Oral Presentation - Math Clinic

This guide is intended to give a few tips for your presentation. It is neither complete nor precise. You must decide what is appropriate for you and your topic, then go with it. What is important is that you plan!

Timing. An individual presentation is allocated 30 minutes (this could be an hour if you are in a large team, in which case scale the timings up). This includes about 5-10 minutes for questions. You should plan on 20-25 minutes for your presentation, and you must not take more than the total allotted time. After your prepared presentation, you will lead a short period of discussion and entertain questions. You should plan on interacting with your audience during this period (perhaps during the entire 30 minutes). If, when you finish, no one has any questions or comments, it is your responsibility to stimulate some discussion. One way to do this is to leave out something in your talk that you expect them to question, then turn the question on the audience if they are silent.

You are expected to rehearse your presentation, so you do not finish extremely quickly, and you do not run overtime (in which case you will be cut off). Speak at a normal pace (not too fast, and not so slowly that you bore the audience). Usually, it is effective to use cadence to emphasize a key point: a slowdown brings attention to the point, especially if there is a visual aid on which to focus. This could also work against you if you inadvertently change cadence over a minor point.

If possible, get someone to hear you and give you feedback (in exchange for your doing likewise). Use a stopwatch to time yourself in at least one rehearsal.

Content. Your objective is to communicate with your audience; oral presentation has a different associative mechanism than a written report (gestures and tones, for example, are important).

Your basic outline should be:

  • Introduction: tell them what you are going to say.
  • Background: introduce necessary terms (illustrate complex ones with examples).
  • Main results: tell them what you have to say.
  • Conclusions: tell them what you said.

The Introduction should be a succinct description that prepares your audience for what follows. It should take about 2-3 minutes and use one or two overheads. The Background should present the key elements of what you have to say and should take about 3-5 minutes. Together these should take about 6-7 minutes.

The Main Results should take about 15 minutes. The beginning should be smoothly entered, having prepared the audience adequately. Similarly, there should be a smooth transition, as you begin to present your conclusions. The Conclusions should take about 2-3 minutes.

The Professor will use 5-7 minutes for evaluations by your fellow students, so you have the full 30 minutes to use. If you finish early and there are no questions, you must elicit some discussion from your audience. One way to do this is to ask them some questions, which you might have expected them to ask.

Form. What you have to say—i.e., content—is communicated by how you say it—i.e., form. Prepared overheads are very effective visual aids when they are designed and used properly. Blackboard writing is not suggested, except for answering a question, because it takes time and will not communicate as well as a carefully designed overhead.

Although there are some advantages to spontaneity, you are urged not to deviate from your prepared presentation (until the discussion period). If you do, you are likely to run into trouble. Let the audience know right away if you welcome questions during the presentation, or whether you prefer that they wait until the end. If someone points out a mistake, thank them. Answer all questions honestly; if you do not know an answer, say so and ask if someone else can answer the question.

Make each overhead clear and uncluttered. Use the visual aid quite literally and do not spend space on words. Your aim is to highlight, reinforce, focus and illustrate a point (perhaps two). Miller's magic number, 7 +/-2, describes a limit (of chunks of information) of how much one can retain in immediate memory. Without going into this, it suffices to note that you could overburden your audience if you require them to see too much at one time, or if you require that they remember too many terms from earlier overheads.

Be sure to speak clearly and distinctly. Avoid filling pauses with "uhm," "like" and "you know." Humor can be very effective, but do not tell a joke that might offend someone.

Your presentation is an amalgamation of your communication skills that uses all senses (primarily vision and hearing) and wit to gain attention. Keeping the attention of your audience is not done by content alone! (This is not to say that you should make entertainment a priority over content. I take for granted you have something useful to say, and now you must share that knowledge with a receptive group of peers. Simple utterance is not enough!) Plan your talk accordingly. Given your time budget, think about each thing you say:

Does this contribute to my communication?
Does this inform my audience?
Does this fit with what I've said and am about to say?
Does this make a relevant point?
One final suggestion: relax! Some nervousness is not only expected, it is a force for productivity. One way to relax is to meditate (or use some other preparation) in the late morning or early afternoon. If you have not done this, try it. If you do not choose to try specific exercises to relax, think about how far you have come and that you have something to say that no one else in the room knows. Exert your knowledgeability with confidence.

Some class time will be allocated to review this guide and other tips. Please feel free to share what you know about presentations at that time, and talk with your clinic teacher anytime.