Ideas for Enhancing Oral Reports

Robert Harris
Version Date: November 1, 2012
Previous: April 20, 2012

Who gives oral reports? High school students, business CEOs (they call them presentations), and especially college students. Yes. You can be attending a university or a career-oriented college or a junior college, but the truth is, no matter where you attend college, at some point you will have to present an oral report.

But whether delivered by a high school freshman, college student, or even by a business professional, many oral reports are ineffective. And it's not because they lack good content but because they are presented in a way that does not connect with the audience. Here are some of the basics for a good report, followed by a list of enhancements.

Basics of a Good Presentation

A good oral presentation should include the following:

1. Planning.  Start with the So What? Just what is the point you want to make? It's said that listeners to a presentation can process and remember only about 20% of what is said. (You can raise this number with appropriate graphics, summarizing, repetition, and audience participation.) So plan the main point you want to make and focus your presentation around it.

2. Preparation, Structure. To avoid a rambling, stream-of-consciousness talk that goes nowhere, take the time and effort to follow the plan for your presentation, put it into an orderly shape, and learn it well enough that it can be delivered effectively. A good way to understand why preparing adequately is important is to think about what makes a terrible presentation:

If you think about it, you will see that these errors are all caused by a lack of planning, preparation, and structure. Planning your talk, rehearsing it to become familiar with it, practicing your enunciation and volume, organizing until the presentation is clear and logically structured--these steps will help prevent the terribles from occurring.

3. Communication. To communicate well, be sure that you

4. Credibility. This is the issue of character (or ethos as the Greeks called it). Provide some evidence that you are worth listening to. Those who introduce speakers provide some background that builds credibility, as do biographical notes for books, which list the author's credentials. For an oral report, you have less of an opportunity to establish your credibility, but here are some things that will help: 5. Engagement. The real secret to an effective presentation is to get your audience involved. People don't want just to sit an listen. They want to participate. Here are some quick tips:

Oral Report Enhancements

Your oral report can be made more vital, interesting, and compelling (as well as more understandable) by using some of the following enhancements:

1. PowerPoint Slides. PowerPoint can be used to present outlines, tables, graphs, pictures, photographs, illustrations, cartoons, music, and video. With a tablet PC, you can connect ideas with arrows or lines, circle a key word or concept, underline an important phrase or sentence. Be sure to read the PowerPoint Tips article.

2. Slides. Take some photographs with a digital camera and create a presentation with PowerPoint or PhotoStory (or a similar product). Titles can be included easily by using a word processor to print them in large headline size and photographing them close up. Hand drawn titles will also work, but look less professional. A slide show provides an opportunity to bring in large-scale outdoor scenes into your presentation. These might be natural scenes (trees, meadow, lake) as a backdrop for some comments or special illustrations (factory, product, people engaged in activity).

3. Video. Show some professional, purchased video clips, tape some interesting segments from TV, or use a video camera and shoot some custom material. Many news magazine shows and educational programs sell DVDs of their programs. Most video stores have specialty sections that carry useful program material from public broadcasting or other sources. If you film your own material, you can include interviews with people, "man on the street" surveys of opinion or reaction, or simply background shots similar to what you might do with slides: a photo of a factory making or packaging some product, or even of consumers eating, walking, reading, etc.

4. Charts. Use some spreadsheet software or graphics software to create some organization charts, tables, or diagrams. Blow these up for putting on posterboard (an enlarging copier can help here, as can a photo service), or photograph these for your slide show or video presentation. Do not create charts that are too small and do not do something that looks amateurish.

5. Graphs. Use a spreadsheet or graphics package to create some graphs. Use a color printer or hand color them after you enlarge them. A computer display would be ideal, since you can project the graphs on a screen.

6. Drawings. Find or create some line art or other kinds of drawings of things, places, people, or ideas. There is a lot of old etching art available to illustrate your talk.

7. Photographs. You can buy a throw-away camera with film for just a few dollars. Get prints, have enlargements made or make color copies to include in a handout. Photographs can be printed very large and hung or mounted individually, pasted on posterboard, collected in a portfolio, or used in a document or handout. You can find many great photos online by searching for "free stock photography." Stock Xchange (www.sxc.hu) is one example.

8. Posters. If you have artistic talent, you can draw a poster. If you cannot draw, you can still paste cut-outs from magazines, use stencils, spray paint, or attach charts and graphs rather than projecting them. Remember, though, that a poorly done poster is probably worse than none at all.

9. Sound. Add music or sounds to your presentation. You can record sound effects like traffic, bird chirps, crashing noises, narration, singing, instrumentals, or factory noise. Attach amplified speakers to an MP3 player  for playback. Additionally, while not as effective as a video interview, sound-only interviews can be recorded and portions played at intervals during your presentation.

10. Mock-ups and Models. Build a mock up or a working model of your project, city, device, experiment, technique, process, or object. Remember there is clay, papier mache, casting plaster, wood, metal, wires, cardboard, tape, glue, paint, fabric, and more. Toothpicks, hot glue, newspaper, and some paint can make almost anything.

11. Props. Even ordinary items can be used to help people visualize your ideas or attach your concepts to something concrete. If a can of hairspray or a shoe or a CD helps illustrate something, bring it in and show it. Remember that the classroom is usually a rather austere environment separated from most of the physical attributes of the outside world. So when you bring in a piece of this outside world--a board, a plant, a tool, a consumer product--the item will gain special attention and can be used to connect an idea to something visual and familiar. And even if you are really cute, people like to have more to look at than just you while you talk.

12. Experiments and Demonstrations. Design an experiment that will illustrate something. The experiment can be realistic (like a model of a volcano to show how volcanoes erupt) or metaphorical, just to illustrate a concept (like cutting one string after another between two objects, to illustrate the gradual separation of parent and child).

13. Skit. Get a few friends together and write a skit that will illustrate an idea. Show how your idea works in the lives of people, how they respond to it, and so on. A skit can also be used for exposition, just to tell information about something. Three people speaking two sentences each will probably be more interesting than one person speaking six sentences. Skits are great for demonstrating concepts in sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, business, and education. And they can be used very effectively for recreating events in history, law, and literature. While you're at it, grab that video camera and film the skit.

14. Costume. Think of a costume as a one-person, minimalist skit. You can dress up as a particular person (famous or infamous), or in a particular style. Quite effective is the two-in-one costume, where one costume is worn over another and then removed at the appropriate time, during a "before and after" presentation.

15. Web Site Visit. If you are presenting to a small class or have projection capability, you might visit one or more pertinent Web sites to take a survey, demonstrate an application, show some video clips, visit an online museum and so on. The possibilities are endless.

16. The Five Senses. The more senses you engage, the better opportunity you have to make a lasting impression on your audience. Eyes and ears are of course going to be reached, but what about touch (pass around your props), or taste (bring something to eat or drink), or smell (perfume, fruit)? Citrus aromas are supposed to focus attention, so why not shoot a burst of citrus air freshener into the room at the right moment?

17. Handout. Compile an outline, some illustrations, diagrams, cartoon, descriptions, or any other useful information and make copies for everyone in class to look at and keep for future reference. Handouts make presentations tangible and more memorable, and the fact that something is in print lends an aura of solidity to the information. (Yes, the print bias is still strong.)

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com