Exemplary Oral Presentational Communication

An entire course can be devoted to this topic since there are several levels of proficiency in oral presentation. This chapter will be limited to foundation techniques and strategies you will need to fulfill the Oral Presentation assignment. Refer to the Oral Presentation assignment brief in the course for the exact details about what you need to produce and how to submit it for the course.

Elements of oral presentation

So far, we reviewed the Organizational Principles of communicating with an audience: context, audience, and purpose of your communication. We also reviewed the elements of Rhetorical Strategies which draw upon techniques of persuasion based on logic, emotion, and credibility.

All of these apply to the formation of an oral presentation just as they would if you were writing an essay, letter to the editor of a newspaper, or a business proposal. Now we will review the guidelines for structuring an oral presentation in a narrative form that enables your audience to connect your individual messages into a coherent whole.

Narrative Form:

The audience’s need for coherent structure in your communication applies no matter what your audience’s characteristics may be.


What is narrative form?  First, an analogy. There is a difference between steering a car and driving a car. It is appropriate to say that if you can just keep your car on the road and abide by the rules, you can say that you know how to drive a car. But anyone who has driven a car long enough knows (as you might say to a new teenager driver) that driving a car is much more than just keeping it between the lines on the road. Drivers have to take into consideration the mentality, habits, sobriety, and tendencies of other drivers, the context of driving on particular roads that inform driving strategies, the weather and road conditions, the capabilities of the vehicle, and even the enjoyment of the driving experience itself. In short, driving is much more than simply steering and following the rules.

Oral presentation is just the same: it is much more than simply speaking the words.

As we have covered previously, Organizational Principles call for knowing about the audience to whom you are presenting such as their individual and group characteristics, i.e. age, culture, experience, expectations, etc. In oral presentation, narrative form calls for being aware of your audience’s need for messages to come together like a story: connected, coherent, and meaningful; a feeling of a beginning middle and end. And this applies no matter what the variations may be in the audience characteristics.

There are many interpretations of narrative form for oral presentations that take into account the wide ranging needs, contexts, and venues where oral presentations take place. For example, when Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer, makes a worldwide conference presentation, his narrative form would be different than a citizen speaking at a town hall assembly – even if both of these speakers draw from the same playbook on Organizational Principles and Rhetorical Strategies.

For the sake of simplicity, this chapter will focus on the basic narrative form used by scientists and academics to present information at conferences and seminars. The basic narrative structure of this approach is applicable to any other form of oral presentation, with some variation.

The resource cited below is from the Scitable website produced by the Nature Publishing Group, a global publisher of research studies known for their premiere publication Nature.

What to look for as you read:

⇒ Focus your attention on the basic narrative structure in this article:

    • Opening: You know everything there is to know about the presentation; your audience knows nothing. What do they need to know in the opening in order for the rest of the presentation to make sense? A brief preview of the presentation enables them to follow your narrative.
    • The Body: Tell the story! Each part (each message) in the body section should be connected in some way so that it feels like a coherent whole. Remember, one message per slide!
    • The Closing: You told them what you were going to present, you presented it, now tell them what you just presented but in a concise form so that it will be the last thing they hear.

⇒ The Opening section refers to context and message (purpose). The Opening section is where your audience should gain a sense of “why are we here?”
⇒ The Body section refers to sequence and transition. This is the foundation of narrative form: the feeling your audience gets when they hear a sequence of messages that are connected together in a coherent whole.
⇒ The Closing section refers to tying it all together by repeating what you have just stated but in a concise way. You may feel that the need for repetition is unintuitive, but remember that you are the expert – your audience is processing what you have presented into a new understanding. Repetition is actually helpful.

One of the most important quotes from this resource is about the difference between the details you present in a paper versus what you present as an oral presentation:

Written documents are for convincing with detailed evidence; oral presentations, on the other hand, are for convincing with delivery — both verbal and nonverbal.


oral presentation structure
(Please note that the clickable elements of the Scitable page do not work. They are not needed for this chapter.)

tips on what makes a great ted talk

Professional public relations consultant Catriano Pollard has compiled a collection TED talks with tips on what makes these TED talks great as oral presentation.

What to look for as you read:

⇒ The tips indicated for each TED talk include some high-level suggestions as well as some basics. Focus on the basics, but if you are inspired by their ideas, by all means embrace them!

Catriona Pollard website


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