How to give seminar presentations

tips for effective communication skills

1. Seminar presentations are short informal talks giving the results of your researches into a topic on the course. You are sharing your ideas or discoveries in a way that gives seminar participants an opportunity for discussion. These seminar presentations form a normal part of the teaching and learning process in postgraduate studies.

2. The person who will learn most from this exercise is you. The act of investigating sources, digesting information, and summarising other people’s work will help to clarify these matters in your mind.

3. You will also develop your confidence in handling information, making useful notes, and presenting an argument.

4. Unles the topic has been given to you by the course requirements, you can usually choose your own. Select something which reflects your own particular interests. If you are in any doubt, check with your tutor.

5. Topics will vary from one discipline to another. They might be:

  • a ‘reading’ of a set text from the course, applying one critical theory
  • the report of an investigation or an experiment
  • a ‘literature’ review which surveys existing knowledge
  • a response to one of the tutorial topics from the course materials

6. A seminar presentation should not try to imitate an academic essay. It is better to offer a presentation on something smaller and more specific, rather than the type of general question posed in a coursework essay.

7. Don’t write down the presentation verbatim. Make outline notes, then speak to these notes using the set text(s), any critical theory, and your own extended notes as backup material.

8. If you have the resources, it is a nice courtesy to provide other members of the group with a copy of your outline notes.

9. Overhead projection facilities will often be available if you wish to show transparencies. Otherwise, photocopies of any illustrative material will be perfectly acceptable.

10. In more formal, public settings, PowerPoint presentations are now the expected norm – possibly with embedded web links and video clips.

Suggested Headings

The general headings for your notes may vary according to the topic of your choice and the approach you adopt. Here’s an example for a presentation in literary studies at post-graduate level. The following may be used – from which you should be able to see that some form of logical progression is required.

The set text
Explain which edition you are using, and any special considerations. You might indicate which different editions exist, and what led to your choice. In other words, you are explaining your selection of source materials.

The course topic or seminar question
You might say why you have chosen the seminar topic, or why it seems significant. If possible, you should relate it to the other major issues of the course. You are explaining why this issue or topic is worthy of consideration.

The critical theory
Give a brief summary of the origin and principles of any critical theory you will be applying. This will help to ‘situate’ your remarks. This is almost the equivalent of describing the experimental method in a scientific report.

Your own argument
Give a general summary of what you have to say, and its relation to the course as a whole. Make the stages of your argument clear, and indicate the conclusion to which they lead.

Scholarly details
You should provide full bibliographical details of any texts you use during the course of the presentation.

Topics for discussion
A good presentation should lead to questions or further issues raised by the subject of your enquiry. Including these issues as part of your conclusion should lead naturally into a discussion amongst the seminar participants.

© Roy Johnson 2009

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