History 311: Colloquium on Historical Research
Spring, 2003

Oral Presentation Guidelines

Objectives : Historians share their research orally – through presentations at conferences, chiefly – as well as in writing. There is an art to reading a paper effectively, just as there is to doing research.

Like Homeric heroes (but maybe not Hollywood heroes), liberally educated people need to be skilled not only in deeds but also in words. When you have to deliver a presentation some day, whether to a court of law or to the board of directors of the corporation for which you work, you will be glad that you have done this beforehand and had guidance and feed-back.

Dress: Treat this as a formal occasion – jacket and tie for the men, comparable dress for women. Think of this as a mini-conference, and you have been invited to speak on your topic.

Notes: You may bring your notes in whatever format you find most useful – 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 file cards, 8 1/2 x 11 paper, etc. But be sure that the notes don’t take over the presentation. Ideally, use the notes as prompts, to remind yourself of what you want to discuss next, and consult them closely only if the subject is particularly complex or technical.

Delivery: Engage the audience by making eye contact and, where appropriate, by using gestures. Pericles stood stock still when delivering an oration, but are you Pericles? Feel free to move as appropriate.

Equipment: Audio-visual and computer-based materials should add to what you say, not distract from it.

- Over-heads, if you use them at all, should be used sparingly.
- Never, ever read from an overhead. The audience is literate and will be bored.
- We will practice with PowerPoint so that you have some experience with what it can do, both good and ill.
- Observe the time limit: How do you feel when a professor talks beyond the end of the class? Fill up the assigned time, but do not run over.

Practice: If you can deliver a fair presentation without practicing, think how much better you will do if you run through it several times in advance. Recruit a friend, roommate, or classmate to serve as your audience. Be formal in your delivery.