University of Wisconsin–Madison

PREPARING STUDENTS TO GIVE PRESENTATIONS ON RESEARCH PAPERS

Brad Hughes (English/L&S Interdisciplinary Program 316)

Guidelines for presentations

  1. Please be sure to prepare your presentation carefully, so that you interest your audience in your research, teach us about a few of your main findings in an engaging way, and encourage questions and suggestions that will guide you as you revise.
  2. You’ll have ten minutes for your presentation (and then 3 minutes or so for questions). Ten minutes is not long, so be sure you select only some of your research to present. There will not be time to present anywhere near all that you write in your paper, so you’ll have to be sure to select only that which is most interesting to you and for your audience and that which there’s adequate time to present. If you don’t leave a lot of material on the cutting room floor, you’re not likely to give an effective presentation. As you prepare, I hope you’ll do what the most accomplished presenters always do—practice ahead of time. Practicing will not only help you to polish your delivery but also help to ensure you can finish within the allotted time. Take it from someone who’s embarrassed himself in front of national conference audiences when I tried to jam too much material into a short presentation: practicing is the only way to know what you really have time to cover. Audiences really appreciate speakers who respect time limits.

 

If you want more Q&A time, that’s fine: you’ll need to shorten your presentation to allow for more discussion.

I want you all to prepare a short handout (maximum one side of one page) to accompany your presentation. Make the handout simple and clear so that it will be easy to grasp quickly and will help your audience follow your main points. Having to distill your main questions and answers into that space should help you narrow the focus for your presentation. Be sure to include your name, course, and date on the handout so you get the credit you deserve.

Don’t forget what you already know about effective presentations: you’ll need to introduce your topic to your audience in a way that interests them, explain briefly your research methods, and use the bulk of your time to highlight the most important and interesting of your findings in some depth. Don’t forget to illustrate some of those points with specifics, with examples, or with stories. A talk like this isn’t a written journal article; talks have a more informal narrative style. The model for the short speech is the campfire story—the teller of a mystery, not the reciter of an encyclopedia (Gordon Bower, “Do’s and Don’ts for Brief Research Talks,” cited in Psychology 225 handout).

Your conclusion should invite your audience to respond to something you’ve said or to ask you questions. The best speakers signal that the end is coming (not just by saying, “So in conclusion . . .”), and suggest what kind of feedback might be most helpful (not just finishing quickly and saying quickly, “Any questions?”).

I’d be glad to help you plan your presentation. Making effective presentations is an important skill to develop; and helping students learn to make effective presentations is something I enjoy doing, so I hope you’ll let me know if there’s some way I can help you.