Information on Technical Communication

 Reader Analysis
 Formal Report
 Analytical Report
 Typography Hints
 Instruction Basics
 Memo Format
 Oral Report
 Progress Reports
 Letter of Application
 Simple HTML

The Oral Report


  • As with written work, effective technical communicators define their audience and objectives for oral presentations.

  • Effective communicators consider listeners' expectations from them and provide information accordingly. This means that presenters must be aware of audience, motivation for listening, and overall goals for applying the information or insights that presenters provide. Effective communicators treat each of these expectations explicitly in their presentations.

  • Effective presenters survey the scene in which they give their presentations so they can ensure that they're effective within the presentation setting; it is important to adjust to acoustics of the space, the lack (or presence) of equipment, lighting, etc.

  • Form of Delivery

  • Scripted Talk

    In a scripted talk, a presenter delivers the whole presentation from a written paper, reciting or reading every word. This can be of particular advantage when issues are intricate and points build from complicated bases of thought. Presenters also have the advantage of knowing exactly what they will say before speaking. Using scripts also ensures that presenters can cover all necessary points within the allotted time frame. The greatest disadvantage of the scripted talk is that it must be read and only presenters who practice at length can read a script without it seeming stilted or unnatural.

    Effective presenters practice reading their presentations many times over and may mark special words for emphasis and use lines to visually tie phrases together in order to guide themselves through the presentation with clues for effective reading.

  • Outlined Talk

    In an outlined talk presenters speak from a detailed or "thin" outline. The generally have enough information to remind them of what they want to say, but there is not so much detail in the material that they read each line of text. This allows presenters to move away from what would otherwise be a script and adapt to listeners' nonverbal cues.

    The great advantage of the outlined talk is that the audience is usually more engaged with a speaker who does not present from a heavily prepared speech. The weakness is that it is so flexible that unskilled presenters sometimes lose track of time or their trains of thought.

    Presenters often find it helpful to prepare notecards that contain all important points and an outline of the talk so that they ensure coverage of all important issues and ideas.

  • Impromptu Talk

    The impromptu talk is the least structured of all presentation forms. You may already have used this form and not even thought about it. For instance, you may have been at a meeting and were asked to report on the progress you had made on a project or you may have been in class and have been asked to analyze a piece of writing or document design. The impromptu talk is one in which the presenter speaks at the moment asked, without preparation and usually without any prior notice.

    The obvious advantage of the impromptu talk is that it requires no preparation time; however, for presenters to cover the necessary information, they must know their topics very well. Presenters may also may have real trouble making coherent points and staying within a time limit because they have no means to prepare.

    The best means for dealing with impromptu talks are to stay relaxed, think about each important point before speaking, and know that the audience will be aware that the talk is impromptu and won't expect a well-rehearsed presentation.

  • Some General Hints for Presenting Well

  • Talk with your readers. Effective presenters create a rapport with their listeners by talking directly with them. It is always helpful to think of each listener as an individual who needs and/or wants the presented information rather than thinking of the audience as a non-personified entity.

  • Build rapport with your audience. In addition to talking with listeners, effective presenters build rapport by being responsive to listeners' moods, their visual responses to points of the presentation, and their behavior cues that signal boredom or inattention. Presenters who are aware of these cues and respond accordingly present their information more effectively.

  • Make eye contact. Presenters should always maintain eye contact with listeners to support the goals noted above. It's important that presenters remember to look at individuals from all portions of the room and not look only in one direction or in one area.

  • Use the second person words "you" and "your" to personalize your talk.

  • Use conversational style. In general, presenters who use a conversational style connect well with listeners and help keep their attention. At times when circumstances require it, however, it may be preferable to use a more formal style.

  • Make clear and direct points that support your purpose. Just as it is necessary to support points in written material, presenters must support their purposes in oral presentations.

  • Emphasize the points you make. Effective presenters use body language and visual cues to emphasize important points in their presentations. They may use emphasize information by displaying physical objects to illustrate points, hand gestures to draw attention to certain phrases or words in a presentation, or provide handouts with lists of the most important points for listeners to note.

  • Be very clear. Presenters must take pains to use extremely clear language and organizational structure when delivering oral presentations. Where readers can ponder over written material, listeners must take in information quickly and with little opportunity to ponder its effect. Effective presenters simplify main issues so that their points are clear.

  • Tell listeners in advance which main points are coming. In written materials, technical communicators often forecast what will follow in a document by including "advanced organizers." Forecasting in the same way is particularly helpful to listeners.

  • Announce each main point as you come to it. To make clear to listeners that all the promised "forecaster" points are delivered in presentations, effective presenters verbally note each of the main points in their presentations.

  • State your main points in visuals. Main points may be emphasized with visual as well as verbal cues. Presenters might use posters or electronic visual representations to highlight separate points as they reach them. They may also use representative objects to emphasize main points. For instance, a presenter might effectively emphasize the point that a company uses too much paper by showing many large boxes of paper that amount to only a small percentage of what the company uses.

  • Make the structure of your talk evident through forecasting, transitions, and use of visuals. As noted above effective presenters use all verbal and visual tools available to represent the organizational structures of their talks in order to facilitate listeners' ability to follow the reasoning and important points in the presentation.

  • Prepare for interruptions and welcome them. Any time a listener interrupts a presenter with a question it means that the listener's mind is engaged in the material of the talk and that the speaker is connecting with that member of the audience. Generally, these kinds of interruptions should be welcomed. An effective presenter answers the listener's question, relating the answers to a point or points to be made in the presentation, moving back into the previous flow of ideas presented in the talk. In cases where speakers must complete talks uninterrupted due to time constraints or the difficulty of presenting complex ideas, they can announce at the beginning of presentations that they prefer to take questions later.

  • Presentation Delivery Issues

  • Look at your audience. Effective presenters engage their audiences' interest by looking at them. Listeners feel that presenters care about the material presented and that their listeners understand it and are concerned with it when presenters make eye contact.

  • Focus attention on your listeners. Although it is sometimes difficult to juggle visual aids, the text of a presentation, and/or notecards, effective presenters make sure to pay more attention to listeners than to the props needed for the talk. Practicing the presentation with all the necessary props to be used will help presenters develop capability to focus more on listeners.

  • Concentrate on your manner of speaking- make it appropriate to audience. Just as technical communicators choose written (and visual) tone and style that is appropriate to their readers, effective presenters must also choose a manner of speaking that is appropriate for the context of the talk. When the context is very formal, the presenter should use a formal tone and style of delivery. For instance, funerals most often require speakers to use a solemn tone of delivery, where wakes, by their very nature, demand less solemn proceedings.

  • Be enthusiastic. Listeners will rarely care more about the content of a presentation than the presenter, but will usually become engaged and interested in the material presented when the speaker is enthusiastic. Enthusiasm can be conveyed through tone of voice as well as body language.

  • Display effective visuals and display them effectively. As helpful as use of visuals can be, if the visuals themselves are not clear or if they're not displayed effectively, they'll only serve as distractions from presentations. Presenters who display text in visuals must be sure that the text is large enough for all viewers to see. For a room of 50 people, for instance, text projected through an overhead projector should be set in at least 14 point type size. Presenters should adjust text or graphics accordingly for other presentation equipment such as LCD computer projectors.

    Effective visuals must be displayed effectively, as well. A poster that is clear and organized and is set in the appropriate type size will still not aid an audience's understanding of the material in a presentation if the poster falls off the display stand throughout the talk.

  • Learn to work with your nervousness. Even many effective presenters become nervous at the prospect of delivering material in front of listeners, but they learn to work around their own "symptoms" of nervousness. Presenters who shake when they become nervous learn not to rest their hands on overhead projectors that tend to mirror every movement on-screen. Those whose faces become flushed will often drink cold water before presenting to minimize the effect. Those who tend to stammer practice speaking slowly and deliberately.

    The best way to minimize nervousness is to prepare very carefully before presenting and practice the presentation many times. Effective presenters also keep in mind that they're providing listeners with a valuable service and that they have something of value to say.