Speaking in Academic Contexts

Presenting a seminar paper

Using Visual Aids

Introduction

When you are giving an oral presentation, it is common - and sometimes expected - to make use of projected visual aids, such as Microsoft PowerPoint.

In many cases, the oral presentation will be based on something you have already written - but this is not always true. See: Speaking: Presentation Introduction

It is important to spend some time working on the kinds of features which help improve the visual attractiveness of the presentation slides.

Presentation slides

Remember that when giving a formal presentation, the visuals should support what you are trying to say, not replace it.

It is important to remember when constructing presentation slides to make use of plenty of white space. This means that there should almost be more space than words on each slide. The slide should provide enough information to make sense, but not so much that it covers up the whole slide. You do not want the audience to be reading your slides - you want them to listen to your presentation. Your audience has not made the effort to attend your presentation in order to read information which could have been handed out to them instead.

In order to achieve a good balance of information and space, make sure you include your main points as cues, in a much shorter form. The cues will help prompt you and they will allow you to expand on them orally.

The following extract from a piece of a student's writing is used as an example. Read it and then look at the way the main points have been used as cues on the slides.

Extract

HOW CHILDREN FAIL

It is a fact that most children in school fail. For a great many this failure is avowed and absolute. Close to forty per cent of those who begin high school drop out before they finish. For college the figure is one in three. Many others fail in fact if not in name. They complete their schooling only because we have agreed to push them up through the grades and out of the schools, whether they know anything or not. There are many more such children than we think. If we 'raise our standards' much higher, as some would have us do, we will find out very soon just how many there are. Our classrooms will bulge with kids who can't pass the test to get into the next class.

But there is a more important sense in which almost all children fail: except for a handful, who may or may not be good students, they fail to develop more than a tiny part of the tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating with which they were born and of which they made full use during the first two or three years of their lives.

 

Slide

pres0001

If you now look at both the text and the slide you will notice the following:

 The slide has a heading to help guide the audience as to its content

  • The points on the slide are not written in complete sentences
  • Bullet points are usedf.
  • The first 3 points on the slide are a summary of the first paragraph
  • The text is 193 words in total whereas the slide is only 35

The above are suggestions only. You might have chosen different bullet points if you were preparing this slide. The point is that most of the information you are sharing with your audience come from your oral input – not from the slide. If your slides are being assessed without an actual presentation taking place, hand in the slides with accompanying text. There is also space at the bottom of each slide for you to write notes. You can use that space to give your lecturer further details on each item you have raised on your slides. Try not to make your slide too cryptic however by only writing one or two words per bullet point! As for designing the slide, experiment with fonts and colours until you find a design which works. Check that:

  • the slide colour and the text colour do not clash
  • the text size is large enough to be visible. An average text size would be 26 (12 for essays)
  • any pictures, animations or diagrams you include are relevant
  • you include bullet points if you need to, but do not overdo it
  • you have not spent too much time creating beautiful slides while ignoring the  importance of content

Exercises

Try these exercises: Exercise 1Exercise 2