Spring 2001
Mr. Schwartz



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Suggestions for Effective Presentations


Mr. Schwartz

What is the Goal for your audience?

I want my audience to:

  • Understand the most interesting conclusion(s) from my reading (my essay, etc.)?
  • Change their mind about something?
  • See that my conclusions question those in another reading?
  • See that my main point relates to a broad theme in the course?
  • See a subtlety often overlooked?
  • Etc.

Make the goal very specific and feasible to achieve in the time you have.


Who makes up my audience? (The goal needs to be appropriate for your audience, so defining the goal and the audience are related steps.)

  • My peers who are taking the course?
  • My peers who have not taken the course?
  • A mix of faculty and students who have not been in this course?
  • A general audience?
  • Prospective students?
  • Prospective employers?
  • Etc.


Define your intention: Goal + Main Point/Thesis (two examples)

        I want to engage my audience and then change their minds or at least prompt controversy. First, I’ll suggest they agree with common idea A. Then, I’ll convince them that idea B is more compelling. Here are a couple of openings as examples:

“Alas, Wadja’s Danton shows us that film can’t capture the complexities of historical events. Right? (Audience nods in agreement.) And yet, Danton evokes historical complexity in other important ways: the music, the sound, the sets, the color, the symbols—all evoke an emotional dimension that written histories can’t match. Consider this . . . .”


“Frankenstein! Think a minute. . . . What comes to mind? Boris Karlof? . . . . A Monster? . . . . Right. The image is everywhere. . . . Poor Mary Shelley would turn in her grave to see what Hollywood has done to her novel. There Victor Frankenstein is the villain and the creature is the victim who was brutalized by social prejudice.”


        I want to lead them to understand something quite complex or subtle.

“How many of you know how Hitler came to power? By coup d’etat? By dumb luck? Not sure? . . . Well, in my view he come to power via three big steps. First, . . . .”


In sum: when you are working on your presentation, ask yourself at each step whether your main point and supporting details fit your intention. If not, revise.


Time: How much time do you have to make your point? Time yourself beforehand; shorten where necessary.

Visual Aids:

Does your use of visual aids--handout, outline on a flip chart or board, web page, etc.--enhance your intended goal and message? Or will it confuse? Typically "less is more." Try to avoid "overloading" your audience.


Voice and Eyes: How can you use your voice and eye contact to enhance your presentation?

Variation in voice to underscore significance, for example. Keeping eye contact with the audience helps keep them engaged. (Try scanning a quarter of the room at a time.)


Know your beginning and ending:

Prepare an introduction that helps connect you with the audience and gains their interest and attention.

Prepare a conclusion that summarizes and leaves people thinking about your main points. Commit these parts to memory so you know this part of your ''script." This will give you confidence at the critical opening and concluding of your presentation.


Practice: Practice your presentation by giving it to a friend who can coach you or to yourself in the mirror.


Structure of a Presentation


Two important aims:

  1. Create interest, engagement
  2. Create a connection with your audience (via a story, humor, etc. which must be very brief in a short presentation)




  1. Theme or thesis: the main point
  2. Context—what’s the situation the audience must understand to follow you?
  3. Challenge—do you expect your audience to change their minds about something? Pay attention to something? Prepare for a response at the end?

The first point is essential; the others may vary according to time allotted and the purpose of the presentation.



Explain in progression

  1. Findings or points
  2. Conclusions


Summary and Closing

  1. Tell them what you told them; underscore your theme or thesis.
  2. Try to leave them with a key idea in their mind.



For a 5 minute presentation:

  1. One main point
  2. One or two examples described
  3. Conclusion
  4. Write out at least the beginning and ending and polish them.