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4.1 Guidelines for giving a presentation

4. The presentation

4.1 Guidelines for giving a presentation

BA Art History


Create structure (composition/layout) in your narrative. Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said, or in other words: introduce the topic, treat the topic, subdivided into the different aspects, and finally summarize the main points of your story. Please note: a summary is not the same as a conclusion. A conclusion is more than a summary. In a conclusion you answer the research question that you introduced at the beginning of your presentation (see Conclusion, page 18).

Make sure that the presentation has a beginning and an end: the structure of the story is essential; this can make or break your entire story. The audience can follow the presentation more easily if this structure is also clear to them. You must provide that clarity by explicitly mentioning the structure of your argument at the beginning of your presentation.

It is often a good idea to refer back to the structure during your presentation to show how far you've progressed in the argument. To do this, use transitional phrases such as: "I now arrive at my second point..." or "after ... I will now discuss...". A pause of several seconds can also emphasize the structure.


Practice your presentation at home, out loud if you wish, and check how long it is. While presenting, keep an eye on the time: are you on schedule?

  • Never turn your back to the audience, you will be inaudible and you will lose eye contact with the audience. This is true for a presentation in a lecture room, but even more true for a presentation in a museum or on the street. Don't stand in the middle of a circle; make sure there is no one behind you.

  • Speak calmly and mind your articulation.

  • It may be useful to write out the whole text for the presentation, so that you, at least once, formulated everything as well and as precisely as possible. Do not, however, read out your story word for word: written language is different from spoken language. In addition, you don't have time to observe the audience (is everyone paying attention, or are people distracted?). While presenting you are expected to master your story to the extent where you can present it independently from the text you wrote. Preparing a more or less detailed speaking schedule in advance can be helpful. In this schedule, list that which is important for your argument: the format of your presentation (plus a time schedule per component), introductory phrases and transitional phrases, a list of illustrations in the correct order, a list of basic information such as names and dates, quotes (if any) and a clear conclusion.

  • Include names, terms and difficult words on a PowerPoint presentation or write them down on a hand-out that you hand out at the beginning of the presentation.

  • Do not just present to your lecturer: try to pay attention to every single person in the audience. Look people in the eye: eye contact is important.

  • Do not keep staring at your own illustrations. You already know what is on them. Rather look at the audience.

Image projection

When scanning or having scans made, make sure that the photo or illustration you use is of high quality:


  • For architecture: try to find photos without annoying distortions in the vertical lines and cast shadows and without cars, trees in bloom etc., that take away from the view.

  • For paintings and artefacts: make sure that the photo or illustration accurately represents the colours. Sometimes, you can see that something is off from a blue or red haze. In that case, find a different illustration. For paintings: it is very important to pay attention to the state: sometimes a whole new colour palette emerges during restoration.

  • Make sure that you choose an illustration of the entire painting, so do not include a cropped image or a detail (unless you are aiming for that).

Text and image should be equally integrated into the presentation. Of course, the visual material is often the starting point of Art Historical research. That does not mean that your presentation can consist merely of 'captions' and illustrations; the main line of your argument should also be easy to understand. On the other hand, illustrations should not be downgraded to 'nice visual filling'.

Practice with the computer and the overhead projector ahead of time and not during your presentation. It is annoying enough when there is an unexpected malfunctioning of the equipment, but you are asking for trouble if you are not familiar with the regular operations and didn't check whether everything was working beforehand. Also check whether and how the light switches (dimmers) work.


It can be very unpleasant to find out in a late stage of your preparation that a certain image is not available digitally. In this case, you have three options, none of which are ideal: talk about the artwork of your choice, but without a visual representation, you could pass around a book, or hand out photocopies. All three are obviously emergency solutions.

Do not extensively talk about an artwork of which you do not have a visual representation. If, for any reason, you do not have a specific image, use another example.

Passing around a book to replace missing images does not work well in practice. By the time the last person in the room gets hold of the book, they have long forgotten what exactly it is they are supposed to look at.

While all these options are bad, handing out photocopies is the preferred alternative. Use this option sparingly and only if there is no other option. A presentation in which half of the visual material is included on a PowerPoint presentation and the other half is presented as photocopies is confusing, both for the speaker and the audience.

Image projection
4.2 Checklist presentation

4.2 Checklist presentation

Focus areas and recommendations

Order and aspects of the content:


  • make contact

  • indicate topic

  • explicitly mention structure/format


Main part:

  • if necessary, define concepts

  • coherence between spoken text and visual material

  • explanation on the level of the audience

  • clear structure/format

  • sufficient examples



  • clear summary and conclusion




  • assertive posture

  • audible speaking volume

  • clear enunciation

  • calm speech

  • independent of text, speaking language eye contact

  • no hiccups and fillers



  • high quality images

  • well-timed images

  • correctly projected images 

  • light dimmed sufficiently



  • gripping introduction

  • varied lexicon

  • alteration of approach and speed

  • stimulating

  • clear conclusion.

Digitale pitch
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