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Orals

History graduates find that their experience giving oral presentations and running seminars proves very useful after graduation. Many students however find these presentations quite stressful. The following tips on assessment, preparation and delivery should help.

What is being Assessed

  1. Breadth of knowledge and understanding.
  2. Judgement: The ability to discriminate between major and minor aspects of your topic. In a brief presentation, it is essential to get to the heart of the matter quickly and not spend excessive time explaining minor points.
  3. Logic: Systematic thinking and good organization of your material.
  4. Focus on and relevance to the topic.
  5. Clarity of expression and of delivery.
  6. Interest: Have you engaged the audience? Made the material interesting? Have you interacted with your listeners by making eye contact, assessing whether they have followed your argument, asking and soliciting questions?

Preparations

  1. Content: Prepare the content of your seminar or oral presentation as you would for an essay. Read broadly, develop an overall thesis and a structured argument. Prepare written notes for yourself, and memorize your major evidence.
  2. Organization: Write an outline for how you will present your argument. You should introduce yourself and your topic, and give key details for your topic. Thus if you are presenting a book, tell us the full title, author, publisher, and publication date. If your topic is an event, tell us the start date, location, end date, and major significance of the event. State your thesis, and give a brief preview of how your presentation will proceed. The body of your presentation should make the key points of your argument. Prepare some simple questions to ask students along the way; if you’re feeling adventurous, a brief exercise can also liven up a presentation. You should conclude with a re-statement of your thesis and a statement regarding the significance of your topic.
  3. Timing: Practice giving your presentation until you have the timing right. Your presentation should neither run over time nor fall drastically short. In general, five pages of typed, double-spaced text will take ten minutes to present orally. You might be better off, however, with three pages of outlined material for a ten minute presentation.
  4. Visuals: If you use overheads, use 24 point font size for maximum visibility. Less than 20 font size makes most people squint and give up. Colour overheads do not usually show well, so do not depend on colour to convey your points. Condense information on overheads to a bare minimum; they should merely help people follow along.
  5. Overprepare: Have a few minutes’ extra material prepared just in case. You can dazzle with extra anecdotes at the end, or introduce a fun exercise if that seems appropriate. Overpreparation gives you confidence that even if part of the presentation goes too fast or falls flat, you have the option of adapting to the unexpected.

Delivery

  1. Physical concerns: Breathe deeply to get more oxygen just before you begin: it helps you stay focused. Many students find that standing at a lectern makes them less nervous (the lectern rests between you and the class) and holds the notes well; others prefer to sit. Ask your lecturer which is the preferred format. Leave your hands at your sides except when turning pages. Look at people: do not stare fixedly at your notes. Trembling is an unfortunate side effect of adrenaline – your body is ready to fight or race, but you remain sitting still, and trembling sets in; if this occurs, try not to let it rattle you. Dress on the formal side of your comfort zone.
  2. Do not read directly from your notes: It is deadly dull to hear an essay read aloud. A presentation should be more interactive. Speak from an outline, not from a fully written text. Pay attention to your classmates: if they appear confused, pause and explain your point more fully; if they seem to know well other parts of your presentation, you can gloss over some material.
  3. Make eye contact: You engage with your audience more effectively, appear more confident, and can better judge the effectiveness of your delivery.
  4. Clarity: Try to avoid excessive use of "like," "sort of," "you know," "um," and "kind of." It is not necessary to fill every silence; you may find it helpful to pause periodically to reorganize your thoughts. If you have practiced enough, you should have little difficulty finding the right words to express yourself. Try to speak clearly, enunciate, and speak relatively slowly. It may help to ask, in the first minute, if people in back can hear. Write dates and place names on the board as you go along.