Imagine you are walking across your campus. As you pass the student center, you see a couple of people who have set up at a table outside, and they’re passing out information about the student honor society. Open windows in the music building share the sounds of someone practicing the piano in the art studio. Upon entering your class building, you are greeted by student-made posters illustrating various phases of the process of cell division. An open class door allows you to watch a young man in a lab coat and protective gear pour liquid nitrogen over items in a tray while the rest of his classmates look on with great interest. Your own instructor is setting up the computer screen at the front of your class when you walk in, loading up the Powerpoint that he plans to use for the day.
All of these are examples of presentations, and it’s very likely that you’ll be asked to participate in similar activities during your college career. Presenting, whether face-to-face or online, is a skill you will hone as a college student in preparation for your future career.
Presentations can take many forms and potentially serve many purposes. When reading the definitions below, keep in mind that many presentations often combine several elements into a hybrid form. You may have to pick and choose what will work best for you depending on the instructor and the course. Let’s start with the different genres or types of presentations.
Some presentation assignments will ask you simply to deliver information about a topic. Often these presentations involve research, which you will shape and present to your instructor and classmates. Typically, informative presentations ask that you NOT share your opinion about the subject at hand (which can be more challenging than it seems). With an informative presentation, your goal is to educate your audience by presenting a summary of your research and “sticking to the facts.”
Unlike informative presentations, persuasive presentations ask that you not only form an opinion about your subject but also convince your audience to come around to your point of view. These presentations often involve research, too, and the findings of your research will be used to bolster the persuasive case you’re making.
You may be asked to do a “Teaching Presentation,” which will require you to specialize in one topic of the course and give your fellow classmates instruction about it. In short, you become the teacher of a subject. Often your presentation will be the only time that this subject is covered in the class, so you will be responsible for making sure that you provide clear, detailed, and relevant information about it. You may also be asked to provide questions on the subject to be included in a quiz or test.
These action-based presentations typically model some behavior or subject matter that has been introduced previously in the class. Unlike the Lesson Delivery presentation, a demonstration adds a level of performance in which you show and tell the the audience what you know. You might perform the demonstration yourself, as a way of illustrating the concept or procedure, or you might provide classmates with instructions and guidance as they do it themselves.
Poster presentations should convey all the information on a subject necessary for a viewer to consider on her own. They often consist of short, punchy wording accompanied by strong visuals—graphs, charts, images, and/or illustrations. Posters frequently require research to prepare, and they allow for some creativity in design. Depending on the assignment, your poster may be part of a gallery of poster presentations with your classmates. Your poster has to communicate everything that is important without you being there to explain it to your audience.
Similar to poster presentations, online presentations are generally asynchronous—meaning they don’t require you to be present at the same time as your viewer. They often serve similar purposes as poster presentations, but due to the online format, they allow for more interactive possibilities, such as sharing a pertinent video or animated graph. Your online presentation must stand alone to teach your audience everything they need to know.
Solo and Group Presentations
You may be asked to present as an individual or as part of a group.
Individual presentations put all of the responsibility for preparation, research, and delivery on you. You rightfully take all the credit for the final product you produce.
Group presentations, in contrast, often involve more complicated tasks and therefore require more participants to make them. Your instructor may make suggestions about how the work should be divided, or the group may delegate tasks internally. Grades may be assigned equally to everyone in the group, though many instructors assign individual grades based on some participation-level factor to inspire each member to pull his or her own weight.
Presentation assignments are often open to creative interpretation, which gives you a lot of room to explore new techniques and add a personal touch to the task.