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Rules to Presenting

Rule One: Reach out to your audience
Show some enthusiasm for the topic, be respectful of the audience, be patient with them, never talk down to them. After all, you are asking for a hearing, and the audience doesn't have to give that to you. You have to do what’s required in order to get and keep their attention.

Rule Two: Be fully present
Being there means not reading something that people can read for themselves, but engaging with the audience. This is achieved by making eye contact, speaking with expression and energy – walking around even. Even if you do read, you can still do these things. Remember that oral presentations are a face-to-face experience and that people will be dissatisfied if that’s not what they get.

Rule Three: Signpost your argument
When people read, they can go back over the bits they don’t understand, or choose to skip over things that are difficult. An audience can’t do this and so they need more signposting than in a written paper – state what the argument to come is going to be, repeating the various steps of the argument, summarising what’s just been said. Make sure that you allow the audience time to follow what’s being said, to make notes if that’s what they want to do, and to make the transition from one point in the argument to another. Start by saying something like – my basic argument is – and conclude with something like – I've argued that…

Rule Four: Offer something positive
Just presenting an audience with critique leaves them feeling depressed, you need to moderate the negativity and offer some direction forward. In academic presentations this rule means making sure that the implications of the argument – the 'so what' and 'now what' of the presentation – are made clear at the end. There shouldn't be the slightest opportunity for the audience to be left wondering why they needed to know what it is you have said.

Rule Five: Use visual aids sensibly and sensitively
If it is used it needs to be engaging. Aim for variety in presentations rather than reliance on one medium – using a range of techniques such as inserting a short reading from a text, a bit of audience participation, the use of handouts. Above all, don’t let the slide-show substitute for you.

Rule Six: End in style
This means keeping to time and not petering out. Having a snappy ending that reinforces the major point you are making is the way to go.

*Weston, A (2009) A rulebook for arguments. (4th edition) Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company

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