One of the biggest mistakes students make when delivering an oral presentation is to assume their audience understands everything they say. Thus they “load up” their presentation with ideas and information but this is rarely effective .

A skilled presenter recognises the “gap” between themselves and the audience and tries to “bridge” it by simplifying, making more explicit and by repeating information and summarising at key stages to ensure the audience is following. When designing and preparing a presentation over several days or weeks, the presenter(s) become familiar with the topics, ideas and the information contained in the presentation. The audience however come to this information blind, without any idea of what to expect. This creates a massive gap in the knowledge of the presenter(s) and the audience.

The Gap

The gap represents the difference in the state of minds of the presenter(s) and the audience.

The gap is exacerbated by the fact that a presentation is a one-to-many situation. That is, one person (or maybe a team) is trying to convey a message to many people. While some in the audience may understand a particular point, other may need it repeating or expanding.

Try to bridge the “gap” .

By bridging the gap you will engage the audience. And by engaging the audience you will bridge the gap; the two are mutually inclusive.

Three Principles

In order to deliver a useful presentation, observe the following points regarding content:

Principle of simplicity: Always try to simplify the content. Keep information on visual aids very simple (a few keywords and phrases only) and get rid of redundant phrases and terminology.

  • This principle is based somewhat on skill theory which describes how novice users need to time to practice basic skills in order to convert declarative knowledge into proceduralized knowledge before they attempt to take on higher level tasks. Of course, simple is a relative term and may mean that some students are already able to handle higher level processing tasks than others. But, in general, teachers should encourage students to look for simplicity in the process wherever they can, for example, choosing the language to use, designing visual aids and structuring the presentation.

Principle of explicitness: Always try to be explicit. If something needs to be said, say it. Don’t leave it for the audience to infer it. If needs be, say it twice or more times. Put key information up front, don’t leave it to the end. For example, the main thesis should be clearly stated in the introduction.

  • This principle borrows from the principle of simplicity somewhat in that an explicit rhetorical form and style is a more parsimonious solution for a novice second language writer especially when we consider that students have limited control over the language they are using. This is particularly true of students of English from some Asian cultures who often study expository writing in their first language where it is considered the norm to leave the main point of the essay unsaid until the end (Oi and Kamimura, 1995). When students of English transfer this rhetorical style across into their second language, this can cause problems for the audience  who expect the main point to be explicitly stated at the beginning of the presentation, although we are not suggesting one style is better than another.

Principle of repetition (and summary): Don’t be afraid to repeat a point if you don’t think the audience has fully grasped it. At key stages in your presentation, summarize what has been said so far.

Engage the audience.