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  You are here: RoboFlag Main Page > Course Resources > Report and Presentation Information > Oral Presentation

Preparing a Fourth-Year Design Project Oral Presentation

A presentation overview designed for students

Written January 2000,
William Sitch, B.Eng. (1999)

The oral presentation component of the fourth-year design project is often underestimated and poorly implemented. While no official marks may be allocated towards the presentations, your performance will be taken into consideration when your final grade is assigned. A good presentation will boost your grade if your final report is lacking, and a bad presentation will bring down even the best of reports.

This introduction to oral presentations, with emphasis on the fourth-year design project, is as follows:

Logistics of Carleton Engineering's Oral Presentations

The presentations are scheduled to run from January 24th-28th. You are responsible for signing up at the Department of Electronics office, on the fifth floor of MacKenzie's first block. You must sign up before 4PM on January 12, 2000. If you are working in a group, you should definitely try to arrange for your presentations to be scheduled together.

The oral presentation is a compulsory component of the fourth-year design project, and will contribute to your final grade. The presentations run on a very tight timetable; your presentation will be timed, and you will be cut off if you run over the time limit.

15 minutes will be allowed for each presentation, as follows:

  • 10 minutes for the oral presentation;
  • 3 minutes for a question and answer period; and
  • 2 minutes for the next speaker to prepare.
Warnings can be given several minutes before your time is up (you must request this of the timer).

The presentations are usually held in 4124ME, the presentation room beside the fourth-year computer lab.

Oral Presentation Style

Your presentation must be professional. Ten minutes are all you have to sell yourself, your project, your work, and your technical knowledge. Every aspect of your presentation, from the slides you present to the clothes you wear, will have an impact on your audience.

You should utilize slides or a laptop and projection unit to present visual information. A small hand-out, for complicated design information, might be appropriate for some projects. Slides are very difficult to prepare, and should be put together with care.

You should be well-dressed, but comfortable. The style of dress usually ranges from slacks and a shirt to a full business suit. While the emphasis of this presentation is your technical project, you are selling yourself to the audience and your credibility will be based on your confidence, your poise, and your appearance.

Visual aid - Prepared overheads are very effective visual aids, when properly prepared and used. I strongly recommend against using the blackboard, except to draw impromptu diagrams required to answer audience questions.

Miller's magical number, 7 +/- 2, describes the limit of chunks of information a person can hold in their short-term memory. Designing your slides, and your presentation around this magic number is simple: keep a low number of concepts per page, and a low number of concepts from page to page.

Each overhead must be clear and uncluttered. Remember that it is being used as a visual aid, and so does not require full sentances, or even many point-form blurbs. Your aim is to highlight, reinforce, focus and illustrate a point.

Avoid non-white backgrounds, colour slides and small fonts (below 16 is unreadable from the back of a classroom). Often you will be advised to keep technical details to high-level block diagrams, but for these presentations it is advisable to include a detailed view of your design, even if it is unintelligible to the audience. Remember that you are detailing the work you've invested in the project.

Preparing for your Oral Presentation

Before you begin to organize the information you will present, you should consider why you are making the presentation.

  • Who is your audience? What is their technical background?
  • What is your presentation about?
  • What are the key points of your presentation?
A remarkable number of people being planning what they're going to say, without thinking about why they're saying it! Implementing the above ideas into your presentation will better prepare you to clearly communicate with your audience.

Natasha Artemeva, who teaches Communications Skills for Engineering Students, dictates that the three key elements of an oral presentation are as follows:

  • Keep your audience first
    • tailor your presentation to your audience
  • Simplify your message content
    • make sure how many important points you can focus on within your time limit
  • Reinforce the structure of your presentation
    • use visual aids
    • forecast the key points, work through them, and then summarize them

Once you've decided how you're going to present your project, you need to organize and prepare the information you wish to communicate. You should write an overview of your presentation, detailing what you want to cover, in a particular order, and how long you will spend on each topic.

Small Team Strategies for your Oral Presentation

While single-person oral presentations can be challenging, you will often find yourself in a group required to build a presentation together. There obviously must be cohesion between the group members, and you must cooperate to project a seamless flow of information to the audience.

While most team presentations will consist of different members presenting different technical components, but at the same time, the emphasis of the fourth-year project oral presentations is on your individual presentation. This requires each member in your group to present seperately, but in a way that ties in with the other group members.

The best way to go about this is to have the group coordinator, or manager, present first. This student should give much more background information - preparing the audience to receive the more-technical details in the next few presentations - and yet still include enough to convince the judging panel that the student contributed to the project. This is the hardest presentation role.

The other group members should include shorter introductions and should avoid presenting background information that has already been covered. These students should present detailed technical information on one aspect of the project.

This obviously requires a large amount of communication within the group, and you should tailor your presentations to look, sound, and feel like they have a common origin. Try to think of yourselves as a small company making a proposal - your slides should not have different styles, for example.

The Structure of your Oral Presentation

Good speakers often follow a common teaching tool/trick, reinforcement. The additional material may take 30 seconds or a minute to include in a 10-minute presentation, but offers a quick 'learning curve' insight into your project.

  • Tell the audience what the presentation is going to be about;
  • Present the information; and
  • Tell the audience what they were just presented.
Remember that most of the audience members have less technical experience with your project than you do. They may understand in-depth fundamentals about building blocks you use within your project, but they probably haven't had the design experience. Reinforcing the material you're presenting allows you to convey the critical aspects of your project much easier.

Your oral presentation should utilize the reinforcement tools, while following the provided logistical information required by the Department of Electronics. A common structure follows:

  • Introduction
    • Introduce yourself
    • Tell them what you're going to say
    • Approx. time: 1 minute
  • Background information
    • Explain why your project is important
    • Demonstrate evidence of understanding of the material
    • Touch on complicated aspects, explain terms
    • Approx. time: 1.5 minutes
  • Discussion
    • Provide a clear explanation of the problem and solution
    • Clearly state the work completed (by yourself) and the plan for completion of the project
    • Tell them what you have to say
    • Approx. time: 6 minutes
  • Conclusion
    • Finish your discussion, include your future plans
    • Tell them what you've said
    • Approx. time: 1.5 minutes
  • Question and Answer period
    • Approx. time: 3 minutes

Introduction - The introduction should cover everything from your name and title, the topic of discussion, and how you plan to cover the material included in your presentation. If it isn't already known, Prof. Artemeva recommends you inform the audience how long your presentation will be. It's always a good idea to outline how you want the audience to ask questions - in our case, we want them to wait until the Q&A period AFTER the talk.

Background information - This section should detail the need for your project, why you're doing what you're doing. As Prof. Ray has always commented - it is NOT enough to say "I'm doing this project because it's a required course for my degree." You need a reason, a purpose. A good example might be: "I designed this battery charger to work from either 110V or 220V, so it can be used almost anywhere."

Discussion - The discussion is the meat and potatoes of your talk, and should contain information about the bulk of the work you've completed to date. You must have sufficient technical information in your discussion - a technical project without a schematic, a chart, a flow diagram, or some other technical content is simply not good enough. If you have built something, anything, bring it.

Conclusion - Start by summarizing your key points, stress the important aspects of your project. Review your presentation and tell the audience what you said. Indicate the presentation has concluded, gracefully, and ask to field any questions.

Questions & Answers - This component of a technical presentation can be very tricky. If someone in the audience is as knowledgable as you are about a certain topic, you can be faced with very daunting questions. Remember the time limit you have allotted, and be aware that defering the answer until later might be a better solution than humming and hawwing while shuffling slides.

Reviewing your Oral Presentation

The strict time limit on the presentations is not an isolated restriction - most professional proposals have limits, and business meetings will require you to be brief and succinct. Keeping in mind your time budget, think about everything you say:

  • Does this contribute to my communication?
  • Does this inform my audience?
  • Does this fit with what I've said and am about to say?
  • Does this make a relevant point?

Once you have reviewed your slides for the allocated time budget, you should review to check to see if you're covering everything that will be expected of you. Review the requirements outlined by the Department of Electronics, covered in the Structure Section, above.

Review your presentation material several days after you initially prepared it, and consider the following:

  • Reorder to put hard/mind-stretching material first;
  • Simplify complex sentences;
  • Mix sentence length for rhythm;
  • Build in pacing;
  • Mark your script for pauses, louder voice, different tone;
  • Put predicate close to subject, check modifiers; and
  • Replace or define jargon.
You should also consider modifying the material you present to allow it to flow more easily. Remember that you're the one who is delivering the material, so build a talk that you're comfortable with.

Prof. Artemeva suggests the following for strengthening your presentation:

  • Use an informal style
  • Make clear transitions between your ideas
  • Repeat key points
  • Use a pointer
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Be ready for unexpected questions
  • Accept your nervousness

Delivering your Oral Presentation

Once your outline has been decided upon, your slides have been prepared, and you've checked everything over for brevity and clarity - you need to consider the final aspect of the oral presentation, the delivery. Virtually everyone gets nervous, but technical presentations are especially tricky.

You must speak clearly and distinctly. You should avoid slang and nervous expressions such as "uhm", "like" and "you know". You should use a laser pointer. Your movements should be slow and confident, not fast and twitchy. You must project your confidence over the audience, even if you're extremely nervous.

The best way to present well is to practice.

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice some more.

Have your friends review your presentation, in exchange for your reviewing their presentations. Make notes, and give good feedback. Ask your supervisor or TA to attend a "dry-run", and listen to the feedback you receive. Presenting without practicing is like trying to pass without studying. It can be done, but your best effort will be wasted.

Review the following tips to a 'perfect' delivery:

  • Use stress-reducing exercises before the presentation;
  • Talk slowly and clearly;
  • Point to projected material for a long time;
  • Make eye contact - 'scan audience';
  • Put enthusiasm in your voice: smile;
  • Practice saying: 'I don't know the answer to that question: can I get back to you after the presentation?'; and
  • Know your weaknesses and compensate for them.
    • enunciation? monotone voice? stoneface?

Remember that while you may be extremely nervous, you know more about the material you're presenting than anyone else does. Even the Professors present for your presentation will have less hands-on experience with your project than you do.

Miscellaneous Advice for your Oral Presentation

Hostile Questions - Prof. Artemeva has this excellent advice for dealing with threatening questions:

  • Listen carefully to the question keeping eye contact
    • show the questioner that you take him/her seriously
  • Make sure you understand the question; restate it
    • ensure that the question you think you heard is really the question asked
  • Give yourself some extra time to formulate a satisfactory answer
  • Your answer should show that you take seriously
    • the question
    • the questioner
    • the questioner's attitude.

Know Your Audience - While students are a major part of your audience, you're presenting to the Professors who are grading your efforts. The material you present must satisfy them - so ask yourself, why are the Professors here? They may or may not be interested in your project material, but they definitely want to know how much work you've done.

Include complicated schematics and equations, if only to show that you've done more work than you're presenting. Briefly touch on the complex technical information, then replace the slide with a much simpler version of the same thing. A block diagram, or final equation, that can be used to more thoroughly explain your project.

Bring hardware. If you show up with the plans for fusion power, but no evidence of measurement or physical prototyping, you're going to need an incredible presentation to make up for your lack of physical implementation. Even if your breadboarded circuit doesn't completely work - bring it. Even if you didn't design your circuit - bring it. Don't lie or misrepresent yourself, but make sure you're showing everyone how much work you've put into the project.

Practice - Go through your presentation more than five times. Vary the audience that you get feedback from, try to get people who have been through the Oral Presentation component of the fourth-year projects (your TA, for example), or a Professor.

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