Resources for Teachers: Adding Oral Presentation Components

There are many ways to incorporate oral presentations and speaking into a course; the following is intended to be a suggestive rather than an exhaustive list.

Class Discussions
are the most common method of adding student voices to the class. Their major advantages are: (1) the students participate within the flow of the class; (2) students do not feel as though they are "center stage" when they speak from their seats; (3) in their future professions they may find themselves in group discussion meetings; and (4) no portion of class time must be set aside exclusively for individuals to give speeches. The disadvantages are: (1) the experience of participating in a class discussion is not the same as standing in front of an audience and hence is not the best preparation for the oral presentation aspects of students’ professional careers; (2) most students have already had some experience (often, some significant experience) participating in class discussions; and (3) some shy or unprepared students might "slip through the cracks" and manage to avoid speaking in most class sessions.

Workshops are a very useful method for having students discuss each other’s writing. Two basic kinds of workshops are the small-group workshop (e.g., 3-6 students in a group) and the full-class workshop. The advantages of breaking the class into small groups are (1) everyone is forced to comment on each paper; (2) sitting and commenting in a small group is less intimidating than standing in front of the whole class; (3) students engage in a dialogue and often learn a great deal from one another in a workshop; (4) each student’s paper receives advice and reactions from several readers; and (5) in their future professions, many will find themselves writing documents as members of a team, and the skills of offering constructive advice in a non-threatening manner and of accepting advice in a positive way are useful skills indeed. The major disadvantage of a small group workshop is that it does not accurately duplicate the experience of standing in front of an audience. A full-class workshop has the advantage of the student reading his/her paper to the whole class and hence receiving advice from many different perspectives. Its major disadvantage is that a full-class workshop takes a great deal of class time and it is almost impossible to cover each student’s writing more than once or twice a semester.

Impromptu Speeches are speeches given "off the cuff," with little or no preparation ahead of time. Usually students stand in front of the class and talk about a subject for a set period of time (e.g., 2-3 minutes). One useful approach is to announce the topic(s), give students a few minutes to organize their thoughts, and then have one or more students give the speech. If the point of impromptus in your class is simply to give students experience standing before an audience, any topic is possible. Impromptus, however, are a good method of helping students keep up with the reading. Making the "topic du jour" an explanation of a particular concept from the day’s assigned reading or a response to a particular idea or theory discussed during the previous class is a very effective method for helping students learn and synthesize material. Cultivating the ability to think on their feet will aid students in many professions as well as in classes. Similarly, hearing impromptu explanations of the course material will help you see what points were not sufficiently understood. Impromptus also are a good device for beginning discussions of the day’s material.

Extemporaneous Speeches are speeches that are given after a significant amount of practice. Most experts recommend that the speaker practice the speech all the way through at least 3-4 times (if possible, 2 of those times should be in front of someone) before actually presenting the speech in front of the class/audience. Speakers should write out word-for-word the introduction and the conclusion of the speech (because these are the 2 crucial parts of the speech — the introduction captures listeners’ attention and the conclusion gives them something to remember and perhaps act upon). The body of the speech, however, should not be completely written out — this approach maintains the illusion of spontaneity. Even the introduction and conclusion should not be read to the audience; rather, they should simply be practiced often enough so that the speaker has them well under control. Giving an extemporaneous speech means standing in front of an audience and "talking" to them (rather than reading a speech to them or giving a memorized speech). Speakers use note cards that list only key words or ideas. Often speakers use visual aids (e.g., slides) in their presentations as well. Giving extemporaneous speeches is good preparation for future academic and professional tasks. The major teaching disadvantage is that such speeches require a portion of class time dedicated to them. This disadvantage can be turned into an advantage if the topics of the speeches provide a starting point for the day’s discussion. Some instructors schedule all the speeches for one block of time (e.g., two weeks in the middle of the term), but others schedule one or two speeches a day, using them to prime the pump for the day’s discussion.

Teaching a Portion of a Class or Leading a Discussion is a good way for students to achieve and demonstrate mastery of a concept or of reading assigned for the class. Like extemporaneous speeches, this method puts students in front of an audience and requires them to present material in a logical fashion and also to respond to questions.

Group Presentations, Panel Discussions, and Debates are effective techniques for teaching students how to collaborate on a project and how to handle the various aspects of group presentations (e.g., transitioning into the next speaker’s topic, connecting one’s topic with the topic or ideas that came before).

To discuss the particular needs or goals of your class, please feel free to contact the Center’s director, Dr. Steven Strang.

Here are some off-site sources for ideas about oral presentations.

"Teaching Oral Presentation Skills to Undergraduates" (The McGraw Center)

Oral Presentation Advice" by Mark D. Hill (University of Wisconsin–Madison)

"Making Effective Oral Presentations" (Dr. Ron Rogers, San Jose State University)


"Making Presentations for Scientists" (University of Kansas)

“A Resource for Speech and Debate Assignments” — Source: University of North Carolina