86 Oral Presentations

A well-organized oral presentation typically has the following elements: a background, research question, outline of research and the talk (methods), findings/discussion, and conclusion. Below, we elaborate on 12 tips to help you successfully showcase these elements and excute a noteworthy presentation.

Planning

Planning is fundamental to you delivering a successful oral presentation. Almost every conference you attend will have a set of guidelines for you to adhere to (e.g., the time limit). Begin by familiarizing yourself with those guidelines. Remember that you will not be able your entire thesis or all the interesting findings on one 18×24 poster or in a 15 minutes presentation. You will need to zoom in on a specific issue or research question from within your thesis. We reiterate: do not attempt to present your entire thesis.

Box 12.3.1.1 shows an example of how one might plan a 15 minutes oral presentation. When planning, highlight the significant portions of each section: the introduction, literature review, methods, findings, discussion, and conclusion. Give rough outlines of how much time each section will take, and test this outline to ensure you will not be going over (example of fifteen-minute speech plan in Box 12.3.1.1). It is best to try to get your practice done at least one minute less than the designated time (e.g., aim to finish a 15 minutes presentation in 14 minutes). On the day, nerves, technical issues and other factors can make you go for longer than you practices. In general, program chairs keep very strict timing and give you frequent time updates during your presentation. Planning with built-in flexibility can help calm your nerves before and during your presentation.

 

Box 12.2 – Example Outline of Oral Presentation

Section Time (15 minutes total)
Introduction (Hook, engaging example etc.) 2 minute
Research Question & Outline of the talk 2 minute
Literature Review (optional) 3 minutes
Methods 1 minute
Findings 4 minutes
Discussion/Conclusion 3 minutes

 

The Introduction

Because oral presentations at conferences are so short, you must aim to quickly entice your audience. Common ways to do this include starting with a historical anecdote or story related to your topic, unpacking a key quote from your qualitative study, introducing a paradox in your field, asking a provoking question to your audience, and inquiring what a seemingly straightforward concept in your field really means in practice.

Research Question(s) & Order

Once you have introduced your topic, immediately state your research question(s) and use that momentum to guide your listeners through the methods and findings. If outlined on a slide, put it on the same slide or on the next. After this, aim to implicate it in the context of your presentation. Answer how your presentation will be structured and tell your audience how this structure will address your research question.

Literature Review (optional)

This is a section that you can skip in a presentation, but if you do decide to keep it, make it sparse. We suggest picking one or two key authors that inspired your study or to separate the key concepts in the literature that have inspired your study. As with all types of research, outline the literature with close attention to the gap you are going to fulfill.

Methods (necessary, but shortened)

Give the short version of your methods. You are allowed, in an oral presentation, to just be as simple as saying a “grounded theory approach”. Suggest to your audience that they can ask you further about your methods in the question period. This is a place where you should also consider talking about the limitations of your research. However, saving it for after the conclusion to make clear to your audience that the implications of your study can be strengthened in future research, is another useful strategy.

Findings (the heart, but keep it concise and forceful)

Consider shortening your findings to just two or three themes. Especially in qualitative research, going down every rabbit hole with regard to your findings will distract from the core point of your presentation: your contribution. Highlight only those findings which you think are (1) unique, (2) useful to others, (3) best answer your research question, and (4) capable of being conveyed in your very limited timeframe. For instance, Wilson’s (2021) research on Uber had five themes which he shortened to three for his fifteen minutes conference presentation. As he explained, “I chose the three themes that addressed the legislative impact of Uber’s framing in order to best address one of my RQ’s: “did Uber’s framing in the media affect the final legislative decisions?”

Discussion

The discussion is a section that can be easily truncated into your conclusion or at the end of the findings section. It is essential, however, that you implicate the meaning of your findings for the field. What was the gap you fulfilled? How do your findings corroborate with past research on your subject? Whenever covering any of your findings, consider how they affect the field of your audience: what does your work say about their work? Likewise, in disseminating your research for the community, this final part is essential: how does your findings affect their day to day lives? Will it affect a policy that governs their behaviour etc?

Conclusion, Limitations, and Implications

The conclusion is where you outline what you have said, what is missing from your study and what can be done in the future. Clearly summarize the key findings of your talk before talking about what is missing. Once you have summarized the findings, be humble! Talk about the limitations of your research and briefly discuss how they could be addressed in future studies. Once the ground is laid, now you are ready to resoundingly end your presentation: summarize the major themes of your research into implications – the contribution of your work. Why should everyone remember the work you do? It is entirely based upon your ability to convince them that the research is worth remembering into the future: in future work, research, and reflection. Implications often take two forms: for future research and for action outside of research. When speaking to academics, the first is more important. When discussing with the broader community, the latter will likely be higher valued.

Designing Your Slides

The most important thing to remember about designing your slides is to keep them clean, clear and engaging. Do not include too many text on one page and ensure that the colours used are accessible. You might also consider using concept maps (Google slides has lots of pyramid animations). Whatever you do, keep slides sparse, do not pick Roman fonts, be consistent and bold quotes. For additional tips, see Campbell (n.d.) suggestions at https://www.exordo.com/blog/presenting-at-a-conference/

Trimming the Excess

It is unlikely that you will get the timing right on your first practice run. It is okay to  allow yourself to go over (or under) to begin but ensure you can make the necessary adjustments to each section of your presentation. If you are still extremely over the time limit (and you should aim to go a little under, so you can take it slow for your presentation), then you should cut full sections. Consider removing your literature review, compressing your discussion into your findings or conclusion, and/or taking off one of your findings sections. If you are still over the limit, consider shortening your research question or focusing on fewer research questions. If your presentation is too short, consider expanding on your findings and the discussions.

Tips From Soothsayers

For more elocutionary or body language tips, there are many business school videos on these topics (Abrahams, 2018).

Fear of Public Speaking/Cooling Off Before You Speak

Composure and confidence will make your presentation go over smoother. Speaking with confidence – in a clear, steady voice – is essential to winning the confidence of your audience. However, sometimes you are just overrun by nerves. If that is the case, you are not alone. Fear of public speaking is a extremely common, but there are things that you can do to help calm those nerves. See (Sawchunk, 2022) for a list of suggestion at the following link https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/expert-answers/fear-of-public-speaking/faq-20058416

 

Box 12.3 – Student Testimony – Negotiating with Your Nerves

A quick online search for “presentation tips” will yield an overwhelming number of suggestions, but everyone’s nervousness may come from different places. Before you dive into looking for advice, ask yourself why you are nervous. Worried about presentation content? Create a list of major points you want to get across. Worried about going overtime? Cut down on unnecessary content and time each slide. Worried that you’ll feel intimidated by the audience? Plant a friend in the audience and look at them. Regardless, it’s important to give yourself enough time to prepare and practice for the presentation.

Here is four pieces of advice that helps me get through every presentation:

  1. Remember that you know something that the audience doesn’t. (No audience is all-knowing. Presenting your ideas and teaching others should be an empowering experience.)
  2. Mention some things you find interesting and are passionate about related to the content. (This could be a surprising finding in your research, or an interesting encounter during data collection.)
  3. Prepare a script, rely on bullet points sentences, and avoid long paragraphs. (Bullet points help you stay on track with all the information you want to cover and give you room to improvise if needed.)
  4. Create a presentation ritual. (Find something that calms you down or makes you feel confident. This can be wearing a shirt you feel confident in or drinking some warm tea before you practice and present.)

Our nervousness often comes from a prediction of how we think the audience is going to perceive us, and our brains are great at coming up with reasons why we might not deliver a satisfactory presentation. Don’t be fooled – these thoughts are often inaccurate. Learn to doubt your doubts!

Youcheng (Mark) Ding, UBC Sociology Honours Student, 2019-2020

References

Abrahams, Matt. (2018). How to make your communication memorable. YouTube. Stanford Graduate School of Business. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fsr4yrSAIAQ

Campbell, B. (n.d.). 11 Tips for presenting at a conference. Ex Ordohttps://www.exordo.com/blog/presenting-at-a-conference/

Wilson (2021). Driver’s of Dissidence: A Discourse Analysis of Vancouver’s Road to Ride-hailing. Sojourners.

Sawchung, N.C. (2022). Fear of Public Speaking: How can I overcome it? Mayo Clinichttps://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/expert-answers/fear-of-public-speaking/faq-20058416

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Practicing and Presenting Social Research by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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