If I were you… How to structure your oral presentation. [Year 12 English]

Last week, we discussed how one chooses the issue they are intending to develop their persuasive oral around. Today, it’s all about putting it together. This is generalised advice, so please take it with a grain of salt. Consider your own skills and utilise these to your best ability. Some people are naturally hilarious and can deliver a humorous speech effortlessly, shifting between that jovial tone to a more serious persuasive appeal in a way that compels and unsettles an audience effectively. But not everyone can.

In the same way, not everyone is able to deliver a highly specialised and technical speech with lots of stats and figures in a way that is actually engaging. The key to writing a good speech is to find out what works for you and exploit that in your writing. This isn’t the time to test out if you are in fact destined to be a stand up comedian. This is the time to put to use all the skills you’ve been honing over years of oral presentations.

That being said, there are a couple of major no nos when it comes to delivering an oral- at any level.

Do not, under any circumstance, start with

“Hi, my name is Amy and I’m going to be talking about whaling.”

Firstly, your audience (remember how these guys are your focus point- you’re trying to persuade this specific audience) knows your name. You don’t need to introduce yourself. Obviously, this may be different if you’re doing your orals in front of an audience of parents and friends- but even then, this is not the way to introduce yourself. We’ll cover that later.
Secondly, “whaling” is not an issue. There are many issues covered under the broad umbrella term of whaling but whaling in and of itself is not an issue. Nor is gay marriage. Or euthanasia. Or Donald Trump (I mean, he has issues but he’s not an issue). If you must label your issue in the first sentence of your speech (and I do not recommend you do), at least be specific— your issue might be “how Australia should respond to the claims from Sea Shepherd that a Japanese whaling fleet entered Australian waters”. But that sentence is still dull. Don’t start your speech that way.

Do not finish with “and… yeah!”

I don’t think I need to go into why not. It’s not effective. It makes you sound like a 13 year old girl talking about which 1D member is her fave. Which is fine if that’s what you’re talking about but it’s not and it’s not fine in your year 12 oral.

The way you start and finish your speech is vitally important because that is what people remember. They may not remember all the statistics and facts you’ve laid out but if you bore them, they’ll remember that.

So, if that’s what NOT to do, what then should you do??

Well, there are a few guide lines which I like to use. These can be summed up in the form of a very simple acronym that anyone can remember!


The key to a good speech is HICCUP.

That is:

This is where you grab your audience’s attention. Where you stand up and reveal something to your audience that they don’t know or haven’t heard before. Where you make them care about what you’re talking about and want to know more.

One way I recommend starting your speech is with an anecdote. A story about someone directly affected by the issue you’ll be highlighting. This could be a true story. It could be funny. It could be devastating. It could be personal or it could be global. You might ask the audience to place themselves in that person’s shoes— although, this has been done a lot and can be done poorly.

NB: I wouldn’t recommend using the “imagine you’re…” format if you’re talking about animals. It’s not particularly effective as it’s not very relatable to human experience and especially if you’re talking about something like animal testing, you don’t want people thinking about one of the alternatives to animal testing- testing on humans- in a negative light. It will not help your persuasive cause.

Another way of “hooking” your audience may be by shocking them with stats and facts. Another is by appealing to them on a personal level. All of these things point towards one main goal:

                CREATING A NEED.

If you create a need which your audience wants fulfilled, they will be invested in the rest of your speech. They will therefore listen to your speech in order to find out how they can     meet that need.


The introduction is where you explain what your issue is. You need to show that you have a deep understanding of the topic and also an assured sense that what you’re persuading your audience of is right beyond doubt. This is the time to explain any background information behind your issue which your audience needs to be aware of. It’s the time to explain what a plebiscite is. It’s the time to explain that euthanasia has nothing to do with Singaporean teens. But please don’t just read out the Wikipedia article related to your topic- it’s boring. Keep it relevant and tight. You have a time limit.

The second part of the introduction is you establishing your argument. It relates to how you wrote your hook and how you intend to progress through the evidence and sub arguments. Are you going to focus on establishing your issue as a crisis of compassion or as pure logic? Are you going to be aggressive or gentle? What are you going to target in your specific audience- what will they care about and how will you use that to your advantage?


At this point, all your work in setting up the need and your argument comes to the fore. This is where you outline your arguments and explain the reasons why you are correct and the only acceptable response from your audience is the one you are offering.

I would recommend having no more than 3 main points in your oral. Any more and it will be too long. Any less and it will seem like your argument is unsupported and will therefore be unconvincing. There are studies which I could go into about why the number 3 works but just trust me. It’s the best amount of arguments.

For each argument you must have evidence to support it. This can be concrete evidence like facts and stats, or it can be anecdotal evidence. Just remember who your audience is and which pieces of evidence will be the most effective for them. Ensure your evidence is supporting your argument, not the other way around. There’s nothing duller than a list of statistics and it will seem like you don’t really understand the issue, you’ve just read some information about it. By starting with an argument and backing it up with evidence, it ensures that you’re considering both aspects.

The key thing to consider here is have I met the need which I set up in the hook? If you told me a story about how sad it is that our young people can’t find jobs, have you told me what should be done to make sure “Sally” can now get meaningful work? If not, my need is left unmet and I am therefore unpersuaded by your speech.


Finally, it’s time to conclude. This is where you bring it back to your audience and what you want their response to be. Are you looking for personal active or passive agreeance? Do you want them to sign a petition? Change their own behaviour? OR, do you just want them to nod along? Agree with you? Shake their heads at the same things you do? Potentially change their vote at the next election? Either is fine but if it is the former, you need to tell them what to do and BRIEFLY, revisit why. Remind them of the consequences if they don’t. Similarly, remind them of the consequences if they don’t believe the way you want them to. Finish STRONG. Finish with a statement of fact that cannot be refuted. Finish the way you want your speech to remembered. Finish with something that will leave the audience thinking.

NB: Finishing by questioning the audience is sometimes effective but can be overdone and a bit predictable. Be careful and see how it sounds when you’re practising. 


This is key. Know your issue back to front. I shouldn’t be able to learn more about your issue from an hour of casual googling. I should be able to ask you questions about stakeholders, key points, the historical background and the various opinions on it and you should be able to generally address these. Obviously, no one is expecting you to know everything but I certainly need you to be well versed in the issue you choose.


Make sure you’re passionate about your issue, or at least make sure you can pretend that you’re passionate about it. Practice makes perfect and your use of voice, body language and eye contact is key to convincing me to care as much as you do about negative gearing. Good luck.

Hopefully this HICCUP structure will help your speech go off without one. It’s just a rough guide but I think it’s a good one. Just remember the cardinal rules of public speaking:

  • Fake it til you make it
  • Practise makes perfect
  • That audience in their underwear trick doesn’t work and it’s super weird if your audience are your teachers. Just… done.

Next week, we’ll look at the Statement of Intention and what you should include in it to make sure you get the maximum marks possible.

Happy Speaking!


One thought on “If I were you… How to structure your oral presentation. [Year 12 English]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s