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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Group Presentations

This guide provides advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social and behavioral sciences.

Planning for and Giving a Group Presentation

Students working on group projects are often asked to give an oral presentation summarizing the results of their research. Professors assign group presentations because they combine the cooperative learning benefits of working in groups with the active learning benefits of speaking in front of an audience. However, similar to participating in a group project, giving a group presentation requires making decisions together, negotiating shared responsibilities, and collaborating on developing a set of solutions to a research problem. Below are issues to consider when planning and while giving a group presentation.

Before the Presentation

When to Begin

Planning the logistics around giving a presentation should take place as the group project progresses and, most critically, coalesce immediately after results of your study are known and clear recommendations can be made. Keep in mind that completing the basic tasks of giving a presentation [e.g., designating a moderator, designing the slide templates, working on the introduction, etc.] can save you time and allow your group to focus just before giving the presentation on how to effectively highlight the most important aspects of the research study.

Sharing the Responsibility

Everyone in the group should have an equal role in preparing the presentation and covering a similar amount of information during the presentation. However, a moderator should be elected to lead the presentation. The group should then determine what each member will speak about. This can be based on either the member's interests or what they worked on during the group project. This means that each member should be responsible for developing an outline of what they will talk about and drafting the content of their section of the slides or other forms of visual aids.

NOTE: If, for whatever reason, a group member is particularly anxious about speaking in front of an audience or perhaps they are uncomfortable because English is not their first language, consider giving them a role that can be easily articulated, such as, introducing the purpose of the study and its importance. Everyone must participate in speaking, but be cognizant of the need to support that person by discussing what would work best for them while still being an active contributor to the presentation.

Organizing the Content

The content of the presentation should parallel the organization of the research study. In general, it should include a brief introduction, a description of the study, along with its purpose and significance, a review of prior research and its relevance to your group's project, an analysis of the results, with an emphasis on significance findings or recommended courses of action, and a brief statement about any limitations and how the group managed them. The conclusion of the presentation should briefly summarize the study's key findings and implications and, if time has been allotted, ask for questions from the audience. The conclusion can also be used to highlight areas of study the require further investigation. Note that the group's time should be spent primarily discussing the results of the study and their implications in furthering knowledge about the research problem.

Developing the Content

The narrative around each section must flow together smoothly to ensure that the audience remains engaged. An initial meeting to discuss each section of the presentation should include the following: 1) deciding on the sequence of speakers and which group member presents on which section; 2) determining who will oversee the use of any technology [and who steps up when it's that person's turn to speak]; 3) determining how much time should be allocated for each section in relation to the overall time limit; 4) discussing the use and content of slides or other visual aids; and, 5) developing a general outline of the presentation. Once everyone's roles and responsibilities have been negotiated, the group should establish a schedule of deadlines for when the work should to be completed.

Creating Transitions

Building the narrative of an oral presentation means more than imparting information; it also requires the group to work together developing moments of transition from one section to the next. Transitional statements ensures coordination among members about what is to be covered and helps your audience follow along and remain engaged. The transition from one section to the next should include both verbal cues [e.g., a recap what you just discussed and an introduction of the next speaker] and non-verbal gestures [e.g., stepping away from the podium or front of class to make room for the next speaker]. An example of this transition could be something like this:

Speaker 1: "...so to summarize, the literature suggested that allegations of election fraud often created the conditions for massive street protests in democratized societies. Next Mike will discuss how we analyzed recent events in Mexico and determined why this assumption may not apply under certain conditions."

Speaker 2: "Thank you, Jordan. Next slide. In our study, we coded and analyzed the content of twitter accounts to explore the rise of dissension among...."

NOTE:  Each member of the group should learn the entire presentation and not just their section. This ensures that members can help out if the speaker becomes nervous and loses track of what to say or if they forget something. If each member knows the entire presentation, then there is always someone who can step up and support the speaker by maintaining the narrative and not losing the audience's attention.

Practicing the Presentation

The most critical thing to do before giving a group presentation is to practice as a group. Rehearse what will be said and how it will be said so you know that the overall structure works, that the time is allotted correctly, and that any changes can be made, if needed. Also, rehearsing the presentation should include practicing use of the technology and choreographing where people will stand. An effective strategy is to rehearse the entire presentation at least twice. Practice with each member taking turns speaking in front of the other members pretending that they are the audience. This way the group members can take turns offering suggestions about improving the presentation and the speaker gets more comfortable speaking in front of people. Practice a second time presenting as a group. This way, everyone can rehearse where to stand and coordinate transitions. If possible, practice in the room where your presentation will take place; standing in the front of a classroom feels very different from sitting there as a student.


During the Presentation

Before the Presentations Begin

If groups are presenting from a shared computer, ask your professor if you could pre-load your slides or other visual aids before the class begins. This will ensure that you're not taking time away from your presentation downloading and setting everything up. In addition, if there is a problem, it can be resolved beforehand rather than it being a distraction when you start the presentation.

Introduction

Begin by having the moderator introduce the group by giving each member's name and a brief description of what they will be presenting on. And, yes, this seems like a pointless formality because it's likely that everyone knows everyone else. However, this is expected because it reflects giving oral presentations in most professional and work settings. In addition, your group has a limited amount of time to present and introducing everyone before the presentation begins saves more time than having each individual introduce themselves before they speak.

When Not Speaking

Assuming your group has practiced at least twice [and preferably more], you have heard and seen the entire presentation multiple times. Keep in mind, however, that your audience has not and they can observe everyone in the group. Be engaged. Do not look bored or distracted while others are speaking. Pay attention to each other by watching what the presenter is doing. Respond positively to the presenter and use nonverbal cues [e.g., nodding your head] as a way to help emphasize keys points of the presentation; audiences notice when those not speaking react to something the speaker is saying.

Coordinate Moving from One Speaker to the Next

The person presenting should take a position in the foreground of where you are delivering the information. Group members not speaking should step back and take a spot behind or off to the side of the speaker. When the person speaking is done, the next person steps forward. This pre-planned choreography may seem trivial, but it emphasizes to your audience who the next speaker will be and demonstrates a smooth, coordinated delivery throughout the presentation.

Visual Aids

Plan ahead how to use slides or other visual aids. The person currently presenting should not be distracted by having to constantly move to the next slide, backup and show an earlier slide, or exit a slide to show a video or external web page. Coordinate who in the group is responsible for taking the cue to change slides or otherwise manipulate the technology. When it's time for that person to speak, have a plan in place for passing this responsibility to someone else in the group. Fumbling around with who does what when, distracts the audience. Note however that the role of moving from one slide to the next does not count as being a presenter!

Conclusion

The presentation should conclude with the moderator stepping forward and thanking the audience and asking if there are any questions. If a question relates to a specific part of the presentation, the group member who spoke during that part should answer the question; it should not be the moderator's responsibility to answer for everyone. If another group follows your presentation from a shared computer, be courteous and close out all of your slides or other visual aids before stepping away.


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