English & EAL

5 Common Oral Presentations Mistakes

December 6, 2020

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The oral presentation SAC is worth 40% of your unit 4 English mark and is comprised of two sections: your statement of intention, and your oral presentation. It can be difficult to understand what is expected of you, as this SAC definitely varies from your typical English essay! So, if you need help understanding what’s expected of you, check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations. If you’d like an even more in-depth guide on how to approach this assessment, definitely check out the How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation study guide!

Here, I’m going to dissect five of the most common mistakes students make during their oral presentation, and gloss over ways in which you can improve your marks for this critical SAC.

1. Writing an Unentertaining Speech

Whilst your other English SACs may require you to write in a formal and sophisticated manner, the oral presentation SAC is the one shining exception! Many students fall into the trap of writing a frankly boring and uninspiring speech that does no justice to their academic ability. Here are some mistakes to watch out for:

Choosing the Wrong Topic

Your school may or may not already give you a list of topics to choose from. However, in the event that you must research your own topic, it is essential that you choose an issue relevant to your current audience. You must adopt a clear contention in your speech. 

Do not, for example, write a five-minute speech on why one sports team is better than the other, or why murder should be illegal. Choose an issue that you can take a passionate stance on and engage the audience with. Avoid a contention that is obvious and aim to actually persuade your class. Make sure you choose a 'WOW' topic for your VCE Oral Presentation.

Writing With the Wrong Sense of Tone

This is one of the biggest mistakes students make when writing their oral presentation. I cannot stress this enough – your speech is not a formally written text response! You are presenting your stance on an issue, which means that you are allowed to be passionate and creative. You can educate your audience on the facts without boring them to sleep. Let’s analyse two sample excerpts on the same issue to see why:

Issue: Should the Newstart allowance be increased?
Sample 1: 722,000 Australians are on Newstart. Single people receive approximately $40 a day. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently increased this payment by $2.20 to adjust to price inflation. However, I am arguing that this price should be increased more.
Sample 2: As Australians, we pride ourselves on community values, and supporting one another. Yet, the way in which we treat 722,000 of our most vulnerable people doesn’t reflect this. The Australian government recently increased the Newstart payment by $2.20 weekly. But this means that Newstart recipients still live on just over $40 a day. Ask yourself, is that really enough to survive?

Samples 1 and 2 have the same information. Yet, Sample 2 engages with the audience in a much more effective manner. Try to avoid an overly formal tone and speak with passion and interest.

2. Presenting Without Confidence

Presenting in front of your class can be a very daunting experience. However, in order to distinguish yourself from your classmates, you must speak clearly and with confidence. Try to avoid making the following mistakes:

Reading Instead of Talking

Think back to primary school. Remember when your teacher would read you a storybook, and they would put on voices to make the story more engaging and interesting? The same sort of idea applies to your oral presentation. Simply reading a well-written speech will not get you marks. Rather, you should talk to your audience. Make eye contact, maintain good posture, and project your voice. Confidence is key!

Stalling for Time

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we haven’t prepared ourselves for a test as well as we should have. The oral presentation SAC is not an assessment that you can simply wing on the day. Oftentimes, poor scores stem from a lack of preparation which can be reflected in the way students present themselves – and stalling for time is a big giveaway. Save yourself the mental stress and prepare for your SAC by writing out your speech beforehand (or even preparing a few dot points/cue cards). I personally find it helpful to practise in front of a mirror or even in front of pets/stuffed toys.

3. Not Distinguishing Yourself From Your Class

If you’re gunning for a good mark, you want to stand out from your class. This can be especially difficult if you are presenting the same topic as one of your peers. Avoid:

Starting in an Uninspiring Way

This is another big mistake students make when presenting. Let’s just estimate that there are approximately 20-25 people in your English class. Now, imagine if every person who presented before you began their speech with:

“Good morning, today I’ll be talking about why Newstart should be increased”.

It gets repetitive. You can distinguish yourself by beginning in a myriad of other ways. Here’s an example of how I started my own oral presentation for my SAC:

Topic: Should we ban sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate?
Imagine you are a foreigner, excited to visit Australia. In your head, you’re picturing our beautiful flora and fauna, our stunning beaches, and the Great Coral Reef. You finally arrive after a long flight, eager to explore the country. You’re expecting the Great Coral Reef to be boasting colour, to look like all the pictures spotted online. Instead, you find what looks like a wasteland – a reef that has essentially been bleached to death. As Australians, we have to wonder what went wrong. If we really loved and cared for our environment, how could we not be protecting the reef, preventing any further damage? Recently, Hawaii banned sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, reasoning that these chemicals were causing harm to coral. Yet, in Australia, banning sunscreens with these chemicals are seen as drastic and useless measures, which simply isn’t true when you look at the facts. 

This is an example of an “imagined scenario” starter. How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation outlines other ways to start your speech with examples! If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start with a BANG, definitely make use of this resource.

No Enthusiasm

I say this to my students regardless of the English SAC that they’re writing – you want your writing/speech to reflect that you are indeed learning and enjoying your education. Your teacher will be able to tell if you choose a topic that you have no interest in, or if you are simply regurgitating information. Use this SAC to learn about an issue and take interest in your learning. Believe me, your grades will thank you for it.

4. Incorrectly Using Visuals

Whether you are allowed to present with visuals or not is up to your English teacher. However, it is essential that you do not incorrectly use these visuals, as it can cost you marks. Avoid:

Overusing PowerPoint Slides

I’m a bit old-fashioned myself and honestly prefer presenting a speech with no images. That’s not to say that some images can’t be a great addition to your piece. However, PowerPoint can quickly steer you away from presenting your topic in an engaging manner. 

This is an oral presentation with a stance on an issue, not an assessment where you are marked for presenting information to an audience. Therefore, reading off of PowerPoint slides is a big NO. 

Using Cluttered Infographics

The point of focus of your oral presentation should be on YOU – your words, your stance on the issue. This ties into the PowerPoint criticism I made above, but using a cluttered infographic takes away from your well-written speech. Below is an example of an overly cluttered infographic:

Source: https://www.dailyinfographic.com/how-wind-power-is-harvested-infographic

If your speech was on renewable energy, your audience would be detracted from your stance, and too focussed on reading the information from the visual. If you have any key information that needs to be explained, it is better to embed this into your speech than rely on an infographic.

5. Disregarding the Statement of Intention

If you’ve finished writing your speech, you may have let out a big sigh of relief. But don’t get too comfortable yet – you still have to write your statement of intention (SOI). This piece of writing is supposed to accompany your speech, and it’s worth 25% of your SAC mark. Do not waste all your hard efforts by not taking the SOI seriously. 

I like to think of an SOI as a language analysis of your own speech. Essentially, you should be explaining your choice of language, tone, and rhetoric, and justifying why that would make a profound impact on the audience. Make sure you understand what an SOI is.

I like thinking of this as a three-step approach:

  1. Quote my own speech 
  2. Explain why and how my language would impact the audience
  3. Link back to my overall contention of the issue

How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation outlines exactly what is expected of you in this section of your SAC. If you’d like to see an annotated A+ statement of intention, be sure to check it out!

I hope that going through these mistakes will help you when writing your own oral presentation! It’s always best to ask your teacher or English tutor for advice if you’re unsure of where to start. Happy writing!

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Written by Lisa Tran, who achieved FULL marks in her Oral Presentation:

  • How to choose, plan and write your oral presentation and written explanation
  • A simple, persuasive speech structure that will blow your audience away
  • All essays FULLY annotated so you know exactly what you need to do and what not to do
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