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Clinic Guides

Here are some tips and guides by Harvey Greenberg

Tips for Oral Presentation

This guide is intended to give a few tips for your presentation. It is neither complete nor precise. You must decide what is appropriate for you and your topic, then go with it. What is important is that you plan!

Timing. An individual presentation is allocated 30 minutes (this could be an hour if you are in a large team, in which case scale the timings up). This includes about 5-10 minutes for questions. You should plan on 20-25 minutes for your presentation, and you must not take more than the total allotted time. After your prepared presentation, you will lead a short period of discussion and entertain questions. You should plan on interacting with your audience during this period (perhaps during the entire 30 minutes). If, when you finish, no one has any questions or comments, it is your responsibility to stimulate some discussion. One way to do this is to leave out something in your talk that you expect them to question, then turn the question on the audience if they are silent.

You are expected to rehearse your presentation, so you do not finish extremely quickly, and you do not run overtime (in which case you will be cut off). Speak at a normal pace (not too fast, and not too slow to bore the audience). Usually, it is effective to use cadence to emphasize a key point: a slowdown brings attention to the point, especially if there is a visual aid on which to focus. This could also work against you if you inadvertently change cadence over a minor point.

If possible, get someone to hear you and give you feedback (in exchange for your doing likewise). Use a stopwatch to time yourself in at least one rehearsal.

Content. Your objective is to communicate with your audience; oral presentation has a different associative mechanism than a written report (gestures and tones, for example, are important).

Your basic outline should be the following:

  1. Introduction - tell them what you are going to say;
  2. Background - introduce necessary terms (illustrate complex ones with examples);
  3. Main Results - tell them what you have to say;
  4. Conclusions - tell them what you said.

The Introduction should be a succinct description that prepares your audience for what follows. It should take about 2-3 minutes and use 1 or 2 overheads. The Background should present the key elements of what you have to say and should take about 3-5 minutes. Together these should take about 6-7 minutes.

The Main Results should take about 15 minutes. The beginning should be smoothly entered, having prepared the audience adequately. Similarly, there should be a smooth transition, as you begin to present your conclusions. The Conclusions should take about 2-3 minutes.

I shall use 5-7 minutes for evaluations by your fellow students, so you have the full 30 minutes to use. If you finish early and there are no questions, you must elicit some discussion from your audience. One way to do this is to ask them some questions, which you might have expected them to ask.

Form. What you have to say - i.e., content - is communicated by how you say it - i.e., form. Prepared overheads are very effective visual aids when they are designed and used properly. Blackboard writing is not suggested, except for answering a question, because it takes time and will not communicate as well as a carefully designed overhead.

Although there are some advantages to spontaneity, you are urged not to deviate from your prepared presentation (until the discussion period). If you do, you are likely to run into trouble. Let the audience know right away if you welcome questions during the presentation, or whether you prefer that they wait until the end. If someone points out a mistake, thank them. Answer all questions honestly; if you do not know an answer, say so and ask if someone else can answer the question.

Make each overhead clear and uncluttered. Use the visual aid quite literally and do not spend space on words. Your aim is to highlight, reinforce, focus and illustrate a point (perhaps 2). Miller's magic number, 7+-2, describes a limit (of chunks of information) of how much one can retain in immediate memory. Without going into this, it suffices to note that you could overburden your audience if you require them to see too much at one time, or if you require that they remember too many terms from earlier overheads.

Be sure to speak clearly and distinctly. Avoid filling pauses with "uhm", "like" and "you know". Humor can be very effective, but do not tell a joke that might offend someone.

Your presentation is an amalgamation of your communication skills that uses all senses (primarily vision and hearing) and wit to gain attention. Keeping the attention of your audience is not done by content alone! (This is not to say that you should make entertainment a priority over content. I take for granted you have something useful to say, and now you must share that knowledge with a receptive group of peers. Simple utterance is not enough!) Plan your talk accordingly. Given your time budget, think about each thing you say:

  • Does this contribute to my communication?
  • Does this inform my audience?
  • Does this fit with what I've said and am about to say?
  • Does this make a relevant point?

One final suggestion: relax! Some nervousness is not only expected, it is a force for productivity. One way to relax is to meditate (or use some other preparation) in the late morning or early afternoon. If you have not done this, try it. If you do not choose to try specific exercises to relax, think about how far you have come and that you have something to say that no one else in the room knows. Exert your knowledgeability with confidence.

Some class time will be allocated to review this guide and other tips. Please feel free to share what you know about presentations at that time, and talk with your Clinic teacher anytime.

Annotating a Bibliography

I shall cover the form of an Annotated Bibliography in class. Here are some references for you to use as examples:
  • H.J. Greenberg, 1995. Mathematical Programming Models for Environmental Control, Operations Research 43:4, 578-622.
  • S.A. Zenios, 1989. Parallel Numerical Optimization: Current Status and an Annotated Bibliography, ORSA Journal on Computing 1:1, 20-43.
Although BibTeX will be used for the final report, it is a good idea if you understand the formats. Please ask questions if you do not understand something.

One question that is usually asked is, "How many citations should there be?" There is no good answer to this, but I generally expect about 3 from an undergraduate and about 5 from a graduate. These numbers can be misleading, however, because it also depends on the citation and how deeply you go into it (reflected by your annotation). The spirit of the assignment is for you to explore some things, as part of deciding upon your project topic, so I would expect the annotation to reflect only skimming, and it would be a few sentences. In total, I would expect the Annotated Bibliography to be about 2-4 pages (even a bit less than 2 from an undergraduate). Let me know if this is not clear, so I can not only clarify it for you, but also I can revise this explanation.

Draft Report

One draft of your report is required, but you are encouraged to turn in many. There is no penalty for submitting drafts anytime, and I shall give you my feedback asap.

The draft should come as close as possible to the final report, especially the formats, so I can give you the best possible feedback. Consult the Report Guidelines for details.

Project Report Guidelines

General Style. This must be written as a formal document, and you should extend your style; for example, consult Strunk and White (op cit). Your report must be done with LaTex, and a Clinic style file will be provided for you to use. Carefully proofread your report for spelling, grammar, etc. You are encouraged to read at least one other team's report (before the final due date) in order to help each other with final proofreading. It is imperative you s t r e t c h your communication skills!

Form. The style file will take care of this, but you should be aware of what is needed.

Contents. The table of contents describes the organization of your report. Here are some details about each section.

The purpose of an abstract is to communicate what the paper is about. State the problem, or problem area, and highlight your main results. Avoid special symbols, replacing mathematical notation with words, and do not give any citations. It should appear on a separate page (after the cover) and have about 75-100 words.

1. Introduction
The purpose of an introduction is to tell the reader what you are going to say. This is a succinct description that not only gives guidance to prepare the reader for what follows, but also offers motivation for the reader to want to read the rest of the report. It begins on a separate page (following the abstract), which is page number 1.

2. Background
This can be viewed as a technical introduction with citations that give a review of the relevant literature. Each citation has a reference (see below). In addition, this section contains basic terms and notation that are used in presenting the main results.

To elaborate, the Background section gives technical terms and concepts that are basic and serve to inform the reader who might not know such things. (It could just as well be titled Terms and Concepts; it's a matter of taste, as long as you choose a title that accurately describes the section's contents.) For example, the paper might be about certain graphs. The Background section introduces graphs, giving their formal definition, and whatever special graphs are appropriate for the particular project. The Background is also where many of the citations appear, describing some of the seminal works that are pertinent. For example, this can include a basic reference to graph theory for the reader to learn more general background, as well some reference(s) to a special graph that is the subject of the paper (eg, bipartite graphs).

Compared to the Introduction, both the purpose and the form are different. As a rule, the Introduction is short and is designed to give a succinct description of what follows, including the organization of the report. It is appropriate to see a paragraph that begins with: "The rest of this report is divided into n sections. Section 2 gives the background..." Also, the Introduction should motivate the reader, maybe offer some excitement about the subject. There is thus no chance to give background that might be necessary for the reader's comprehension. That's what the Background section does, including examples, figures, etc. – none of which have any place in the introduction.

Note: Some authors combine the functions of an introduction and background, in which case the section title reflects this. That decision is made by each Clinic Teacher.

3. Main Results
Divide this into subsections as appropriate. The last subsection should be a summary and/or conclusions (this could also be a separate section; it's a matter of taste).

4. Avenues for Further Study
Give avenues that include things you wish you had time to explore.

Use this for extended background or lengthy proofs that would interfere with the flow of text.

References and Bibliography
Use any acceptable format (as you learned in high school), but be consistent. References are associated with the citations in the text (mainly in the Background section). Additional bibliography may include references you explored but deemed irrelevant to your work. You are urged to include this, perhaps with some annotation. You may separate References from Additional Bibliography, the former being cited in the text and the latter annotated (say why each entry is included but not cited - for example, it might have seemed relevant from the title, but it turned out otherwise).

Outside Help

Don't underestimate the importance of a good report. Here are some guides to help you.
Other web sites with writing (and other) guides are maintained by Harvey Greenberg.
This page last modified 10/09/08 16:10.
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