History 297: 19th-Century Urban Chinese Death Ritual Literature Review

Thoughts Regarding Oral Presentations

Prompt 5: What are your thoughts and feelings about oral presentations? How do you prepare for oral presentations, and what are lessons you’ve learned from good presentations you’ve seen? Do you have any tips for others?

Generally, I consider myself a fan of oral presentations and have no qualms about speaking in front of an audience. I find that, in any circumstance, as long as I have a goal in mind for my speech, in combination with key talking points and examples, I feel well prepared to give an oral presentation.

Since elementary school, I have enjoyed giving oral presentations. I enjoyed making visual aids such as PowerPoints or videos, and I enjoyed speaking to my peers. In fact, I would attribute many of those early characteristics to my decision to become a teacher. Currently, I still enjoy oral presentations, as well as discussions.

Currently, I still enjoy oral presentations, as well as discussions. I enjoy articulating ideas, posing and answering questions, and letting my own personality and understanding of material shine through in a way that is not quite as possible through writing.

During my experience at Mary Washington, I have gained many useful skills from the College of Education as to how to best go about an oral presentation. Firstly, it is crucial to provide a clear and concise introduction to the topic that will be presented, and if applicable, ask an open-ended question to the audience to establish context. Presentations are best told in narrative format, with the key points of the presentation threaded together, creating a careful balance between organization and story. At the end of a presentation, I summarize the material presented, and ask if there are any questions.

To prepare for a presentation, I find that it is best to over familiarize one’s self with the material. For some audiences, such as ones’ peers in college, this is crucial in order to prepare for follow-up questions. For other audiences, such as elementary or secondary-level students, this is crucial in order to embellish one’s presentation (or lesson) in order to maintain the attention of the audience.

To familiarize myself with the material, I create an outline that includes estimations of how much time will be spent on each point. (I learned that it is important to mark how many minutes each point will take from my EDUC 351A: Instructional Design and Development course, as this prevents a presenter from speaking ad nauseam on one point, and running out of time to discuss any other points.) I include opening material, key points, chronology and key figures, and interesting details. Another key aspect of oral presentations is finding connections to other facets of life, such as other time periods or events in history, or even modern-day phenomena, in order to provide context for listeners who may not be so familiar with the information.

Concerning visual aids, it is best to keep visual aids as sparse as possible, so as not to distract or overwhelm the audience. I generally create my visual aids after I have completed my outline, so that I may best summarize information.

Like most of my peers, I have been an audience member in a wide variety of oral presentations throughout my lifetime. I find that many of the best oral presentations stress and imply the main point of their speech without specifically restating this point. A poor presentation is one in which an outline is merely read, perhaps even mumbled, and accompanied by a wall-of-text style PowerPoint. A good presentation, however, is one in which the speaker presents material in a clear and confident manner while traveling throughout various spaces in the room, and in which material is presented in a clear, narrative style.

If I have learned anything from good presentations or my experience in the College of Education, it is the importance of interacting with one’s audience, typically in the form of a question. This question may either be a quick assessment of an audience’s prior knowledge so that the presenter knows how “general” to be in their speech, or perhaps, a question that forces the audience to contemplate their own circumstance. In many of the speeches and Ted Talks by Caitlyn Doughty, a progressive author, funerary expert, and funeral director from Los Angeles, Doughty prompts her audience to contemplate their relationship with death, such as remembering a time when a loved one died, or articulating what they hope will be done with their body or possessions upon their death. Doughty’s questions may make some audience members uncomfortable, which may be a good tactic for a presentation on an “uncommon” topic.

My tip for those giving oral presentations stems from my current experience as a practicum teacher with a group of sixth graders: enunciate and speak confidently. The audience, (whether it be your classmates, professors, or anyone else) does not know what your outline looks like. If you do not remember the details of a specific point, take a moment to regroup, look at your outline, and skip that point if you must. Speak clearly, and project your voice to the entire room. (I promise that people are more likely to judge you if you speak as quiet as a mouse, rather than if you carry your voice.) 

I enjoy giving oral presentations. I find them to be an interesting change of pace to a normal classroom setting. And I firmly believe that those who are shy would be far more comfortable with their oral presentations if they overfamilizarized themselves with material, stood away from any podiums or desks, and spoke in a loud, clear voice.

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