Basic Principles of Oral Presentation

Know your listeners and adapt your message to them
  • Think about your audience's demographics—age, gender, occupation, race or ethnicity, religion, cultural heritage, etc.
  • Consider what your audience already knows about your topic, how familiar they are with the terminology, how closely their views match yours, and how committed they are to existing attitudes and beliefs.
  • The best communicators are those who understand their listeners and adjust their message in order to "reach them where they are."
Speaking is fundamentally different from writing because listening is fundamentally different from reading.
  • A reader chooses when and where to focus attention; a speaker must focus a listener's attention on what he or she is saying at this moment.
  • A reader controls how fast he or she will move through a text; a speaker controls how fast listeners will move through an oral presentation.
  • Readers have the option of going back and re-reading; listeners must grasp material as the speaker presents it.
  • Readers have lots of graphic cues about order and importance of points and about the relationship among ideas; listeners rely on the speaker to be their guide and interpreter.
Understand your nervousness
  • It's normal: 3 out of 4 people say they feel nervous about speaking in public. It's like getting up for an athletic contest: you want to do well, you've prepared, and you're ready to go!
  • Your performance is important, but it's not the main thing. The main thing is sharing your message—the ideas, feelings, information. It's about learning together.
  • Nobody expects perfection. If you mess up something, just fix it and go on. Your audience is your partner: they want to learn from you; they want you to succeed.
  • Some nervousness is a good thing. Heightened activation can energize your presentation, enhance your alertness and animation, and boost audience engagement.
  • Use relaxation techniques if you think you're too wound up. Before your presentation, sit quietly, focus on letting the tension go out of your body, breathe deeply from your abdomen (in for a 4 count, hold for 4, out for a 4 count). Do this for several cycles with normal breaths between so you don't hyperventilate.
  • Smile. It's a mood elevator.
  • If you think you are unusually nervous about speaking in front of people, contact the Oral Communication Center. We have methods for helping you understand and manage your anxiety.


Office / Department Name

Oral Communication Center

Contact Name

Amy Gaffney

Oral Communication Center Director

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