Preparing All Parts of the Assignment

A row of people sitting in chairs on a stage

Now it is time to think about the what of your presentation—the expected content. Many speaking groups are derived from an invitation to speak, and inherent in the invitation many times is a prescribed speaking assignment—or topic. In group presentations, you are working to coordinate one or two outcomes— outcomes related to the content (product outcomes) and/or outcomes related to the group skills and participation (process outcomes). Therefore, it is important to carefully review and outline the prescribed assignment of the group before you get large quantities of data, spreadsheets, interview notes and other research materials.

Types of Group Presentations

A key component of a preparation plan is the type of group presentation. Not all group presentations require a format of standing in front of an audience and presenting. According to Sprague (2005), there are four common types of group presentations.

A structured argument in which participants speak for or against a pre-announced proposition is called a very brief opening statements.

Finally, the symposium is a series of short speeches, usually informative, on various aspects of the same general topic. Audience questions often follow (p. 318).

These four types of presentations, along with the traditional group presentation in front an audience or on-the-job speaking, typically have pre-assigned parameters. Therefore, it is important that all group members are clear about the assignment request.

Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.

— Jawaharlal Nehru

Establishing Clear Objectives

In order for the group to accurately summarize for themselves who is the audience, what is the situation/ occasion, and what supporting materials need to be located and selected, the group should establish clear objectives about both the process and the product being assessed.

Assessment plays a central role in optimizing the quality of group interaction. Thus, it is important to be clear whether the group is being assessed on product(s) or outcome(s) only or will the processes within the group—such as equity of contribution, individual interaction with group members, and meeting deadlines—also be assessed. Kowitz and Knutson (1980) argue that three dimensions for group evaluation include (1) informational—dealing with the group’s designated tasks; (2) procedural—referring to the ways in which the group coordinates its activities and communication; and (3) interpersonal—focusing on the relationships that exist among members while the task is being accomplished. Groups without a pre-assigned assessment rubric may use the three dimensions to effectively create a group evaluation instrument.

Table 1: Sample Product Assessment Guide:
Accuracy: 
  • Did we edit and proofread to eliminate redundancy, grammatical, spelling and/or punctuation errors in all pieces including PowerPoint?
Approach: 
  • Is the tone appropriate to the purpose, audience and content?
Clarity:
  • Is the central purpose clearly stated and maintained as the focal point?
Development:
  • Is the material arranged in a coherent and logical sequence?
Style:
  • Did we use action verbs, active voice and correct MLA or APA style?

The group should determine if the product includes both a written document and oral presentation. The written document and oral presentation format may have been pre-assigned with an expectation behind the requested informative and/or debate. The proposition is worded so that one side has the burden of proof, and that same side has the benefit of speaking first and last. Speakers assume an advocacy role and attempt to persuade the audience, not each other.

The forum is essentially a question-and-answer session. One or more experts may be questioned by a panel of other experts, journalists, and/or the audience.

A panel consists of a group of experts publicly discussing a topic among themselves. Individually prepared speeches, if any, are limited to persuasive content. Although the two should complement each other, the audience, message, and format for each should be clearly outlined. The group may create a product assessment guide (see Table 18.5). Additionally, each group member should uniformly write down the purpose of the assignment. You may think you can keep the purpose in your head without any problem. Yet the goal is for each member to consistently have the same outcome in front of them. This will bring your research, writing and thinking back to focus after engaging in a variety of resources or conversations.

Once the assignment has been coordinated in terms of the product and process objectives, type of presentation, and logistics, it is important for the group to clearly write down the agreed outcomes. Agreed outcomes about the product include a purpose statement that reflects an agreement with the prescribed assignment (i.e. “at the end of our group presentation the audience will be informed or persuaded about the prescribed assignment”). It also includes the key message or thesis to be developed through a presentation outline, a full-sentence outline of virtually everything the speaker intends to say. The outline allows the speakers to test the structure, the logic, and persuasive appeals in the speech (DiSanza & Legge, 2012, p. 131).

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

—Alan Lakein

Logistics for Group Members

Four students giving a presentation in a libraryAs a group, be very clear about the length of your presentation and its preparation. The length of the presentation refers to your time limit, and whether there is a question and answer period involved. Assignment preparation may or may not have a prescribed deadline. If the assignment does not have a deadline, then set one as a group. If there is a deadline, then the group begins by creating a schedule from the final deadline. As a group, create an action timetable explicitly listing all processes and outputs, as well as communication update points.

As a group decide the best way to leave enough time at the end to put all the pieces together and make sure everything is complete. If there is a written document, it should be completed prior to the oral presentation rather than at the same time. As a group, realize not everyone may work off a physical calendar. Thus, do not hesitate to require each member to write down all deadlines.Next, the group can strategically add meeting dates, times, and venues to the action timetable. A meeting is a structured conversation among a small group of people who gather to accomplish a specific task (Beebe & Mottet, 2010, p. 219). For group presentations, meetings do not always include the entire group. So a schedule of who meets with whom and when is useful for planning work and agendas. In addition, all meetings do not serve the same purpose. For example, informational meetings may be called simply to update all group members; solicitation meetings are called to solicit opinions or request guidance from group members; group-building meetings are designed to promote unity and cohesiveness among group members; and problem-solving meetings result in making decisions or recommendations by the time the meeting convenes.

Once the group is unified about the assignment objectives and time frame, it is vital to predetermine the type of note-taking required of each group member (which may vary) and the variety of information exchange. The more systematic a group is in these two areas, the more unified the process and the product. The system begins with each group member writing down the message, specific purpose, and central ideas for the group presentation. If these are still to be determined, then have each group member identify the areas of background information needed and basic information gathering. Next, simply create a general format for note-taking— whether typed or handwritten and what types of details should be included especially sources. Also with the increasing use of electronic databases be very clear on when related articles should be forwarded to group members. The email inbox flooded with PDF files is not always a welcome situation.

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.

—Winston Churchill

The group should be clear on the explicit requirements for locating recent, relevant and audience-appropriate source material for the presentation. All of this leads to the foundation of clearly defining the responsibilities of each group member. All tasks should be listed, given deadlines, and assigned people. A means for tracking the progress of each task should be outlined. The group should be clear on what are individual, joint (involving more than one group member), and entire group tasks. Throughout the entire process, all group members should be supportive and helpful but should not offer to do other people’s work.