How to ace an oral assessment

A very common fear for many people is the fear of public speaking. Fortunately for you, there are lots of times while studying at university where you will get the opportunity to practise and face your fears. ”Yay,” I hear you all shout! Whether you are presenting to a room full of people or are simply introducing yourself as an icebreaker, I have outlined some tips to help prepare yourself and to reduce your nervousness.

1. Look at the criteria

If your speech is being assessed for school or university, the best place to start is always the criteria sheet or assessment rubric. By looking at what you will be marked on, you will know what the examiners are looking for. You can use this information to structure your speech and be sure to include all of the important aspects you are being assessed on to maximise your chance of receiving a good grade. This can also help with that feeling of, not knowing where to start.

2. Structure

Once you have looked at what you know you are being assessed on, ask yourself: What are the assessable items I must include? And, what are the main points that I want my listeners to walk away from my speech knowing? You can then create an outline of your speech in bullet points, making sure you include all of these main elements in your information. Once you have a good structure it will be easier to fill in each section, because you will know exactly what you need to write and you can feel confident it will be relevant and on-topic. If you can, try to make sure your speech tells a story and has a logical flow. Commonly you might start with a general outline of the topic and then guide the audience through to your specific arguments or contributions and why these are important.

3. Know your audience

When writing a speech, you always need to consider who you are presenting to. The way you talk about your topic will be different if you are talking to people who already know a lot about your topic, compared to if you are talking to people who know nothing about your topic. Try to think about what your audience will know, so you can decide how much background information to give, what terminology you need to define, and how complex your language should be. For example, my PhD topic is about how alcohol expectancies, rash impulsivity, reward drive, and drinking-refusal self-efficacy interact to predict growth in adolescent alcohol misuse. However, this is a bit complicated and includes a lot of jargon. So, in a speech, I might start off by saying that I’m looking at adolescents’ personalities and how they think can predict how much they drink in the future. I could then guide the audience through the specific aspects of thoughts and personality I am researching.

4. Rehearse

Even if you have written your entire speech and you are allowed to have the notes with you, I would recommend practising your speech until you know it well enough that you do not have to rely on the notes. I know lecturers who still rehearse their lectures before giving them, even though they have been giving the same presentation for years. Familiarise yourself with the material and make sure you are confident in how the presentation should sound and how each section flows together. This will make your presentation more engaging because you will be able to engage with the audience, rather than having your head buried in your notes. It will also mean that you can be more flexible and can think on your feet. For example, you could expand on a point if you can see that your audience does not understand it quite yet. Or you might be running over time and may need to quickly decide which sections of your remaining speech to reduce. These are situations in which feeling comfortable and not reading a script word-for-word is very useful.

5. Relax

If you feel nervous before a talk, try to relax. You can use techniques like deep belly-breathing and pleasant imagery to try to calm yourself down before you present. You might also like to try positive self-talk, where you take the things that are worrying you and turn them around into positives. For example, if you’re worried that people will laugh at you or judge you if you make a mistake, you could try to think something more positive like, “The audience are students in my class, they know what I’m going through and are probably just as nervous as I am. They would understand if I make a mistake.”

6. Don’t panic if things go wrong

Below you will find a presentation I did for the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Science 3-Minute Thesis final this year. This was a really nerve-wracking event for me and actually, the speech did go a little awry. I accidentally missed a section in the middle, where I was going to talk about the effects of alcohol-dependence on the individual and society (hint: it happens when I say “so I had a look at these issues…”). In my mind I was scrambling to think about how I was going to fix that mistake but I knew I could not panic because I did not have time to go back (three minutes is not very long!). I know it’s not perfect, but I think I did an okay job of not freezing with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on my face (which is how my mind felt) and continuing with my speech. Making a mistake is not the end of the world, and if you have rehearsed, you should be able to get your speech back on track.

Last updated:
24 September 2020