussed x, it is important to show how it affects y”; “So what have others said about this” (as an indication that you are going to touch on the academic literature); or “I would now like to explain….” The important point is that it needs to be clear to the listeners exactly why certain material is being introduced. 

Similarly, in the conclusion, it is important to reiterate all the key points of the presentation. This way, the audience (who might have lost concentration at some point), can be prompted to recall all the relevant information. Repetition helps comprehension.

Further information

There are several other important techniques that you may wish to consider using, such as how nonverbal cues can be used to increase understanding. You can find information on some of these techniques, as well as more about considering the needs of your audience, in the Library’s guide to oral presentations on Research and Learning Online. Good luck with your presentations!

The writer, Natasha Amendola, is a learning skills adviser at Caulfield Library.