How to Make a Class Presentation

This class will require several presentations to your peers, in your lab section. This is a valuable skill to learn, one that is often neglected in college courses.

The first thing that comes to many folks' minds when asked to make a presentation to a group is.fear. Understandably, it's risky to get up in front of your peers and the professor or TA and talk about a subject. I know because I've been there too. After my many years of giving presentations, I still get nervous. So, it's a matter of dealing with the feelings and practicing until that fear does not keep you from doing your best.

You will get a lot of support in this class. Mostly, you will give your presentations on a group topic, with members of your group standing next to you and helping you if needed.

There are some tricks that make giving a presentation much easier. The first is the effective use of visuals, for example transparencies projected on an overhead projector. Projections can also be made from a computer, but the same rules apply.

Format of the group short presentation:


You may print (neatly) with a felt tip pen (there are specific ones made for writing on transparencies) (see Figure 1) or print (with a laser writer) the document from the computer onto the transparency (see Figure 2).

Biggest tip:

The transparency is your "crutch." It should be an outline that leads you to the next topic and reminds you of topics you need to cover. Big mistake: trying to write the entire text of the presentation on the transparency. Obviously, the transparencies must contain any of the graphics that you want to present. Another big one is to not worry if you make a mistake. You'll be in good company.

More Tips:

1)     "Keep it simple" is the best rule to follow. Simple is better when it comes to graphic displays.

2)     On your presentation graphic (transparency), use short sentences or sentence fragments demarcated by bullets. The purpose of the bullets is to act as a reminder to the speaker. They should not be a verbatim account of what the speaker wants to cover. Three to five bullets per slide or transparency are ideal.

3)     Respect time limits. For a two to three minute presentation, use one overhead. For a five-minute presentation, use two to three transparencies.

4)      Most people who give presentations like to support them with visual information. You should pay the same careful attention to detail in the preparation of these as you do for the talk. Your visual aids should support the presentation, but they should not duplicate what you are saying.

5)     The overhead projector is the normal method of showing transparencies in the academic realm. One common mistake speakers make is that they stand in front of the overhead and obscure the audience's view.

6)     On any transparency a good text size is about half an inch for ordinary text and one inch for titles. If the visible portion of the transparency is about eight inches tall, this means you can expect to have about seven lines of text visible at one time. Psychologists have long known about the "rule of seven" which basically states that people are on the average only able to remember seven (plus or minus two) items when looking at something new.

7)     Speak loud enough for the people in the back to hear you.

8)     Speak loud enough for the people in the back to hear you. I say this twice because it is natural to speak softly when we are nervous. But, it spoils your presentation for those who have to strain to hear. Speak up! Force yourself! If in doubt, ask if you can be heard.

9)     In general, the shorter the talk the longer it will take to prepare. This is because it is more difficult to say everything you think is important in a short period of time. Scientific presentations at meetings are most often limited to ten minutes

10)  Don't forget to introduce your topic. Also, don't forget the summary or conclusion.

A good generic presentation strategy might look something like this:

10% - 20% introduction;
60% - 80% main body of talk;
10% - 20% conclusion or summary.

For example, give each section of the talk a designation, and list these explicitly at the start of the talk: "First I will describe... Next I will explain..." This is not a waste of time, even if you have only five minutes. It will make it easier for the audience to assimilate what follows.

11)  At the end of a presentation, normally you would be expected to take questions from the audience. If you have prepared properly and know the subject area this will normally not present any problems. The correct response to any question for which you do not know the answer is "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that question." It is OK not to know the answer to a question. It makes it worse to lie or try to make up an answer.


Figure 1: Example of an overhead for a presentation on the types of organisms essential to the transfer of energy and mass in the food chain.


Student names printed at top


Figure 2:   Example of an overhead for a presentation on convergent plate boundaries. Further development of this talk would include illustrations of data plots using real data from "Our Dynamic Planet" Examples of different kinds of convergent margins could be presented and discussed.