Oral Presentation Tips

The goals of this document are:

  1. To inform you about how to best use the presentation spaces and tools the Physics department makes available for your Comps presentation
  2. To identify ways to minimize the number of  "surprises" that can occur during your presentation.

Presentation apps:

Your choice of presentation application matters.  We suggest using some version of MS PowerPoint rather than a PDF editor to develop your presentation, mainly because PowerPoint has the 'Presenter View' mode which displays a countdown timer and private notes area that are displayed on your laptop, but not on the projection screen.

Use the same version of the presentation app for your actual presentation that you used to develop the presentation.  You do not want to develop your talk with PowerPoint 2007 on a Mac and then present on PowerPoint 2011 on a Win7 machine.  Bad things will happen.

Presentation Tools:

Clickers: The department is happy to loan you 'clickers' that enable you to remotely switch slides in your presentation.  This frees you up to prance around the room while giving your talk, making you more dynamic and interesting.  The clickers work with most, but not all computers, so it's a good idea to test them with your laptop during your practice talk.

Green Laser Pointer: The department has green laser pointers that are brighter than the red laser built into the clickers.  In the larger presentation spaces the red laser pointer is hard to see, so the green laser pointer is preferred.

Countdown timers: If you're not using PowerPoint you'll want one.

Talk to Bruce Duffy or Trenne Fields to borrow these tools.  You'll want to use them in your practice talks so that you can get used to them.

Presentation Spaces:

Get to know your presentation space before you present.  It's best to do at least one practice talk in the space in which you will be presenting.  Bruce Duffy is happy to demo the spaces to you. Contact him at least a few days before you plan to do your practice talk(s) to set up a time.

The rooms are usually accessible during nighttime and weekends, but should be reserved.  Ask Bruce Duffy to reserve these rooms for your practice talk(s).

Presenter Kiosk:

The rooms have Presenter Kiosks with these components:

  • a small touchpad control panel
  • a built in dual-boot computer (mac-mini)
  • DisplayPort, HDMI, and Ethernet cables for laptop hookup.

Presenter Kiosk control panel:

The Olin 101 control panel allows you to choose between the built in computer and your laptop to drive the overhead projector.

The Olin 141 control panel lets you choose whether you will be using the built in (dual boot) computer or a laptop to drive the overhead projector, change the lighting, and raise and lower the projection screen(s).   

Presentation Computer or Laptop?

The Presenter Kiosk has a built in dual boot computer (Mac OS X and Win 7 Enterprise) and DisplayPort, HDMI, and Ethernet cables for Laptop driven presentation.  The control panel allows you to choose which computer drives the overhead projector.

I would advise against using the on-board computer for your presentation because the version of the presentation application you've developed your talk with may be different than what's on the presentation computer.

That said, if you choose to use the presentation computer, here's what you need to know:

  • Put all the digital resources (pptx, movie files, etc.)  for your talk onto a USB keydrive -- don't rely on the internet or the availability of your Carleton Home folder.  It could be your bad luck that Carleton's server's are down -- it's happened.
  • The computer's power switch is non-standard -- it's the black metal button with the red power glyph stenciled on it.
  • The presentation computer is dual boot -- when the computer has booted or just finished its refreshing cycle you must choose either the Mac or Win7 operating systems.  Use the keyboard's arrow keys to select and then hit the return key.


If you have a laptop this is the preferred option.  To use it, plug in either the DisplayPort or HDMI cable on top of kiosk and select either the DisplayPort or HDMI input source button on the Kiosk's touchpad control.

IMPORTANT NOTE The Presentation Kiosks no longer support VGA.  If your laptop is an older model with only a VGA port make sure to borrow an VGA->HDMI Adapter from us.


Ideal lighting is low light in back, and good lighting up front, except just in front of the projection screen.

In Olin 141, lighting can be partially controlled via the presenter control panel, and fully controlled by the switches in the prep space behind the blackboards.  Using the actual switches is better because you get immediate response (the computer controls have lag time) and because you can control the spot lights, which the control panel does not talk to.


Your presentation will be recorded

The Physics department will record your presentation and post it to the 'phas_comps' network folder within a few days for the benefit of those Physics majors who were unable to attend.  See Viewing Recorded Oral Presentations for instructions on how to access this folder.

Note that you can send your comps video to friends and family using the "Filesender" utility.  It's a web page that allows you to upload your video to a server and then send an email with a download link to your designated recipient(s).


General Hints:

Download, don't stream:  Download any digital resources (movie clips, sound clips) to your computer/keydrive that you intend to use *before* your presentation.  Avoid the need to stream/download content during your talk.  More than one comps presentation has been compromised by YouTube access failures at the critical moment.

There are several free tools that allow you to capture streaming video.  I use 'KeepVid' (@ keepvid.com) with success in the past.  Click here for a tutorial.

Timing:  Your goal is to talk for 50 minutes (+/- 5 minutes).  Most people talk faster during their actual presentation than during their practice talks.  You can compensate for this by preparing some optional material that can be added or dropped without compromising the primary themes of your talk.

Knowing how much time you have left is important.  Carleton's wall clocks are unreliable.  If you are using PowerPoint, learn to use the 'Presenter View' mode which displays a built-in countdown timer.  Additionally, the Physics department has countdown timers for just this purpose.

Writing implements:  You will need chalk, a chalk board eraser and a cloth to wipe your hands if presenting in Olin 141.  Dry erase markers and a dry eraser are needed if presenting in Olin 101.

Water:  Bring it.  Talking for 60 minutes is thirsty work!

Treats:  Good treats are important, but you don't want to worry about them when you're about to present.  The simplest solution is to trade your treats responsibility with another comps-ing student.

Olin 101 Projection Screen: Sometimes it can be difficult to pull down the projection screen in Olin 101 all the way so that it stays down.  The trick is that the internal latch mechanism works inertially, so pull down quickly and then stop and hold the bottom of the screen in the desired position for a moment.


An idealized scenario:

  • You choose your presentation application and work up your presentation with some modular talking points at the end to protect yourself from running out of material before the 50 minutes have elapsed.  Now is a good time to decide if you're going to use a clicker, laser pointer, etc.
  • You contact Bruce and ask him to lend you the presentation aids (clickers, laser pointers, timers) and do a walk-through of the presentation space you've been scheduled for.
  • Bruce walks you through everything, making sure all tools work as expected, shows you how to set the room lighting, etc.
  • You do one or more practice talks in the presentation space.
  • You rock your comps presentation.

Finally, if you have suggestions on how to improve this document, let me know!

Bruce Duffy