Skip to main content

Teaching Assistant / Graduate Assistant Program

Issue No. 14: Presentation Skills

Dear Ryerson TA/GAs,

Welcome to the fourteenth edition of The LTO Best Practices - TA/GA Edition. Each month the Best Practices series will provide you with a series of relevant and timely tips on a variety of different topics relating to your TA/GA role. In this edition we have focused on presentation skills. We hope you find this series useful and welcome your suggestions for future topics. To read previous editions of The LTO Best Practices - TA/GA Edition, check out our past issues page.

Thanks for reading,

John Paul Foxe & Michelle Schwartz

Best Practices

When planning any sort of presentation, from a conference session to a lecture in class, there are some basic steps you can follow to make your your content is both engaging and educational.

Planning Your Presentation

According to Rotondo and Rotondo, you should ask yourself three questions before you begin scripting out a presentation:

  1. What do I want my audience to gain?
  2. What might they already know about my topic?
  3. What is the objective of the presentation? (p. 14)

When faced with a blank piece of paper and no idea of how to start, begin with your overarching concept for the lecture and then break it down into manageable pieces. One method of doing this is the “list of three” rule. Try to limit yourself to three main points and then three sub-points to each point. This strategy will keep you focused, disciplined, as well as making your content easier to remember. When possible, use alliterative keywords for your three points. These will not only stick with your audience, they will improve your recall as well (Theobald, p. 39).

Give yourself a number of “break points” throughout your presentation. These are places that allow for you to adjust the length of your presentation. A break point can be a video clip, or a short activity for the audience. These can either give you the time to assess your progress in the presentation while the audience is otherwise engaged, or they can be removed should you sense you are running overtime or that you will need more time to cover a complex point (Theobald, p. 82).

Do a final check of your presentation. After you have all your material assembled and arranged, make sure you have met the following conditions. The presentation should first:

  • Tell your audience what you are going to tell them. “This sets up the presentation and manages the audience’s expectations. It also ‘trails’ what’s coming up.”
  • Tell them (the body of your presentation should follow the outline you just presented)
  • Tell them what you’ve told them: the end of your presentation should review and summarize the content of the presentation you just made (Theobald, p. 38).

Delivering Your Presentation

  1. Give your presentation structure – a journey that moves forward from a strong start and seeks a conclusion through exploration. Prune any random words or ideas.
  2. Practice out loud – focus on every word and idea at this point, so practice slowly and then build up to a natural speed.
  3. Release your body tensions and warm up your voice.
  4. Walk into the space with presence and natural confidence (not arrogance) and make eye contact with your audience.
  5. Breathe to your audience so that you connect with them (don’t breathe halfway to them, nor beyond or above them).
  6. Stand centered and don’t lock your knees.
  7. If standing behind a lectern, don’t focus on the mike – you will become rigid and your energy stifled.
  8. If holding a mike don’t focus on speaking into it but out to the audience. Practice will make this easier
  9. Prepare for all the things that can go wrong
  10. Be yourself and believe in what you’re saying (Rodenberg, 2009)

Creating Visuals to Accompany Your Presentation

PowerPoint slides are often the default when thinking of ways to visually supplement presentations. However, it is tempting, when building slide decks, to fall into the trap of packing them with too many bullet points and tiny text. Beyond “keep it simple,” there are a few tips that can help keep your slides clear, effective, and accessible:

  1. Avoid premade templates and clipart — your students will have been subjected to the same material a million times over and there will be nothing to make your content memorable or engaging
  2. Use high quality photographs or images that pop!
  3. Avoid sound effects, distracting backgrounds, or gratuitous animations and transitions.
  4. Pick high contrast colors for the text and background of your slides. Keep the number of colors in your presentation to a bare minimum.
  5. Use sans-serif fonts, as they are easier to read. Keep the number of fonts in your presentation to a bare minimum.
  6. Emphasize text with italics rather than underlining. Underlines can obscure letters and make text difficult to read.
  7. Use a large font size. The bigger the classroom, the larger the font. Don’t use anything smaller than 28-point. Large lecture theatres may require a 40-point font.
  8. Leave a border around any text. Projectors may cut off the edges of your slides. If your presentation is recorded, captions for the visually impaired may be added, obscuring the bottom portion of the slide.
  9. Cite your sources. Be a model of academic integrity for your students and provide them with a list of works cited in your PowerPoint slides. This can be included in the notes section of the final slide. (Best practices compiled from Kapterev, Delwiche & Ananthanarayanan, and the University of Western Ontario’s “PowerPoint Primer”)

This issue is based on the LTO's Teaching Tips on Planning a PresentationMaking Yourself Heard, Making Lectures More Engaging, and Creating an Effective PowerPoint Presentation [pdf]. Please download the full documents for more information and work cited.

Upcoming Workshops

Planning Effective Tutorials

Monday January 19, 2015, 12:00-2:00PM, POD372

Facilitated by Dr. John Paul Foxe, Educational Developer, Learning and Teaching Office, Ryerson University
Planning your tutorials can be a time consuming and needlessly stressful process. In this workshop we will discuss strategies for efficiently preparing effective tutorials. You will be presented with a framework for tutorial preparation, which you can use to structure effective tutorials. Attendees are asked to bring your course outline or your plans for your next tutorial.

Facilitating Discussion

Monday January 26, 2015, 12:00-2:00PM, POD372

Facilitated by Dr. John Paul Foxe, Educational Developer, Learning and Teaching Office, Ryerson University
Discussion groups provide participants an opportunity to engage in a focused conversation about an important topic. Classroom discussions are often unpredictable and as a facilitator, it can be difficult to keep the discussion on point while ensuring all participants have an opportunity to express their opinion. This workshop will focus on strategies for leading effective discussions. By examining a number of case studies, we will discover both effective and ineffective strategies for leading discussions. In addition, participants will be given the opportunity to apply some of these strategies in this workshop.

When the Status Quo Isn’t Enough: Fulfilling Your Duty to Accommodate

Tuesday January 27, 2015, 12:00-2:00PM, POD372

Facilitated by Academic Accommodation Support, Ryerson University
Some educators cringe when they hear “student with a disability” or “duty to accommodate.” Questions arise about academic integrity and fairness. Presented by Academic Accommodation Support, this workshop will dispel myths and clarify facts about meeting your legal obligation to accommodate students with disabilities. Workshop attendees will learn about the various disabilities that challenge Ryerson’s Academic Accommodation Support registrants; what to do when a student discloses they have a disability; and investigate some of the best practices for accessible delivery of your tutorials.


Next Issue

"The LTO Best Practices: TA/GA Edition" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate at The Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

Contact Us

Location: Kerr Hall West, room KHW373.
Phone: 416.979.5000

John Paul Foxe, Educational Developer
Ext. 6570,

Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate
Ext. 2094,