University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

ME 4331: Oral Lab Report

Guidelines for Oral Report

Objective:To provide students with some experience in giving short oral presentations of their results, as well as to judge their understanding of the material which is being reported.

Motivation:Oral presentations are a cornerstone of communications between engineers and supervisors, management, and others. In many cases the oral report will be the only, or at least the most important, mode of information transfer. In fact, career advancement after the first three years on the job is closely linked to one's ability to communicate ideas orally. Therefore, it is important for students to develop skills for communicating in this format.

General Format:The general format of the oral reports is as follows:

  1. Use visual aides to explain the results of the lab. Prepare a presentation in a presentation graphics program such as Powerpoint. A notebook computer as well as a projector will be made available.

    Choose font sizes (e.g.18-24 pt) which could be read by in a small conference room. You will turn in one copy of the visuals you use plus the electronic copy on a CD. Do not bring copies of your visuals for the reviewers to follow along--this is not generally appropriate for oral presentations, but is sometimes done for workshops.

  2. The length of the presentation will be specified. You will be timed; if you run over, you will be asked to bring your presentation rapidly to a conclusion.You may be asked to sit down soon after. Such an abrupt ending will probably force you to skip important points, which will impact your score. All but short clarification questions will be held until the end of your talk in order that your time adherence can be judged. This is similar to how semi-formal oral presentations occur in the real world. Hence, you should shoot to stay under the allotment, and leave the extra one minute or so buffer to allow for interruptions or onsets of "verbositis" caused by nervousness.
  3. The presentation should be treated as though you're reporting the results to your engineering supervisor or clients who asked you to perform the work (or at least approved a proposal from yourself to perform the experiment). Hence, they will be familiar with the general concept, but not the details, of your work. You should assume that they may have forgotten many of the basic facts underlying the work, and so you should briefly remind them of all important characteristics and features of the apparatus / measurements.
  4. The instructor and TA will make notes regarding strengths and weaknesses of your presentation. Try not to let the note taking fluster you, especially if you notice it when you're stumbling a bit. Even at these times, the comments are often simply notations for questions to ask later, or simple suggestions for improving the rough parts. The comments are the principal mechanism for feedback about your presentation; hence, the need for the notes.
  5. See the copy of the evaluation form. Your presentation will be stronger if you take the evaluation points into consideration.


It is strongly recommended that you have at least one overhead in each of the following areas:

Comments on Content:

The introduction is very important in an oral presentation. You must get the audience's attention and get them thinking about the information you are going to present. Don't dive right into the results of your lab. Chances are, your supervisor may have forgotten many of the details of what was asked of you, or some members of the audience may not be familiar with your experiment in the first place. As you would do in an abstract, try to note the major points you want the audience to get out of your talk.

Expect to spend nominally 1.5 to 2 min. per slide, probably less for the title and outline slide (if you use one). This isn't a hard rule, but it's a good guideline. Any less time, and either the topic doesn't warrant a visual in the first place or you're going through it too fast. If you talk too fast, the audience will not be able to digest the information quickly enough, and will get the impression that you are presenting them with a flashcard show. If you have to spend more than two minutes, the visual is generally too complicated. Typically you must simplify the experimental apparatus schematic from what you would put in a written report--your audience won't have time to study the overhead as closely as they would the printed version, and you almost certainly won't have time to discuss all of the instruments and data acquisition procedures. Try to boil the setup and procedure down to the essential pieces, and point those out. You may be able to spend shorter amounts of time on some subsequent result graphs if they are very similar to ones you have presented earlier, and if the point you are really trying to make is about the trend of the graph, not its details.

Make use of word slides to provide outlines, transitions between points, and summaries. Note, however, that the viewgraphs should appear in outline form as a guide to your presentation, not as transcripts for your talk. DO NOT SIMPLY READ YOUR VIEWGRAPHS BACK TO THE AUDIENCE. Also, you may wish to prepare notes for your presentation, but don't prepare a transcript. If you do, you'll probably have poor eye contact, and it won't come off very natural. Along the same lines, don't expect your audience to do a lot of reading--you want them to listen to the discussion you are providing which further explains or supports the points summarized on the overhead. You don't want them reading point A when you are discussing point B or vice versa. A good rule of thumb is 10 lines of text, maximum, per slide; most often, fewer are used.

The majority of your time should be spent discussing the results of your experiment, which should be presented graphically, just as you would in a report. Chose axes and scales which allow you to easily see important trends in your data. Include uncertainty bars whenever possible. Usually, curves which connect the dots are not recommended. Make certain that the axes are properly scaled. In general, avoid using more than three or four curves or data set per plot; if you really want to compare more curves, a useful trick is to present the first slide with three curves, then use a follow-on slide to overlay additional curves (possibly using color for easy identification) onto the first set of axes. Discuss trends indicated by your data, and important conclusions that can be drawn from them. Explain what the results imply and why the curves behave as they do.

Give a plausible physical picture to the audience which will convince them of your assessment of your data/explanation. For example, if a curve appears linear, explain why you expect that kind of response.; if it appears to roll-off after a certain level, explain what effect you think causes such behavior. Extrapolations of the data to other regimes often leads to useful physical insights, but be careful to justify why one would expect such an extrapolation to hold.

In all cases, make sure you point out connections between the current graph and things you have previously presented or things that are yet to come. Sometimes, explanations of trends in graphs are easier to follow if you refer back to a schematic of the apparatus/device and sometimes they're easier to follow if you show governing equations. You must decide the best way to clearly and concisely make your point.

End your talk with a summary or conclusion slide.

The following phrase is often used to describe the organization of oral presentations: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." These correspond roughly to the introduction, discussion of results, and conclusion sections. The conclusion should be concise (1-2 minutes), but it is essential that you restate the main points that you want to remain with your audience. State your conclusions in full sentences, verbally, but use bulleted phrases on your viewgraph. Avoid going overboard with details. There should be some sense of closure which relates back to what you said in the introduction. End with a "thank you for your attention" so that they know you are finished.