Undergraduate

Oral Reports

Your course instructor will provide you with the specific details of the report (topic, content, length, etc.). The purpose of these notes is to provide you with some general suggestions concerning the preparation and delivery of an oral report. These notes represent of synthesis of ideas contained in the various references listed at the end. The original references, which are available in Bostic library, should be consulted for more complete discussions of the various topics.

Preparation of an Oral Report

  1. Match your talk to the level of expertise of your audience.
  2. The standard oral report consists of an introduction ("tell the audience what you are going to tell them"), a main body ("tell them"), and a conclusion ("tell them what you have told them"). The introduction should include an overview of the rest of the talk to help the listener understand what you are going to say.
  3. A typical report of a laboratory experiment will include an introduction, procedure, results, and conclusions.
    • In the introduction, tell the audience what question you investigated, the purpose of the investigation, and then provide an overview of the rest of the talk.
    • In the procedure and results sections, only include the essentials. Avoid going into minute details.
    • Show how the results lead to your conclusions and summarize the conclusions, emphasizing the two or three points you want the audience to remember.
  4. Maintain continuity by progressing logically from one point to the next without leaving significant gaps in the development. Generally use short, simple, and complete sentences. Define all new terms and briefly review those less-familiar terms that are essential to understanding your presentation.
  5. Plan the use of visual aids (usually PowerPoint slides). Listeners retain about 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, but 50% of what they see and hear. To prepare an effective slide, use Helvetica characters 5 mm high. If it involves only text, use about 6 lines of text with 6 words per line per slide. Do not copy a data table if it has too many numbers or if the numbers are too small to be seen. Instead, prepare an abbreviated version with a few representative data or present the data as a graph.
  6. As a rough guide for preparing a first draft, you can expect to deliver 250 words of text (i.e., one page of notes typed double-spaced) and provide verbal commentary to accompany the showing of one overhead transparency in a 3 minute time period.
  7. Revise and practice your report so that you can deliver it within the allotted time, speaking from topic outlines or brief notes rather than reading it line by line.

Mechanics of Delivering an Oral Report

  1. During the delivery, maintain eye contact with your audience. Move your view slowly from person to person (small groups) or section to section (large groups). It helps the audience remain focused and provides you with important feedback.
  2. Speak loudly enough so that all members of your audience are able to hear you. Rather than straining your voice, use voice projection. Hold your head up so that the throat is unconstricted, open your mouth somewhat wider than usual, and use proper breathing technique. When inhaling, relax stomach muscles to increase lung capacity; when exhaling, tighten stomach muscles to supply the extra air needed to sustain your voice.
  3. Speak slowly. The average listener processes unfamiliar information at the rate of 120 words/minute. Your conversational speaking rate of about 150-170 words/minute is too fast for the one-directional transfer of unfamiliar information.
  4. Emphasize diction by distinctly pronouncing all consonants and all syllables of words. Good diction has two important benefits: it naturally slows the pace at which you can speak, and it makes voice projection easier (i.e., you can be understood at greater distances for a given volume level).
  5. Modulate your voice to help keep the audience focused — do not speak in a monotone.
  6. Pauses are the oral equivalents of periods and indentions for paragraphs. Do not fill pauses with 'er', 'um', 'ah', 'sort of', 'like', 'you know what I mean', etc. When you pause, just be silent. Let your listeners catch up and give yourself time to think.
  7. Deliver your main points and conclusions slowly and deliberately. Pause before and after for emphasis.
  8. At the end of the presentation of each topic, briefly summarize, and provide a transition to the next topic.
  9. Use visual aids to reinforce or clarify points.
    • Use of overhead projection — face audience, point to parts of slide to call attention to them, do not obscure anyone's view, project images long enough for the viewer to process them, but remove them when they have served their purpose.
    • Use of black or white board — write legibly and large enough to be seen at back of room, do not obscure anyone's view, turn to face the audience when you speak, and leave material on the board long enough for the audience to process it.
  10. Use the feedback from the audience to make helpful adjustments during your presentation. Common adjustments include speaking louder, speaking slower, writing larger on board, providing additional explanation of difficult concepts, etc.
  11. End the talk by summarizing the main points and review the conclusions, thank the audience, and offer to answer any questions.
  12. During the question/answer session: listen carefully to the question, restate the intent of the question before answering it, keep answers brief, offer to find the answers to questions you are not able to answer, and offer to discuss points later with a person who is monopolizing the session.

Additional Comments on the Delivery of an Oral Report

  1. What the audience sees can either reinforce or destructively interfere with your verbal message. Enthusiasm, suggested by vigorous gestures, reinforces the verbal message; while a tired appearance, suggested by a slouching posture, makes the audience feel tired and they can easily become uninterested. Mannerisms such as rocking back and forth, pacing, rattling keys, fidgeting with a necktie, etc., all hinder the listener's ability to focus on the verbal message.
  2. It is natural for a speaker, no matter how experienced, to be nervous. It indicates that you take the responsibility very seriously and are anxious to do your very best.
    • Good speakers, like good athletes, use controlled nervousness to enhance their presentation. Being a little nervous tends to sharpen your senses and helps you to focus.
    • Nervousness is best controlled by confidence. The more confident you are, the less nervous you will be. Initial confidence comes from knowing that you are fully prepared and that you have practiced your talk sufficiently.
    • The time when you are most nervous is at the beginning of your talk. Many good speakers prepare the beginning very carefully and then memorize it. They then practice it until it sounds natural rather than memorized. A successful beginning to your talk will boost your confidence and bring your nervousness under control.
    • Once the talk has started, concentrating on what you are saying keeps nervousness at the level where it enhances your presentation.
  3. Oral communication depends not only on the words you speak, but also on the way you say the words and the way you use body language. One of the simplest techniques for ensuring that you are saying words effectively and projecting positive body language, is to be enthusiastic about your topic. Enthusiasm naturally produces appropriate gestures, facial expressions, body movements, and variations in the volume and pitch of your voice. And best of all, enthusiasm is contagious!

References

  1. Casey, R.S. Oral Communication of Technical Information, Reinhold: New York, NY, 1958; Chapters 1-6.
  2. Ebel, H.F.; Bliefert, C.; Russey, W.E. The Art of Scientific Writing, VCH: New York, NY, 1987; Appendix A.
  3. Eisenberg, A. Writing Well for the Technical Professions, Harper & Row: New York, NY, 1989; Chapter 20.
  4. Ford, J.G. In Skills Vital to Successful Managers; Mathy, J., Ed.; McGraw-Hill: New York, NY, 1979; pp. 28-31.
  5. Laidler, K.J. J. Chem. Educ., 1971, 48, 671.
  6. O'Connor, M. Writing Successfully in Science, HarperCollinsAcademic: London, U.K., 1991; Chapter 12.
  7. Shortland, M.; Gregory, J. Communicating Science, Wiley: New York, NY, 1991; Part III.
  8. Venable, L. in The ACS Style Guide. Making Effective Oral Presentations; Dodd, J.S., Ed.; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1986; Chapter 7.
  9. Weeks, D.P. J. Chem. Educ., 1967, 44, 290.