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StructureHow to structure your presentation


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The general structure of a presentation is much like any other academic work, such as an essay or a lecture. It too has an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. Unlike an essay or a lecture, it has a final section at the end, the Q&A, when you will answer questions from the audience. The general structure of a presentation is shown in the following diagram. Each area is discussed in more detail below.




Introduction

  • Greetings
  • Purpose
  • Structure
  • Timing
  • About Q&A
Main body

Conclusion

  • Review of purpose
  • Summary of main points
  • Final 'take-away' message
Q&A

  • Answer questions from the audience

Introduction

The introduction is a vital part of your presentation. It must arouse the interest of the audience, provide them with a clear idea what the topic is and what you hope to achieve (your purpose), as well as explaining how the presentation will be organised (the structure). You also need to greet the audience and introduce yourself, say how long your presentation will be, and say when you will be answering questions.


In short, in the introduction to your presentation, you need to:

  • greet the audience
  • introduce yourself and the topic
  • arouse interest - ask a question, tell a story
  • state the purpose of the presentation
  • outline the structure of the presentation - tell them what you are going to tell them
  • say how long the presentation will last
  • say when you will be answering questions (Q&A)


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Main body

The main body presents the ideas which will achieve the purpose you stated in the introduction. You need to be selective about the material you will present in order to keep to the limited time available. You also need to make sure you maintain the audience's interest and understanding. This is achieved by presenting the information in a clear and logical sequence, emphasising the main points, and by making the structure clear by using signpost phrases to mark the transitions between sections. Visual aids will also be an important part of your main body, so you need to plan these well.


In short, in the main body of your presentation you should:

  • present important data/material - be selective
  • use signpost phrases to help the audience follow your ideas
  • draw the audience's attention to important points
  • plan visual aids to reinforce the verbal message

Conclusion

The conclusion should provide a strong and clear end to your presentation. This is the part the audience will remember most clearly. It provides a chance for you to review the main purpose of your presentation, and show how this has been achieved. You need to summarise the main points. You should emphasise what the audience has learnt, and what you want them to remember, ideally giving them a final 'take-away' message which is the one main idea you want them to remember from your presentation.


In short, in your conclusion you need to:

  • review the purpose of your presentation - how did you achieve it?
  • give a brief summary of the major points of the main body - tell them what you told them
  • give a final 'take-away' message - what one thing do you want them to remember?

See the language for presentations section for language phrases for these functions.


Q&A

The Q&A session is the interactive part of your presentation: the one-way traffic of you talking to the audience now becomes two-way as they ask you for more information or to clarify some of your points. The Q&A can be intimidating, as you do not know what questions your audience will ask. You can help with this by anticipating questions as you prepare your presentation, and make sure you thoroughly research your topic. It is important to make sure you understand the question; a good technique is to repeat or rephrase the question to check ('Do you mean...?'). If you really do not know the answer, say so, but inform the questioner that you will do more research and answer the question later.


In short, you should:

  • invite questions at the end of your presentation
  • think of questions you might be asked when you are preparing your talk
  • research the topic widely to help you answer questions more easily
  • make sure you understand the question - repeat the question if you are not sure
  • don't be afraid to say you don't know - but make it clear you will answer the question later


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Checklist

Below is a checklist for structure. Ask a peer to use it to assess you when you practise. You can download a copy of the checklist from the speaking resources page.


Item OK? Comments
In the introduction, the speaker:
  • greets the audience
  • states the purpose
  • arouses interest - question, story
  • gives the structure
  • gives the timing
  • mentions the Q&A
In the main body, the speaker does the following:
  • selectively presents important data
  • uses signpost phrases to signal new sections
  • comments on important information
  • refers to visual aids
In the conclusion, the speaker:
  • reviews the purpose
  • summarises the main points
  • gives a final 'take-away' message
In the Q&A section, the speaker:
  • answers questions clearly
  • repeats questions if (s)he is unsure what the questioner asked
  • says (s)he will answer the question later if (s)he does not know the answer


Next section

Read more about presentation language in the next section.







Exercises & ActivitiesSome ways to practise this area of EAP

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Author: Sheldon Smith. Last modified: 08 September 2019.