A common assignment in technical writing courses—not to mention in the workplace—is to prepare and deliver an oral presentation. You might wonder what an oral report is doing in a writing class. Employers certainly look for coursework and experience in preparing written documents, but they also look for some experience in oral presentations as well. That's why the real name of courses like these ought to be "Introduction to Technical Communication."

The following was written for a standard face-to-face classroom setting. If you are taking the online version of technical writing, oral reports can be sent in as "scripts," or with the right equipment, audio versions can be transmitted live or recorded. In any case, students evaluate each other's oral reports by filling out a form like the one provided at the end of this chapter.

Be sure to check out the examples.

For additional information on oral presentations and public speaking in general, see:

Topic and Situation for the Oral Presentation

For the oral report in a technical writing course, imagine that you are formally handing over your final written report to the people with whom you set up the hypothetical contract or agreement. For example, imagine that you had contracted with a software company to write its user guide. Once you had completed it, you'd have a meeting with chief officers to formally deliver the guide. You'd spend some time orienting them to the guide, showing them how it is organized and written, and discussing some of its highlights. Your goal is to get them aquainted with the guide and to prompt them for any concerns or questions. (Your class will gladly pretend to be whoever you tell them to be during your talk.)

As you can see, you shouldn't have to do any research to prepare for this assignment—just plan the details of your talk and get at least one visual ready. If you have a report topic that you'd prefer not to present orally, discuss other possibilities with your instructor. Here are some brainstorming possibilities in case you want to present something else:

Contents and Requirements for the Oral Presentation

The focus for your oral presentation is clear, understandable presentation; well-organized, well-planned, well-timed discussion. You don't need to be Mr. or Ms. Slick-Operator—just present the essentials of what you have to say in a calm, organized, well-planned manner.

When you give your oral presentation, we'll all be listening for the same things. Use the following as a requirements list, as a way of focusing your preparations:

Diagram of the oral presentation.

Preparing for the Oral Presentation

Pick the method of preparing for the talk that best suits your comfort level with public speaking and with your topic. However, do some sort of preparation or rehearsal—some people assume that they can just jump up there and ad lib for 7 minutes and be relaxed, informal. It doesn't often work that way—drawing a mental blank is the more common experience.

Here are the obvious possibilities for preparation and delivery:

Of course, the extemporaneous or impromptu methods are also out there for the brave and the adventurous. However, please bear in mind that up to 25 people will be listening to you—you owe them a good presentation, one that is clear, understandable, well-planned, organized, and on target with your purpose and audience.

It doesn't matter which method you use to prepare for the talk. Of course the head-down style of reading your report directly from a script has its problems. There is little or no eye contact or interaction with the audience. The delivery tends toward a dull monotone that either puts listeners off or is hard to understand.

For some reason, people tend to get nervous if they are new to oral presentations. Try to remember that your classmates and instructor are a very forgiving, supportive group. You don't have to be a slick entertainer—just be clear, organized, and understandable. The nerves will wear off someday, the more oral presenting you do.

Introductory remarks in an oral presentation.

Delivering an Oral Presentation

When you give an oral report, focus on common problem areas such as these:

Examples of verbal headings in an oral presentation.

Planning and Preparing Visuals for Oral Presentations

Prepare at least one visual for this report. Here are some ideas for the "medium" to use for your visuals:

Avoid just scribbling your visual on the chalkboard or whiteboard. Whatever you scribble can be neatly prepared and made into a presentation slide, transparency, or posterboard-size chart. Take some time to make your visuals look sharp and professional—do your best to ensure that they are legible to the entire audience.

As for the content of your visuals, consider these ideas:

During your actual oral report, make sure to discuss your visuals, refer to them, guide your listeners through the key points in your visuals. It's a big problem just to throw a visual up on the screen and never even refer to it.

Evaluation Form

Download the evaluation form