What kind of structure should my presentation have?

Spoken academic presentations can have a range of structures and purposes, from seminar or tutorial presentations to conference papers. The first step is to carefully analyse the instructions and other information about the specific presentation you will have to give. If necessary, speak to your lecturer/supervisor/tutor/other students, to clarify what is expected and to get more information.

Often, spoken academic presentations have a similar structure to written academic papers. For example, in disciplines in the sciences, a spoken presentation about your research will have an Introduction, Methods & Data, Results, Discussion and Conclusion. Regardless of the discipline area, almost all spoken academic presentations need to include an introduction (which introduces the topic and your main argument or research questions, purpose, etc.); a main body (which is divided into a few main parts, each of which provides a main point and some details, such as examples or evidence); and a conclusion (which sums up the main points and reinforces your argument or answers the research question, and shows implications for the future).

Note that, although the structure of your talk may be quite similar to the structure of a written paper, the language density and style is different, so don't read out a written paper.

It is important to make the structure of your presentation clear for the audience. You can do this in a few different ways; for example, it is usual to tell the audience, at the end of your introduction, what the main points will be in the body of your talk, and you can reinforce this with a slide showing a bulleted list of the parts of your talk. You can also reinforce this at the beginning of each new part, using language such as: “and now, moving on to the second part, the environmental benefits of recycling”. Another way to make this clear is by using headings on your slides, or another visual way to show that you are moving to a new topic.

When you plan the structure of your presentation, it is wise to practice the timing, so that you know how many minutes you have for each section – e.g. how long for the introduction, and how long for each part of the main body. This way, if you can see that you are running over time during your presentation, you can leave out one or two examples in that section, so that you have enough time to complete the other sections and the conclusion.

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