Oral presentations require preparation and practice to master. This week, Insight writer and English teacher Anja Drummond outlines steps you can take to succeed in your oral presentation SAC.
Oral presentation. Two words that are capable of striking fear into the hearts of even the most confident student. But should they? Though not all of us can ever hope to reach the heady heights of oratory genius achieved by the likes of Barack Obama or Martin Luther King Jr, there are steps we can take to help us to present our point of view strongly.
Step 1: Research
Find out as much as you can about your chosen topic. The key skills for presenting argument in the VCE English Study Design clearly state that you need to ‘conduct research to support the development of arguments on particular issues and acknowledge sources accurately and appropriately where relevant’. You are expected to research your chosen topic so that you have a deep and nuanced understanding of the issues and arguments. Read from multiple sources that present various points of view, and take notes on the arguments used.
Step 2: Plan your overall approach
Great speeches very rarely just happen; they are carefully crafted pieces of writing. Use your knowledge of argument and persuasive language as a basis for the development of your oral presentation. Remember that you are required to provide a written statement of intention to accompany your presentation. This statement of intention must outline the decisions you have made in the planning process, and explain how these demonstrate understanding of argument and persuasive language.
So, before you start writing, take the time to think carefully about the following aspects of your presentation.
- Where do you stand on the issue? Why? Express this in a clear and direct sentence. Avoid statements such as ‘Greyhound racing is bad’. This a vague and general opinion, not a contention. A contention on this issue would be something like ‘The cruel and abusive practice of greyhound racing should be banned immediately’.
Your context and audience
- Who are you addressing? By that, I don’t mean your teacher or your classmates. Rather, who is your imagined audience for the speech? This is important to keep in mind, as it will inform the language choices you make. Furthermore, consider in what context you would be addressing your audience. Is your speech designed to be delivered on the steps of parliament at a rally or to a group of students at a graduation dinner? Decide this before you start writing. And don’t be afraid to adopt a persona – this will allow you broader scope in selecting a particular context and audience.
Once you have decided on your contention and on your context and audience, it is time to consider some of the finer details of your presentation.
- What do you want your imagined audience to think, feel or do? Do you wish to inform or educate them? To create alarm? To effect change? Your purpose should be closely related to your contention.
- What feelings are you seeking to communicate and to evoke in the audience? What mood are you trying to generate? Will you be using humour to relax your audience? Will you be hostile? Sympathetic? Will your tone change at any point and, if so, why?
All of the above are important factors to consider, as they will affect your language choices and the persuasive language techniques you employ.
Step 3: Plan your arguments
Now you need to decide on your supporting arguments. For each argument, ask yourself:
- What persuasive language techniques will I use?
- What evidence will I present?
Try to vary your chosen techniques, and remember Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric – logos (appeal to logic and reason), ethos (character of the speaker) and pathos (emotional influence of the speaker). A strong argument will address all three elements in varying degrees.
Step 4: Write the introduction
Good speeches start strongly. You need to grab the audience’s attention and make your point of view clear from the outset. The way you begin should be consistent with your audience and purpose. Strategies that you might consider are listed below.
- Anecdote – this is a great way to highlight a personal connection to the issue or to strike a sympathetic tone.
- Statistics – if your purpose is to shock your audience or to promote change, this is a great way to ‘hit them hard’ right from the outset.
- Inclusive language – if you want to create a shared sense of purpose, make it clear to your audience that they are part of this issue, and that how they feel matters.
Once you have your audience’s attention, introduce yourself (or your persona), clarify the issue, state your contention and signpost your main arguments.
Step 5: Write the body
This is where all your planning from step 3 pays off!
For each body paragraph, ensure that you create strong topic sentences that clearly highlight your main arguments, and then develop each argument using your carefully selected language and evidence.
There are a few things that you should keep in mind as you write:
- Cohesion is king! Keep your line of argument consistent and use connectives throughout.
- Analyse the evidence! Don’t just present a raft of statistics or evidence and expect them to make the argument for you. Analyse their importance in relation to the debate.
- Include some rebuttal! An issue has two sides – you need to rebut some or all arguments from the opposing point of view.
Step 6: Write the conclusion
Aim to finish strongly. Reiterate your contention and then tell the audience what they should think, feel or do. (This should directly relate to the purpose you decided on in the planning stage).
To ensure that you finish on a powerful note, consider using an appeal, a rhetorical question, or a call to action.
Step 7: Proofread and practise
Read your speech to friends or family and get their feedback. Did the line of argument make sense to them? Did you persuade them? Did any parts of your speech lose their attention? Take note of these responses and edit your speech as required.
And finally …
Need extra help preparing for your oral presentation? Insight’s English Year 12 and English Year 11 by Robert Beardwood include chapters on presenting a point of view that outline how to research and prepare; how to plan and write; how to present; and how to write a statement of intention. Sample SAC responses, with sample statements of intention, are also included.
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