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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Giving an Oral Presentation

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.

Preparing for Your Oral Presentation

In some classes, writing the research paper is only part of what is required. Your professor may also require you to give an oral presentation about your study. Here are some things to think about before you are scheduled to give your presentation.

1.  What should I say?

If your professor hasn't explicitly stated what your presentation should focus on, think about what you want to achieve and what you consider to be the most important things that members of the audience should know about your study. Think about the following: Do I want to inform my audience, inspire them to think about my research, or convince them of a particular point of view?

2.  Oral communication is different from written communication

Your audience only has one chance to hear your talk; they can't "re-read" your words if they get confused. Focus on being clear, particularly if the audience can't ask questions during the talk. There are two well-known ways to communicate your points effectively. The first is the K.I.S.S. method (keep it simple stupid). Focus your presentation on getting one to three key points across. Second, repeat key insights: tell them what you're going to tell them [forecast], tell them [explain], and then tell them what you just told them [summarize].

3.  Think about your audience

Yes, you want to demonstrate to your professor that you have conducted a good study. But professors often ask students to give an oral presentation to practice the art of communicating and to learn to speak clearly and audibly about yourself and your research. Questions to think about include: What background knowledge do they have about my topic? Does the audience have any particular interests? How am I going to involve them in my presentation?

4.  Create effective notes

If you don't have notes to refer to as you speak, you run the risk of forgetting to highlight something important and having no notes to refer to increases the chance you'll lose your train of thought and begin relying on reading from the presentation slides. Think about the best ways to create notes that can be easily referred to as you speak. This is important because nothing is more distracting to an audience than the speaker fumbling around with his or her notes. It gives the impression of being disorganized and unprepared. A good general strategy is to have a page of notes for each slide so that the act of referring to a new page helps remind you to move to a new slide.

Strategies for creating effective notes include the following:

  • Choose a large, readable font [at least 18 point in Ariel]; avoid using fancy text fonts or cursive text.
  • Use bolding, different-colored text, or a highlighter to mark elements of your speech that you want to emphasize. Don't over do it, though. Only highlight the most important elements of your presentation.
  • Leave adequate space on your notes to jot down additional thoughts or observations before and during your presentation. This is also helpful when writing down your thoughts in response to a question or to remember a multi-part question [remember to have a pen with you when you give your presentation].
  • Place a cue in the text of your notes to indicate when to move to the next slide, to click on a link, or to take some other action. If appropriate, include a cue in your notes if there is a point during your presentation when you want the audience to refer to a handout.
  • Spell out challenging words phonetically and practice saying them ahead of time. This is particularly important for accurately pronouncing people’s names, technical or scientific terminology, or words in a foreign language.

Creating and Using Overheads. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kelly, Christine. Mastering the Art of Presenting. Inside Higher Education Career Advice; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. 10th edition. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008; Peery, Angela B. Creating Effective Presentations: Staff Development with Impact. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2011; Peoples, Deborah Carter. Guidelines for Oral Presentations. Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries; Perret, Nellie. Oral Presentations. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Speeches. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Storz, Carl et al. Oral Presentation Skills. Institut national de télécommunications, EVRY FRANCE.

Organizing the Content

First of all, think about what you want to achieve and think about how are you going to involve your audience in the presentation.

Then...

  1. Brainstorm your topic and write a rough outline. Don’t get carried away—remember you have a limited amount of time for your presentation.
  2. Organize your material and draft what you want to say [see below].
  3. Summarize your draft into key points to write on overhead slides and/or notecards.
  4. Prepare your visual aids.
  5. Rehearse your presentation and practice getting the presentation completed within the time given. Ask a friend to listen and time you.

GENERAL OUTLINE

I.  Introduction [may be written last]

  • Capture your listeners’ attention. Begin with a question, an amusing story, a startling comment, or anything that will engage your audience and make them think.
  • State your purpose. For example, "I’m going to talk about..."; "This morning I want to explain…."
  • Present an outline of your talk. For example, “I will concentrate on the following points: First of all…Then…This will lead to…And finally…"

II.  The Body

  • Present your main points one by one in a logical order.
  • Pause at the end of each point. Give people time to take notes, or time to think about what you are saying.
  • Make it clear when you move to another point. For example, “The next point is that...”; “Of course, we must not forget that...”; “However, it's important to realize that....”
  • Use clear examples to illustrate your points and/or key findings.
  • If appropriate, consider using visual aids to make your presentation more interesting [e.g., a map, chart, picture, etc.].

III.  The Conclusion

  • Leave your audience with a clear summary of everything that you have covered.
  • Don't let the talk just fizzle out. Make it obvious that you have reached the end of the presentation.
  • Summarize the main points again. For example, use phrases like: "So, in conclusion..."; "To recap the main issues...," "In summary, it is important to realize...."
  • Restate the purpose of your talk, and say that you have achieved your aim: "My intention was ..., and it should now be clear that...."
  • Thank the audience, and invite questions: "Thank you. Are there any questions?"

NOTE:  When asking your audience if anyone has any questions, give people time to contemplate what you have said and to formulate a question. It may seem like an awkward pause to wait ten seconds or so for someone to raise their hand, but it's frustrating to have a question come to mind but be cutoff because the presenter rushed to end the talk.


Creating and Using Overheads. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. 10th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008; Peery, Angela B. Creating Effective Presentations: Staff Development with Impact. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2011; Peoples, Deborah Carter. Guidelines for Oral Presentations. Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries; Perret, Nellie. Oral Presentations. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Speeches. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Storz, Carl et al. Oral Presentation Skills. Institut national de télécommunications, EVRY FRANCE.

Delivering Your Presentation

Pay attention to language!

  • Keep it simple. The aim is to communicate, not to show off your vocabulary. Using complex words or phrases increases the chance of stumbling over a word or losing your train of thought.
  • Emphasize the key points. Make sure people realize which are the key points of your study. Repeat them using different phrasing to help your audience remember them.
  • Check the pronunciation of difficult, unusual, or foreign words beforehand. Keep it simple, but if you have to use unfamiliar words, write them out phonetically in your notes. This is particularly important when pronouncing proper names.

Use your voice to communicate clearly

  • Speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you. This may feel uncomfortably loud at first, but if people can't hear you, they won't try to listen.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t rush! Speaking fast makes it harder for people to understand you.
  • Practice to avoid saying um, ah, you know, like. These words occur most often during transitions from one idea to another and are distracting to an audience. The better you know your presentation, the better you can control these verbal tics.
  • Vary your voice quality. If you always use the same volume and pitch [for example, all loud, or all soft, or in a monotone] your audience will stop listening.
  • Speakers with accents need to slow down [so do most others]. Non-native speakers often speak English faster than we slow-mouthed native speakers, usually because most non-English languages flow more quickly than English. Slowing down helps the audience to comprehend your talk.
  • When you begin a new point, use a higher pitch and volume. Use the tone of voice to help emphasize the transition to a new point.
  • Slow down for key points. These are also moments in your presentation to consider using body language, such as hand gestures, to help emphasize key points.
  • Use pauses. Don't be afraid of short periods of silence. They give you a chance to gather your thoughts, and your audience a chance to think about what you've said.

Use your body language to communicate too!

  • Stand straight and comfortably. Do not slouch or shuffle about. If you appear bored or uninterested in what your talking about, the audience will be as well. This is not the time to wear a wool sweater or high heels for the first time.
  • Hold your head up. Look around and make eye contact with people in the audience. Do not just look at your professor the whole time! Do not stare at a point on the carpet or the wall. If you don't include the audience, they won't listen to you.
  • When you are talking to your friends, you naturally use your hands, your facial expression, and your body to add to your communication. Do it in your presentation as well. It will make things far more interesting for the audience.
  • Don't turn your back on the audience and don't fidget! Neither moving around nor standing still is wrong. Practice either to make yourself comfortable.
  • Keep your hands out of your pocket. This is a natural habit when speaking. One hand in your pocket gives the impression of being relaxed, but both hands in pockets looks too casual and should be avoided.

Interact with the audience

  • Be aware of how your audience is reacting to your presentation. Are they interested or bored? If they look confused, stop and ask them [e.g., "Is anything I've covered so far unclear?"]. Stop and explain a point again if needed.
  • Check after highlighting key points to ask if the audience is still with you. "Does that make sense?"; "Is that clear?"
  • Do not apologize for anything. If you believe something will be hard to read or understand, don't use it. If you apologize for feeling awkward or nervous, you'll only succeed in drawing attention to the fact you are feeling awkward or nervous. Your audience will begin looking for it rather than focusing on what you are saying.
  • Be open to questions. If someone raises their hand, or asks a question in the middle of your talk, answer it. If it disrupts your train of thought momentarily, that's ok because your audience will understand. Questions show that the audience is listening with interest and, therefore, should not be regarded as an attack on you, but as a collaborative search for deeper understanding. However, don't engage in an extended conversation with an audience member or the rest of the audience will begin to feel left out. If an audience member persists, kindly tell them that the issue can be addressed after you've completed the rest of your presentation and note to them that their issue may be addressed by things you say in the rest of your presentation [it may not be, but at least saying so allows you to move on].
  • Be ready to get the discussion going after your presentation. Professors often want a brief discussion to take place after a presentation. Just in case nobody has anything to say or no one asks any questions, be prepared to ask your audience some provocative questions or bring up key issues for discussion.

Amirian, Seyed Mohammad Reza and Elaheh Tavakoli. “Academic Oral Presentation Self-Efficacy: A Cross-Sectional Interdisciplinary Comparative Study.” Higher Education Research and Development 35 (December 2016): 1095-1110; Balistreri, William F. “Giving an Effective Presentation.” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 35 (July 2002): 1-4; Creating and Using Overheads. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. 10th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008; Peery, Angela B. Creating Effective Presentations: Staff Development with Impact. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2011; Peoples, Deborah Carter. Guidelines for Oral Presentations. Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries; Perret, Nellie. Oral Presentations. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Speeches. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Storz, Carl et al. Oral Presentation Skills. Institut national de télécommunications, EVRY FRANCE.

Speaking Tip

Your First Words are Your Most Important!

Your introduction should begin with something that grabs the attention of your audience, such as, an interesting statisitic, a brief narrative or story, or a bold assertion, and then clearly tell the audience in a well-crafted sentence what you plan to accomplish in your presentation. Your introductory statement should be constructed so as to invite the audience to pay close attention to your message and to give the audience a clear sense of the direction in which you are about to take them.

Another Speaking Tip

Talk to Your Audience, Don't Read to Them!

A presentation is not the same as an essay. If you read your presentation as if it were an essay, your audience will probably understand very little about you say and will lose concentration quickly. Use notes, cue cards, or overheads as prompts that emphasis key points, and speak to the audience. Include everyone by looking at them and maintaining regular eye-contact [but don't stare or glare at people].