Talk about Stressful

Originally Published on The Age, 22 May 2006

This is not just for Year 12, but everybody.

I have to make an oral presentation but I'm nervous and having trouble working out how to start.

WHAT is it about presenting orals that scares most students? Is it the thought of getting up in front of peers? Is it the idea of going blank? Is it the fear that friends will think you are silly? Or that you will feel embarrassed? Bore them? Run out of time?

No matter what your concerns, one of the ways to ensure success is to plan. Indeed, preparation prevents poor performance.

So, how do you go about preparing a speech or the oral SAC, as it is known in Year 12?

To some extent, it depends on what the school has decided to include in the oral SAC. If the school offers text response, dramatic presentation, or issues point of view and analysis, you will have plenty of scope to play to your strengths.

The first thing is to gain knowledge on the set topic. Whether it is a "text response" oral or an "issue" oral, you need to become an expert in that area.

You will need to know whether the oral needs to be closely tied to the text or whether it can be thematic.

Once you know your purpose and audience, you need to know whether you are going to mostly inform, persuade, instruct or entertain - in the case of a dramatic monologue. (These are more for drama students.)

You need to know the length of your presentation before you start to plan and write it. The ideal pace to speak at is 120 words a minute. Therefore, if your oral is five minutes long, you need about 600 words. And you need to know the criteria. These are on the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority website, as well as in the English course outline in every school.

Briefly, the criteria are: content that is complex and relevant, a structure that flows, a manner that engages the audience and language that is suitable to the task.

What do you do first? Start with the conclusion. This will help you decide where you are going. What is the message you wish to leave with the class and the teacher? How will you finish? Legitimate ways to end include a quote from the text or someone famous, a call to action, a poem or a scenario about the future. Whatever the finish, it should be strong and reinforce your main idea. Do not finish with "thank you".

You need to know how many points you are going to make. In a five-minute oral, about three points is average, but it depends on what you are talking about. You should tell your audience what your points will be, after the introduction.

Signposting is an important part of orals and is often overlooked. Elaboration and support for your speech will be evidence from the text or from the issue. Remember, you need to connect with your audience. Anecdotes or questions that directly involve them are good ways of connecting. Analogies and metaphors are excellent ways of helping them see what you are saying.

All that is left to plan is the introduction. There are so many ways to start an oral to grab attention. You could start with a quote from the text, from the media or from a book of quotations (providing it is relevant).

You could start with a series of questions that interest the class and relate to the topic. Sometimes just words with pauses in between can be effective, provided that those words are related to the topic.

You could ask the class to raise their hands in response to a question. Or close their eyes and imagine a scene.

However you start, it should be attention-grabbing and relevant to the topic. Don't begin with "Today, I am going to talk about . . .". That's boring and unoriginal. You do not even need to greet them.

Don't make the introduction too long. In a five-minute talk, up to 50 seconds should be plenty.

Make sure the words you use are simple to say, short and evocative - a good mixture of logic and emotion. Remember, the ideas can be complex but the words should remain simple.

Whether you condense them down to a cue card with a few dot points and quotes or leave it written-out in full may depend on the school and your level of confidence.

Do not hold up a series of papers and read from them. They need to be placed on a lectern or left on the desk.

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