History Department Prof. Straw
WRITTEN EXPOSITION VERSUS ORAL PRESENTATION
SOME SIMILARITIES AND OTHER CRUCIAL DIFFERENCES
Many of the techniques and goals you have in written exposition are also those of oral presentation: you must have a thesis or point of view to argue and you must marshal evidence in support of that point of view. Your points must have a logical progression, and one must be accurate and clear. Like a written exposition, your presentation should prove your thesis and persuade your audience that you are correct in your conclusions.
However, an oral presentation makes addition demands on the writer/speaker. Consider the following:
1) Knowledge of your audience and sensitivity to their needs. How familiar is your audience with your subject? How much explanation and additional detail will you need to supply so that they may follow your argument? Obviously, you must also be aware of "hot-button" issues and deal with special care on such topics.
2) Your aim is not only to educate, but also to engage the interest of the audience in your topic. You want to convince your audience that what you have to say is important and worth their rapt attention. In crasser terms, an oral presentation is entertainment as well as information. You will find that it is necessary to write your VERY best when making an oral presentation. Fresh, lively prose and apt descriptions help keep your audience from nodding off. Irony and other forms of humor can obviously be very effective, but difficult to deliver. Here, practice with honest friends can provide you with substantial guidance.
3) THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT. You must appreciate that an audience learning information aurally does so differently from reading. This requires that you adapt the STRUCTURE of your presentation to accommodate those different needs.
When reading, readers always have the opportunity of returning to the beginning of the article to remind themselves of exactly what the writer is aiming to prove. They can review the progression of an argument, check its logic, re-evaluate evidence simply by turning back pages. The structure and coherence (or lack of it) can be discerned because the material can be reviewed. When you speak, you will be deprived of these built-in supports. You will need to make deliberate efforts to compensate. The trick is to do this lightly and in an interesting way, rather than sounding kiss-of-death didactic.
You will need to be EXPLICIT about your argument. Since your assignment is to report on an evaluate a secondary article, you may find yourself saying something like this: "Susan Jones argues that Aristotle's biology is not innately sexist, merely an excusable misreading of evidence occasioned by the unsophisticated nature of Greek medicine." Since you do not wish simply to regurgitate the article, but to analyze it, you will need to assess the author's argumentation: what kinds of data are used? how successful and persuasive is the evidence? You might continue. "Jones relies almost exclusively on two facts: 1) that Greek medicine was based on observation, rather than dissection 2) that Greek physicians argued about the human condition using analogies with the animal kingdom. Much can be said in criticism of Jones' approach. . ."
Now comes a critical point. You will need to be deliberate telling and reminding your audience of the flow of your argument. "I will address three areas where Jones' argument can be faulted: 1) some dissection WAS performed in ancient Greece 2) analogies from the animal kingdom can be just as culture-bound and sexist as immediate observation of the human world 3) most important, Greeks had opportunities to question women themselves about their conditions, but consistent responses are from a male point of view."
As you move from point to point (your transition) you will need to remind the listener succinctly of the point you just made and link it to the one you will discuss. Example: "Just as Jones' dismisses the possibly of cultural prejudice shaping Greek assessments of the workings of the animal kingdom, so also does she ignore a most obvious possibility, that male physicians rejected female descriptions of their own conditions and instead imposed their own prejudices."
In your conclusion, your audience will find it enormously helpful if you remind them briefly again of the outline of your argument--your three objections. Then you can presumably conclude that you have proven your case and persuaded the audience.