IR 301
Fall 2001

Suggestions for Presenting Your Argument in Public

 
General criteria for evaluating the quality of your argument:

The criteria for evaluating your public presentation will be similar to those used for evaluating your paper. They will include the quality of your theory (must be sufficiently clear, specific, and applicable beyond your own cases/examples); the quality of your evidence (must be theory-related, sufficient, and truthful); the ability to address a counter-argument, or objection to your argument; and the ability to deliver all your points in a convincing and attractive format (style). That is accomplished by a clear structure of the talk, analytical title, visual aid, fluency of the language, and a commanding manner of a speaker (energy and confidence of voice).

The grading of your presentation will be as follows. Introduction—10%, theoretical appraoch—20%, evidence—20%, counter-argument—20%, conclusion—10%, and style—20%. Extra points may be given for especially effective evidence and theoretical originality (10% each)

General structure and timing of the talk:

 A clear structure means that a talk has an introduction, a central part (which should include sections on theory, evidence, and counter-argument), and a conclusion. My suggestion is to follow the format “I am going to argue—I am arguing—I have argued.” It usually works quite well. Overall time is 15 minutes.

 Structure and timing for those who argue PRO:

 Introduction and the main question (2 min.)

Introduction should make three points: it should briefly introduce your question and its significance, your proposed answer, and orient the reader regarding your way of proceeding. This is the place to say, “I am going to argue…” A good introduction is short and able to grabs the audience attention from the first sentence (think about a opening that is sufficiently catchy to grab the audience attention).

 Theoretical approach. (3 min.)

Introduce your theoretical approach by defining the used concepts and the relations between them. Specify your IR tradition and specific theory and explain why their assumptions are reasonable. Be as precise as you can in specifying the concept/variable you are going to use for explaining/understanding the phenomenon that interests you. Specify how the theory chosen relates to evidence and which testable propositions can be derived from it. Here is your chance to say, “I am arguing…”

 Evidence. (6 min.)

You are arguing here as well, only this time on empirical rather than theoretical level. Relate your evidence to the theory and report them one by one. Explain why these are the best evidence you could possibly find. Depending on the choice of evidence, they can be presented in a number of different ways, but they must be tied to your theory.

 Possible objections. (3 min)

You are still arguing, and this is where you complete your argument by addressing possible objections. You shouldn’t have trouble identifying objections, because you went though the evidence that don’t fit your theory at the stage of doing research. Explain your choice. Then, address these objections theoretically and empirically. This is a place to justify your choice of your theory and to show how the alternative explanations are wrong or not sufficient in answering your question. 

 Conclusion. (1 min.)

Here, you do two things. First, you summarize your argument and your findings, “I have argued…” Second, you conclude, or specify what your analysis implies. Why is your solution important for the world? Can your answer help to solve an important policy issue? Can it be extended to regions/cases outside the one that you explicitly addressed in this paper? Be careful here; a typical error is to “conclude” what doesn’t follow from the analysis at all. Do not overstate your findings, but don’t sell yourself short too!

 Structure and timing for those who argue CONTRA:

 Introduction  (2 min.)

Introduction should make three points: it should briefly introduce your question and its significance, your answer, and orient the reader regarding your way of proceeding. This is the place to say, “I am going to argue…” A good introduction is short and able to grabs the audience attention from the first sentence (think about a opening that is catchy and to the point).

 Summary of the PRO argument (3 min)

This is a place to address the argument of the other side, its theory, assumptions, evidence, implications, and methods. Your job here is to remind the audience the essence of the other side’s argument and demonstrate its problems or insufficiency in answering the question (you may want to bring a tape recorder to record the PRO argument). Prepare the audience for the move toward your own theory and evidence.

 Theory. (3 min.)

Introduce your theory by defining the used concepts and the relations between them. Say why it makes sense to apply this theory and why its assumptions are reasonable. Be as precise as you can in specifying the concept/variable you are going to use for explaining/understanding the phenomenon that interests you. Specify how the theory chosen relates to evidence and which testable propositions can be derived from it. Here is your chance to say, “I am arguing…”

 Evidence. (6 min.)

You are arguing here as well, only this time on empirical rather than theoretical level. Relate your evidence to the theory and report them one by one. Explain why these are the best evidence you could possibly find. Depending on the choice of evidence, they can be presented in a number of different ways, but they must be tied to your theory.

 Conclusion. (1 min.)

Here, you do two things. First, you summarize your argument and your findings, “I have argued…” Second, you conclude, or specify what your analysis implies. Why is your solution important for the world? Can your answer help to solve an important policy issue? Can it be extended to regions/cases outside the one that you explicitly addressed in this paper? Be careful here; a typical error is to “conclude” what doesn’t follow from the analysis at all. Do not overstate your findings, but don’t sell yourself short too!

 Other general suggestions:

Use visual aid. Prepare visual aid (on Power Point or other software). How many slides to use is a matter of judgment, but try to support your main theoretical and empirical points with slides. Roughly, for 15 minutes talk you may end up using around 5 slides (1-2 for statement and theory, 2-3 for evidence, and 1 for counter-argument), but this, again, may vary

Do not overuse visual aid. Do not put all your major and minor points on slides (only major ones!) and then read them off. Too many slides will overwhelm the audience, and your talk will loose a lot of its energy and spontaneity. This is not a good presentation; your job is to speak in public, not read in public

Connect to your audience. Related to the previous point: always maintain an eye contact with the audience, follow its reaction, and try to connect to the audience (other ways of doing so include using the appropriate tone, speed, and manners). A good speaker is relaxed, but also responsible and reliable

Start preparing early

Rehearse. Rehearse at least twice, preferably in both friendly and relatively critical audiences

Time yourself while practicing your talk

Best of luck!