La Fabbrica della Realtà – Excellence in Communication Skills & Business Storytelling

The 16 questions you must answer when you prepare a talk or a presentation

oral presentation questions

A guide for entrepreneurs and freelancers

In a summit with another 100 speakers it’s hard to get noticed.  You need to stand out  in a world where conferences are multiplying like crazy, time slots are becoming increasingly short and programs are more and more crammed with talks.

Occasionally you see a unicorn , a great presenter, with a great story and powerful visuals. Oftentimes you linger in the gray zone of the competent, well informed, content rich, but  not so good presenters.

Two approaches

In my opinion there are just  two ways of approaching a presentation.

You could  do your best and hope to get better with time.  Your competition may be as good as you, worse than you or way better. You start from your level and by learning one small thing at each conference you  may  get better in time. Your competition may be on a similar journey and reach and overtake your level at any time.

Either that or  you could study really hard.  This is where it gets interesting for me and where  I can provide you with a ton of value.

Oh, did you just  disconnect  when you read the words “study really hard”?  Yes, you’re busy.  Yes, you may even have some nice presentation books somewhere at home or at the office. You may have been reading some Godin , some Presentation Zen , you may know that Nancy Duarte  exists (and kicks ass). You may even know of this or that coach, of a good webinar. But  you just haven’t got the time for all that.  Right: you need to focus on  product, team, growth.  You need to find investors.  No time to improve your presentation skills.

I  sell courses  so I will tell you that  the best thing you can do is train . But I sense that maybe you would prefer to have something quick and dirty. Maybe a  checklist  that you can go through.

All right: just because you’re so nice, here is  a list of 16 questions that you can ask yourself to make it look like you studied really hard.  Yes, it’s called  cheating , and I’m your  partner in crime  today.

That feeling

Before we go to the 16 questions, allow me to go visit your mind for a second. You and I need to look together at  what happens in your brain when you get the news that you are going to be presenting.

Ready? The first thing that happens has  nothing to do with business.  You are a serious, talented professional, but you are still a human being. This is why at the beginning of your presentation process there is a feeling. A feeling that you know all too well. It can be summarized with the same “Oh, shit!” that you used to say to yourself  when your teacher called you to speak in front of class.

Yes, even though you are a grown up now, you still feel like you have been called by the teacher. Even if a meeting with X Fund or talking a Y Conference is a great opportunity, you still fear it and – instinctively – resist it. That’s fine. Let’s embrace the fear and move on.

What to talk about

When this first sensation subsides you are tasked with  resolving an initial conflict:

  • on one hand as an business person  you know exactly what you want to pitch : your latest product, your offering, your strategy, the way of the future!
  • on the other hand you remember the last time that you were in the audience when someone was just pitching/pitching/pitching.  You don’t want to bore the eyeballs out of the orbits of our audience.

Now you know that you need to find an angle, you need to figure out: “what am I gonna talk about?”

This usually leads to desperation and hope that – while showering the day before the talk – you will get some sort of insight about what to talk about.

It’s doesn’t need to be that way. Whenever you need to give a presentation  all you need is this process made of 16 questions. Once you answer them you are all set to give your presentation.

1. Who is my audience?

Think long and hard about your audience.  If you don’t know them well and they are a limited number spend some time researching information about them. If the audience will be comprised of many people create a “persona” of the typical audience member. Try to understand  what are their stakes.  Why are they invited to the meeting? What are they trying to get from the day?

Yes. I am saying that you should, first of all,  think like an audience member.  Think about what an audience member would want to receive from a speaker.

Chances are  the outcome that they are looking for is not even remotely connected to your goals.  This is why you have a  lot of work to do . But at least now you know in what direction you should work.

Aligning with the goals of your audience may seem counter-intuitive.  But it will help you find a way to package your pitch in such a way that it does not look like a pitch.

Your job is to  repackage your content,  your ideas and your presentation  in order for it to meet both your goals and the goals of your audience.  You will need to compromise on the amount of sales speak that you use. And – probably – you will need to find some new, different topic to talk about that will peak the interest of your audience. This  new topic will allow you , at the appropriate moment,  to shine a light on your product and deliver the pitch.

How do you do that? Let’s get on with the questions to figure it out.

2. What is my audience expecting from me?

Are they even expecting you?  Do they even know who you are? Are you the highlight of the event and everyone knows you or are you a peripheral part of a bigger picture.

If your audience has expectations you should now define them and make sure to meet them.  If your audience has no expectation then its your chance to define them:  the good news is that you can surprise your audience if no expectation is set.

If your audience is  expecting you to be a boring corporate drone you could surprise them  (and get their benevolence and attention) by giving a short, engaging and fun talk.

If your audience is expecting a  dry pitch  you could tell them a  transformative story  rich of useful data and practical takeaways.

If your audience is expecting you to make their day, then you need to work really hard to align your presentation to their expectations.

3. What am I expecting from my audience? What are my desired outcomes?

If you’re there is not just to please an audience:  you surely have an outcome in mind.  Maybe you want your idea to spread or, more often, you need to sell yourself, your services or a product of yours.

If this is compatible with what the audience expects from you, go ahead and introduce those sales and self promotional elements in your presentation.

But  caveat emptor,  if your audience will react negatively to any pitch or sale tactic why don’t you use this occasion to establish a rapport that you will exploit at a later stage?

Sometimes the best way to sell is not to sell at all:  start by  earning the trust, attention and loyalty of the audience.  You can end your presentation on a  call to action  that is only loosely related to your desired outcome. If you want them to buy your product why don’t you offer to send them your ebook in exchange of their email address? If you already have their contacts why don’t you  leave them wanting more of you:  the first meeting has been about education, in the next one you will have more of your pitch.

4. What language and visual style is my audience expecting?

You know your audience better and you have established what they want from you, and you from them. Now it’s time to define what language and visual style you should use to best communicate with them.

Do you know their lingo?  Can you integrate in your language some elements that are familiar to them? Do you want to – strategically – sound distant from their world by using a different vocabulary?

There are many possible strategies: it’s important that you think about  your talk as a unit, made of different components.  The components are: your style, your language, your slides. These should meld together in a coherent way.

If you are going to be presenting with the help of slides take a moment to imagine  what visual style will look best in the eyes of your audience.  The presentation is about you/your product, but is for them.

Try to  look at your material with their eyes and ears.  Align not only with their expectations about content, but also with their visual expectations.

5. What is my core message?

Defining the core message should be easier now that you know what your audience wants: it must include something coming from your knowledge and experience. This “something” should be  useful for your audience to reach their goal and also for you to reach your desired outcome.

Try to remember some of the last talks and presentations you listened to. You probably can  define them with very short sentences  like: Dana presented the Q1 forecast that does not look as bad as everyone expected. Or Larry, the expert in email marketing, talked about the importance of drip campaigns.

These are core message:  you should be able to write yours down in a simple and short sentence.

Take your time to brainstorm possible core messages. After listening to your talk, they are the one thing that your audience will remember.

6. Why is this core message interesting for my audience?

If you brainstormed core messages, chances are you now have  more than one.  How do you narrow down to the one core message your are going to provide in your presentation?

Look at the core messages you have. You probably have a bunch of core messages that are  perfectly aligned with your desired outcome but don’t look so appealing to your audience.  And you could also have a number of core messages that are  exactly what your audience expects, but that don’t allow you enough maneuvering space to include your pitch.

Your way is in the middle of those two groups.  Look for the core messages that align with both your outcomes and the goals of your audience.  But if you fail to find one, go for the one that better meets the expectations of your  audience.

This is the safe bet when it comes to the core message of your talk.

7. What is the best medium for my core message to come through?

Does your audience really want a PowerPoint presentation   from you?  Would you be better off by talking without the help of slides and, maybe, providing a short memo to the attendees?

Whenever it’s allowed by the “etiquette” of your target audience, think about  talking without slides  or using just 2 or 3 slides that help you make a specific point.

You could also have just a few slides with the main topics of your speech, that set the pace for the different sections of your talk.

Don’t default to making a slide show.

8. What gifts can I give?

I am not talking about materials objects or even discounts or coupons. But more important things like tips, techniques and actionable to-do’s. Stuff that remains with the audience, that your audience can repeat every day.

What I am saying is: your talk happens, and then?

Well if your core message was strong it could be remembered. But wouldn’t it be better if your audience  changed their behavior integrating some of your knowledge and ideas in their daily lives?

Do you think it’s far fetched? At the end of most presentations you can provide  something actionable.  This works not only to fixate the presentation in the memory of your audience, but also serves as a nudge to  change their everyday habits.

I am sure that we all have a book we can suggest, a useful practical shortcut, a theory that can be put into practice following steps 1 through 5.

Give gifts: you’ll be remembered.

9. How many slides?

You should not have more than  1 slide per minute of talk , unless you are a super skillful presenter and your visuals kick some serious ass. So a 15 minutes presentation should average 15 slides where you have around 60 seconds per slide.

You can occasionally break this rule, but at the beginning of your public speaking career try to err on the safe side and  go for less slides.

10. How much text?

If you are going to present a deck make sure to have the  least possible amount of text.  Follow these rules:

Optimize text for whoever is sitting in the last row:  text size should be 30 points minimum, anything smaller will be unreadable in many settings so avoid small text. If your font looks huge on your computer, then you have achieved the right size for a projected presentation.

No lists:  each concept should have its own slide. And don’t ever use a bullet point. Those are  banned.  Right!?

Only in case you are preparing a handout that you are not going to display on screen, go for longer text.

11. What template should I use?

My suggestion for you is to start from scratch as many times as possible.  Drop the defaults.  Kick the logos off the slides and focus on your message.

Would it come through better with beautiful typography or great images? Can you draw? Do you have illustrations ready?  Look at your assets but don’t let you get locked in by any predefined template.

One word of advice: once you choose a template, stick to it.

12. What visuals should I use?

Only use the  visuals that will have the best possible impact with your audience.  Think about what they like, what they would appreciate, what they are familiar with.

Your taste should be put to use to decorate your house, not your slides. Remember:  your presentation may be about you, but is for your audience.

13. Should I rehearse?

Yes! Nobody is great at a presentation that has not been rehearsed.  And you will not loose your spontaneity if you spend some time acting out your presentation.

If you can, record your trials and listen to them to optimize your output.

14. Should I memorize my talk?

Not necessarily. But you should have the  sequence clear in your memory.

You should always know by heart what slide comes next, how to transition to it.  Memorize the key “junctions” of your discourse.  This will also boost your confidence on stage and allow to present without slides in case something technical goes wrong.

15. How much time should I devote to the task overall?

You should allot time for:

  • thinking  through your presentation;
  • structuring  it;
  • designing  it;
  • rehearsing  it.

This means that you have to  start way in advance , much earlier than you think. Only if you will be presenting current data that would become stale, you are allowed to put together your materials closer your deadline.

16. How should I plan for all this?

Now its time to start working. Put the conference dates on your calendar and  plan the time you need to think, structure, design and rehearse your presentation.  Make sure to budget the time according to your abilities. Don’t overestimate your ability to prepare  everything at the last minute.

Going from fear to a successful presentation can require time, but is a wonderful journey that will have you sweating on structure and story, have you impersonate your audience and align your goals with theirs. In the process you will better understand them, and your self as well.

Let me end on a high note: the fact that  you are addressing the problem of becoming a better presenter is already sign that you can become one.  The fact that you are reading this article gives me great promise in your growth. You see, 99% of your peers and colleagues don’t even think that presentations can be a great way to communicate, engage, inform and move to action. You do and you have an  advantage over them.

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Tress Academic

Conference speaker answering questions from audience.

#30: Questions from the audience you should be prepared to answer

November 5, 2019 by Tress Academic

You can never know the exact questions that the audience will ask after you have finished a conference presentation. This uncertainty can cause additional stress for you, and put you on edge during your presentation. There are, however, a few questions you can assume that someone from your audience might ask. So why not prepare yourself for these questions just in case? We’ll tell you which type of questions these are, and how you can easily prepare yourself for them. Having answers ready for these standard questions will make the Q&A part so much easier for you and alleviate unnecessary stress on the big day.

When we recently held our course “How to present at international scientific conferences” at a Swiss university, we discussed the Q&A part that comes right after a conference presentation with the participants. They spoke about their experiences at conferences where they presented their research, and everything that made it especially difficult for them. The presentations were always a big cause of stress and anxiety for them – is it for you as well? If so, we have another post from the Smart Academics Blog that will help you to deal with being nervous, see #3: “How to cope with stage fright?” .

If you are not an experienced presenter, it is a pretty big thing to go out and stand in front of a large crowd of colleagues from your field and tell them about your work. What our course participants were most scared of – even more than giving the talk – was the moment after they had delivered their presentation and the session chair opened the floor for questions. This was the moment where the unexpected could happen because they didn’t know what the questions would be. The biggest fear in the moment was to receive questions that they cannot answer or that make them look inexperienced, ignorant or worse! 

We totally understand this fear. Imagine you were well-prepared for a talk and had a good feeling throughout the presentation,  but the questions from the audience could spoil the good impression. Just imagine if you would have no idea how to answer relatively simple questions – this would be a waste of!

Do you have the same fears? We’d love to help you overcome them! There are actually a handful of questions that are very likely to be asked. These are the type of questions that so often come up at conferences, especially when early-career researchers are presenting. You should be prepared for these questions, with an answer in hand, which is not difficult to do! It should be a part of your preparation for the conference talk to think about these questions. You will see, it takes a lot of stress off your shoulders! 

Let us tell you about the most common audience questions at conferences below. If you want to prepare yourself for the next talk, download our free worksheet “Questions I should be ready to answer” . 

Typical audience questions you should have an answer for

1. what’s next … .

Of all the questions that people from the audience could ask you, this is for sure one of the most friendly and helpful ones. This question offers no critique of your work, and it does not ask for clarification of anything you said in your talk. The questioner simply wants to know what your next research steps are. They are interested in your research and express curiosity of how it might go on. 

So, make sure you have an idea about which follow-up steps you want to take with your research. Be prepared to tell the audience a little bit about how you might progress. Think about what you want to say before the question is asked and make a structure of the points you want to say, so you don’t leave out anything important. Use our free worksheet “Questions I should be ready to answer” to help you. 

2. Why should we know more about this?  

If you hear this question right after finishing your talk, you might feel a bit frustrated, or even threatened. Why is the audience asking this at the end? Wasn’t your talk clear enough? Have they not listened to you? It can sound as if the questioner doubts the value or necessity of your work. Or it could feel as if you were not clear enough when describing why you research what you do. 

In fact, this is again a very friendly and helpful question. It has no negative connotation and the questioner has no intention of criticising you or your work. He or she may just want to know more explicitly from you why you did this research and why it is worth doing in such detail. It is a question about the relevance of your work. 

So, what do you do? Tell the audience why you did your research, what you expect as its outcome and give some examples or applications to help them better understand why your work is needed. Use our free worksheet “Questions I should be ready to answer” .  

3. How have you done this …? 

This is a question about your methods or the overall approach you’ve applied. You will probably be surprised to get this question because you’ll think you had explained everything very clearly in your talk. Obviously, this was not the case for the person asking. 

Don’t be scared! You have most likely not failed to talk about your methods, but in presentations, the reporting on the scientific methods that were applied to address a certain question is often the most difficult part for the audience to comprehend. Thus, it is not surprising that questions arise on the matter. 

Properly describing the methods you applied in your research in a conference presentation is challenging. You hardly have the time to go into such detail in order to make the audience fully understand it. In a typical 15-minute presentation slot, which requires time for questions and discussion, so it is really more like a  10-12 minute talk, you have only a few minutes available to explain your approach. 

For this reason, we advise participants in our courses to always keep the methods part of your presentation short, by reducing it to the main steps and avoiding too much detail. You should give only a rough outline of the steps because it is difficult, tiring, and sometimes also a bit boring for the audience to listen to a specific set-up of a workflow or a project when you have not been part of the project.

Instead, spend time in your talk presenting your problem, your findings, your examples, and your take-home message. This is what the audience needs to understand! But of course, it might then trigger a question about HOW have you done it, which again, you can prepare yourself for. It is really a friendly and helpful question from an interested person. The audience shows that they want to better understand how your work was done. 

In your preparation phase, determine which methods or method steps could be unclear to your audience and what kind of information they would need to have for a quick understanding of a complex issue. Use our f ree worksheet “Questions I should be ready to answer” to help you prepare for this step.  

4. What do you mean by …? 

The fourth most common question that you can expect to receive is probably the easiest one to answer. It is a clarifying question where the questioner has not understood a specific term, a process, or an aspect of your presentation that you referred to. 

Questions like this pose no threat but are necessary for your audience to fully get your talk. Don’t forget, you will also have some listeners in your audience that come from other fields and they might not be familiar with your specialist terminology. We can never know what the exact level of knowledge of our audience is, therefore, you will sometimes be surprised to get questions about aspects you think are common knowledge – they probably are not. 

If you follow our rule to only include what you can explain yourself in your presentation, you will never have a problem with this question. If you fully comprehend what you talk about, you will always be able to address this question professionally. If you try to illustrate your vast knowledge by alluding to processes that you do not fully comprehend, you run the risk of not being able to further explain to them when asked by the audience. Keep your presentation air-tight to what you know you know!

You can prepare yourself with an overview of topics and aspects that probably somebody in the audience who isn’t from your field wouldn’t know and potentially need a clear explanation. Our free worksheet “Questions I should be ready to answer” will help you to prepare for this. 

oral presentation questions

Naturally, the Q&A part of a conference presentation is the part that you can’t prepare for as precisely as the actual delivery of your presentation. There will always be an element of surprise for you and this is of course also the purpose of this interaction with the audience. They want to experience you off the cuff, where you have to show a bit of spontaneity. They are not coming to see a well-rehearsed play, but a glimpse of the scientists who are conducting this cutting edge work. 

That does not mean everything taking place during the Q&A is random and you have to give yourself over to fate. An audience can feel when you are nervous and they feel for you when you are a less-experienced presenter. Therefore, they sometimes deliberately ask some of the questions above, because they know these are ‘soft-ball’ questions that you can answer. So, make sure you are prepared for them and show your audience that you have done the work and deserve their attention. We wish you best of luck with your next Q&A session! 

Relevant resources:  

  • Worksheet “Questions, I should be ready to answer”  
  • Presentations course “How to present at international scientific conferences”  
  • Smart Academics Blog #03: How to cope with stage fright?  
  • Smart Academics Blog #24: New to the PhD? – 5 tips for a great start! 
  • Smart Academics Blog #26: First conference presentation? 17 life-saving tips
  • Smart Academics Blog #95: Apply these 5 tips to improve any presentation

Relevant courses and services:

  • 1-day course: Presenting successfully at virtual conferences
  • 3-day course: How to present at international conferences
  • 1-to-1 advice: Presentation Check

More information:  

Do you want to present successfully at conferences? If so, please sign up to receive our free guides.  

© 2019 Tress Academic

#ConferencePresentations #ConferenceTalk #QA #QuestionsAndAnswers, #AudienceQuestions

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Oral presentation

Giving an oral presentation as part of a speaking exam can be quite scary, but we're here to help you. Watch two students giving presentations and then read the tips carefully. Which tips do they follow? Which ones don’t they follow?


Watch the video of two students doing an oral presentation as part of a speaking exam. Then read the tips below.

Melissa: Hi, everyone! Today I would like to talk about how to become the most popular teen in school.

Firstly, I think getting good academic results is the first factor to make you become popular since, having a good academic result, your teacher will award you in front of your schoolmates. Then, your schoolmates will know who you are and maybe they would like to get to know you because they want to learn something good from you.

Secondly, I think participating in school clubs and student unions can help to make you become popular, since after participating in these school clubs or student union, people will know who you are and it can help you to make friends all around the school, no matter senior forms or junior forms.

In conclusion, I think to become the most popular teen in school we need to have good academic results and also participate in school clubs and student union. Thank you!

Kelvin: Good evening, everyone! So, today I want to talk about whether the sale of cigarettes should be made illegal.

As we all know, cigarettes are not good for our health, not only oneself but also other people around. Moreover, many people die of lung cancer every year because of smoking cigarettes.

But, should the government make it illegal? I don’t think so, because Hong Kong is a place where people can enjoy lots of freedom and if the government banned the sale of cigarettes, many people would disagree with this and stand up to fight for their freedom.

Moreover, Hong Kong is a free market. If there's such a huge government intervention, I think it’s not good for Hong Kong’s economy.

So, if the government wants people to stop smoking cigarettes, what should it do? I think the government can use other administrative ways to do so, for example education and increasing the tax on cigarettes. Also, the government can ban the smokers smoking in public areas. So, this is the end of my presentation. Thank you.

It’s not easy to give a good oral presentation but these tips will help you. Here are our top tips for oral presentations.

  • Use the planning time to prepare what you’re going to say. 
  • If you are allowed to have a note card, write short notes in point form.
  • Use more formal language.
  • Use short, simple sentences to express your ideas clearly.
  • Pause from time to time and don’t speak too quickly. This allows the listener to understand your ideas. Include a short pause after each idea.
  • Speak clearly and at the right volume.
  • Have your notes ready in case you forget anything.
  • Practise your presentation. If possible record yourself and listen to your presentation. If you can’t record yourself, ask a friend to listen to you. Does your friend understand you?
  • Make your opinions very clear. Use expressions to give your opinion .
  • Look at the people who are listening to you.
  • Write out the whole presentation and learn every word by heart. 
  • Write out the whole presentation and read it aloud.
  • Use very informal language.
  • Only look at your note card. It’s important to look up at your listeners when you are speaking.

Useful language for presentations

Explain what your presentation is about at the beginning:

I’m going to talk about ... I’d like to talk about ... The main focus of this presentation is ...

Use these expressions to order your ideas:

First of all, ... Firstly, ... Then, ... Secondly, ... Next, ... Finally, ... Lastly, ... To sum up, ... In conclusion, ...

Use these expressions to add more ideas from the same point of view:

In addition, ... What’s more, ... Also, ... Added to this, ...

To introduce the opposite point of view you can use these words and expressions:

However, ... On the other hand, ... Then again, ...

Example presentation topics

  • Violent computer games should be banned.
  • The sale of cigarettes should be made illegal.
  • Homework should be limited to just two nights a week.
  • Should school students be required to wear a school uniform?
  • How to become the most popular teen in school.
  • Dogs should be banned from cities.

Check your language: ordering - parts of a presentation

Check your understanding: grouping - useful phrases, worksheets and downloads.

Do you think these tips will help you in your next speaking exam? Remember to tell us how well you do in future speaking exams!  

oral presentation questions

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oral presentation questions

At the end of your presentation, if it is appropriate for the type of presentation, solicit questions from the audience.

Responding to audience questions

When someone is asking a question, make eye contact with that person, listen positively, and acknowledge by saying "thank you for that question," or say "that is an excellent question" or "that is an important question".

If the audience is in a large room and cannot hear each other's questions, repeat the question loudly for everyone to hear, before answering it.

If you know the answer to the question, respond appropriately and briefly so you can take more questions and not spend too much time on one question.

Effective Response to Question

This video clip is an example of a presenter effectively responding to an audience member's question.

Ineffective Response to Question

This video clip is an example of a presenter ineffectively responding to an audience member's question.

If the question is not relevant to the presentation, say something like, "I am really sorry that question is outside the scope of this presentation, but I will be happy to stay after the presentation and discuss it with you."

Effective Response to Off-Topic Question

This video clip is an example of a presenter effectively responding to an off-topic question or one in which he or she does not know the answer.

Inappropriate Response to Off-Topic Question

This video clip is an example of a presenter inappropriately responding to an off-topic question or one in which he or she does not know the answer.

If time is running out for answering all of the questions, say, "I am sorry. I am running out of time, but I will take one last question, and then I will be available at the end to answer any remaining questions."

If you do not know the answer to a question say, "That is an interesting question, and I will have to get back to you later on that" or ask the audience "Can someone help me with this?" or be gracious and acknowledge you do not know the answer at that time.

If an audience member criticizes or attacks what you had covered in your presentation, do not attack back, but separate the valid criticism from the personal attack, and respond to the criticism appropriately.

Some things not to do during the question and answer period:

  • Shuffling papers or technology and not making eye contact with the questioner
  • Belittling the questioner
  • Calling those who want to ask questions by their physical characteristics
  • Not taking questions in the sequence they are asked, but focusing on certain people or a side of the room

Asking good questions

If you are in the audience, know also how to ask good questions to indicate that you are following the presentation.

You can ask some general questions about any topic, and you may be genuinely curious about some things presented.

  • What were the most challenging aspects, or what surprised you the most, in conducting this project?
  • Why did you choose this particular methodology or argument instead of another one?
  • How did you collect the data? Were there any problems in collecting data? What was the sample size?
  • How did you validate your work? Did you validate with a real problem or situation?
  • What are some of the limitations of your work?
  • What recommendations do you have for further exploration in this project?

Learning to ask good questions at the end of a presentation demonstrates your active participation.

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  • Designing Effective Presentation Materials
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How to handle questions during a presentation

Posted by Belinda Huckle  |  On January 29, 2022  |  In Presentation Training, Tips & Advice

In this Article...quick links

1. Tell the audience in advance when you will be taking questions

2. anticipate questions in advance, 3. realise that questions are a good thing, 4. make eye contact with the questioner, 5. always take a brief pause before launching into your answer, 6. be sure that you understand the question they are asking or point that they’re making, 7. acknowledge how valuable the question they’re asking is, 8. always keep your cool, 9. be honest if you don’t know the answer, 10. answer in sections if the question is a long one, 11. check-in with the questioner after you have given your response, follow us on social media for more great presentation tips:.

You’ve prepared your presentation, practised it a dozen times and you’re ready to go. But what’s the one thing that might throw you off course, undermine your confidence and your credibility? An awkward question. One that comes at an inopportune time, or one that’s difficult, or one with a complicated answer, or one you can’t answer! So it will come as no surprise that a question we get asked frequently centres around how to handle questions during a presentation!

Think about your work or everyday life, when someone asks you a question, how do you usually respond? Do you take a minute to think about your answer before launching into an explanation?

Do you interpret their question as a challenge of your authority/knowledge/intelligence and become defensive? Do you answer a question with another question? Did you notice that we’re asking a lot of questions right now…?

There are seemingly a thousand ways to answer a question and the kind of answer you give and how you deliver it can go a long way in helping to build positive relationships with other people, as well as facilitating constructive and helpful debates and conversations about certain issues and topics.

handling questions during a presentation

This is especially true in workplace environments, where you may be giving a presentation to your client, or delivering the quarterly business results to your team.

Questions may arise from the audience , which do have the potential to throw your presentation off course or set a bad tone in the room if not handled well. Some people can even inadvertently come across as rude, curt or dismissive when answering questions, simply because they feel attacked or they’re rushing to get back to their presentation before they lose their train of thought.

So in today’s blog post you’ll learn how to handle questions during a presentation. We’ve given you some specific advice to follow when answering questions and how to always remain courteous, on-track and respectful of the question-asker – so that in turn, you look professional and knowledgeable.

One of things that can sometimes throw you off course is being asked a question when you are mid-flow through a presentation or least expect it. It can interrupt your train of thought and momentarily put you off balance.

One way to avoid this is to agree in advance when you will be taking questions; anytime, at the end of each section, or at the end of the presentation. This way you won’t be surprised when they come up.

handling questions from the audience

Whilst you are preparing your slides or deck, think about the questions you might be asked around the content and formulate your answers ahead of time.

Look at the content through the eyes of the audience and try to anticipate where their views might differ or where they might need clarification.

Is there any additional data or information that you could take along to the presentation that might help you to answer some of these questions?

You won’t be able to predict every question in advance, but by giving it some thought it will give you a foundation on which to base your answers and hopefully make it clearer to you how to handle questions during a presentation that you might be expecting!

It’s important to remember first and foremost that the fact that people are asking you a question in the first place means that they’re interested and engaged in what you have to say.

Either they want more information, they need clarification, they’re curious to know more, or they want to test your thinking, logic, and recommendations.

So, a question should always be taken as a good sign, and met with an extra boost of enthusiasm and confidence on your side .

Unfortunately, we’ve seen all too many presenters use the fact that someone has asked a question as an opportunity to adjust their microphone, check their slides, straighten their clothes, drink some water, wander around the room or stage… And we can’t say how much of a big no-no this is! It is definitely not how to handle questions during a presentation!

Becoming immediately and significantly distracted when someone is asking you a question can make you look as though you don’t really care about the question being asked, and can be quite disrespectful.

So be sure to maintain eye contact, nod regularly , and give the questioner your full attention.

Remember that it’s not just about your verbal response, your body language can be a powerful tool or a dead give away if you are feeling anxious or unconfident.

So be sure to show your interest in the question and questioner.

Pausing before handling questions during a presentation

No matter whether someone is asking for some data or facts from you, questioning your way of doing things, or simply asking for more information, the first thing to do is to pause briefly after they’re finished asking their question, even if you know what your answer will be straight away.

There are 3 main reasons for this:

  • It gives the person time to finish their question, and add any clarifying points.
  • It shows that you are taking the time to consider the question, which shows respect.
  • It gives you time to think of the best answer, and deliver it eloquently, rather than launching in, rushing through, and coming across as confused or uncertain.

clarify the question before answering

One of the best communication techniques in life and business is to clarify and even repeat or paraphrase a question or point someone is making to you, as it helps avoid misunderstandings.

This is no less true while giving presentations as well, so when needed be sure to ask the questioner to expand or fine tune their point.

Remember, if you don’t understand the question, chances are you’ll give the wrong answer.

Repeating or paraphrasing a question also has the added bonus of ensuring that everyone else in the room has heard the question as well. Plus it gives you some extra thinking time too!

Don’t forget, if there is someone in the room who can add additional weight to your answer or expand in another area which is relevant, don’t be afraid to invite them to contribute also.

The old saying, “There are no silly questions” definitely rings true here, so you need to communicate this by making the questioner feel that their question was valid and constructive.

This needs to be done genuinely, and there are plenty of good ways to express an acknowledgement before giving your response:

  • “That’s a question I asked myself”
  • “That’s a question a lot of people have asked us recently”
  • “I’m not surprised you’re asking that given …”
  • “I think the point you’re making is a good one”
  • “That’s a question we have discussed at length within our team”
  • “Many thanks for your question. You’ve reminded me to touch on …”
  • “In most situations, you’d be right, and I would agree with you”
  • “That’s a really interesting point and not one we had considered”

It’s a good idea to practise these regularly, but always make sure the way you acknowledge the question is genuine or you’ll sound rehearsed and not authentic or credible as a presenter.

If a question is off-topic and not relevant to the presentation you might want to ask where the question is coming from, answer briefly and offer to give a more detailed response at a later date.

When it comes time to actually give your answer don’t get angry or defensive, no matter what the question is. This is not how to handle questions during a presentation in a professional, credible way!

We’ve all seen those video clips of celebs or politicians losing their temper after an interviewer asks them a less-than-favourable-question, and the only one who almost always comes off looking silly is the interviewee themselves.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, even if the question was intended to be intentionally provocative, losing it or getting visibly emotional will make you come across as immature and unprofessional. If you feel yourself getting emotional, simply ask if you can get back to them at a later time.

woman handling questions during a presentation

We all have to admit to bluffing our way through an answer to a question we’re just not 100% sure of every now and then… But a presentation is not the time to do it.

Making up an answer or trying to dance around the question completely is a surefire way to come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about, which can really undermine your confidence for the rest of the presentation. Instead, here are some options for managing questions when you don’t know the (entire) answer.

  • Tell them what you do know. E.g. if someone asks “What is the current rate of inflation?” you may not know the exact answer so you could reply by saying “I’m not sure of the precise rate of inflation right now, though I can look that up for you if you like. What I can tell you is that it is rising faster now than it has done for many years.”
  • Tell them why you don’t know. E.g. if someone were to ask the above inflation question, you could reply by saying “The rate of inflation is extremely volatile at the moment. Let me look up the most recent data and get that figure to you straight after the presentation.”
  • Tell them someone else knows. Again, using the inflation question, you might reply “That’s a hot topic at the moment and our CFO has just published a report looking at the current rate of inflation and the drivers behind it. I’ll email that report to you later this week.”
  • Tell them you don’t know. It’s not ideal to admit that you don’t have the answer to hand but it’s better than making up the answer. In this scenario it’s imperative that you acknowledge the question so that you still come across as confident and in control rather than nervous and on the back foot. E.g you could say “That’s a very valid question you raise. I don’t have that data with me but I will send that information to straight after this presentation.”

Curly questions can really rock our confidence so stay calm, take your time and remember that no one expects you to know everything. You’re only human after all!

If the question is a particularly long one, ‘chunk’ up your answer into sections so your answer stays clear and concise.

For example, if someone asks you when a project is going to be completed, you might say:

“That’s actually a critical question as timings on this project are particularly tight (acknowledging worth). Based on our last status update, stage 1 will be completed by xxx, stage 2 by xxx and stage 3 by xxx.”

Or, if their question is multi-part, answer each part separately before moving onto the next.

You could say something like “And to address the second part of your question…”

check in with the questioner during the presentation

After you finish your answer it’s important to check-in with the questioner to make sure that you’ve answered the question to their satisfaction. You can do this by simply asking:

  • “Does that answer your question?”
  • “Can I provide you with any more detail?”

Or, you can also check in non-verbally, such as by making eye contact with them and smiling. If you get a smile back, you can assume you’ve answered the question to their satisfaction. If you get a puzzled look or a frown, we recommend you follow up with a verbal check-in.

So, by learning how to handle questions during a presentation, following all these important points, and being thoroughly prepared before your presentation, it will help to  calm your nerves and leave you feeling ready to engage with your audience, stimulate constructive conversations, all while looking confident, professional and in control.

And if you’re going back into the meeting room after a long period of remote working you can brush up on your in-person presentation skills by reading this blog .

Tailored and personalised presentation skills training

If you’re specifically looking to learn how to handle questions during a presentation, or more generally to build the presentation skills of your team (or yourself) through personalised training or coaching that is tailored to your business, we can help.

For nearly 20 years we have been the Business Presentation Skills Experts , training & coaching thousands of people in an A-Z of global blue-chip organisations – check out what they say about our programs .

To find out more, click on one of the buttons below:

Check out our In-Person Programs AU

Header image credit.

Belinda Huckle

Written By Belinda Huckle

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.

Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.

She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.

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VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2023

February 9, 2023

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Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). the kool kids don't use landscape..., introduction.

Choosing an Oral Presentation topic can be tough. Finding an idea that’s unique, relevant and interesting all at once can sometimes feel impossible; but don’t worry, this is where we come in! Below is a list of 12 potential Oral Presentation topics for you to draw inspiration from, selected in reference to the VCE assessment criteria .

Remember, this blog is not a resource to give you a finished speech idea , these are just jumping-off points. Plagiarism is very harshly punished in VCE and many other students will currently be reading this very same post, meaning it's up to YOU to figure out how you’ll form a unique angle if you pick one of these topics. To help you do this, each section provides an overview of the cultural events that make this topic relevant. Additionally, possible contentions are included, ensuring you can see how arguments about these topics can be effectively made. 

1. Kanye’s blow-up - The necessity of the media to stop platforming celebrities spreading harmful ideas

American rapper Kanye West has always been a controversial figure, but since his endorsement of Trump in 2016 he’s seemingly been on a particularly bad downward spiral. His descent into increasingly more extremist right-wing politics has led to the question of whether the news media, detached and neutral as they might claim to be, should even be reporting on him. 

As of writing (late 2022), Kanye’s recent appearances on far-right talk shows to voice support for Hitler and question the existence of the Holocaust (which has no doubt been topped by something equally controversial by the time this gets published) pushes this question right to its limit. 

Events like this are undoubtedly big stories that many people would like to know about, but does reporting on them do more harm than good? Do we realistically all have the self-control to ignore these figures when so much of modern news already revolves around controversy and gossip? Possible Contentions:

  • Major media companies should reach an agreement to actively avoid covering celebrity behaviour that spreads dangerous ideas. 
  • News media should make an extra effort to disprove the dangerous ideologies of those they cover, rather than presenting them in a ‘neutral way’.

2. Amber Heard - How online discourse can villainise marginalised groups and encourage ‘dogpiling’

A similar celebrity controversy that dominated 2022 headlines was the two-way public defamation lawsuit between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which involved accusations of abuse on both sides. One of the most notable parts of this case was the online depiction of Heard, on social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube. 

Heard emerged as the internet’s new favourite punching bag, with an endless stream of videos and memes where her ‘ allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault were mocked for entertainment ’. Crucially, these were made to criticise her in a way that most clearly mirrored historical sexist stereotypes about emotionally manipulative women. You probably came across examples of these yourself, as platforms like Youtube have a history of directing users to this kind of content. 

As such, key issues were identified in terms of how social media warps online discussions of allegations of abuse. Additionally, like the last topic, the very fact that this legal dispute was publicly broadcast raises questions as to whether the media’s focus on this event may have worsened the issue. 

Possible Contentions:

  • Personal legal proceedings between celebrities are not something that should be broadcast to the public.
  • The online discussion regarding this trial demonstrates the need for increased regulation of hateful and abusive content on social media platforms.

3. Should Australia be made a republic in the wake of the Queen’s death?

The death of Queen Elizabeth II in September of 2022, among many other things, drew Australia back into a debate it's been having for decades; should we become a republic? This would be a shift from our current state of (effectively) being overseen by the United Kingdom as a ‘constitutional parliamentary monarchy’, with the ‘head of state’ now being an Australian citizen rather than the UK monarch. 

Although the replacement of the Queen with the new head of state (King Charles III) shouldn’t really shift people’s perspective on this issue, it most likely will. Queen Elizabeth has been the welcoming and approachable symbol of the monarchy for many Australians. Her death could be the catalyst for a shift in public opinion, severing the connection that many citizens still had to the UK monarchy. 

This issue can be approached from many different angles, inducing discussion on HOW the process of Australia becoming a republic should occur (especially how the new head of state should be chosen), as well as stepping back and assessing the positives and negatives of making this shift.

  • Australia’s transition to a republic is a necessary step in helping honour the country’s Indigenous population and rejecting its colonial past
  • Australia’s transition to a republic, although often framed as an act of national unity, will actually worsen the cultural divides within our country. 
  • Although Australia should transition to a republic, the current rise of nationalist politics makes a public election of the new head of state extremely risky.

4. Are NFTs a positive advancement in contemporary technology? 

Whether or not you understand what it actually means, the phrase ‘NFTs’ has probably been inescapable on your social media feeds over the last year. Without getting too detailed, these ‘Non-Fungible Tokens’ are essentially investments into non-replicable representations of artwork , which will (supposedly) increase in value over time. 

Despite seemingly being an exciting new technology that could have given control back to artists through copyright ownership, NFTs have instead been heavily criticised for commercialising artwork by reducing it to a literal piece of digital currency. Further issues have arisen in terms of how this technology can easily be used to scam people through misrepresenting the value of individual NFTs, or NFT owners simply taking the money and running.

What do you think? All new technology seems shaky and uncertain at the start, and maybe we should recognise that the current negative impacts of NFTs must simply be overcome with time. How do we weigh the benefit this technology has for individual artists against its potential drawbacks?

  • For their many flaws, NFTs give the power back to creators and, therefore, need to be improved rather than roundly rejected. 
  • Despite preaching democratisation, NFTs and Bitcoin are both a part of a technological trend that will further increase wealth inequality.

5. How much can Western citizens really do to fight injustice via social media activism?

The effect of the COVID pandemic on developing countries, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and human rights abuses by the nation of Qatar - this year has seen an innumerable number of news stories that would make any reasonable person jump to their phones to see what they could do to help, like signing an online petition or sharing a public post to spread awareness.

However, as you probably know, these forms of social media 'slacktivism’ have historically drawn criticism for their ineffectiveness and self-serving nature. Increasingly though, this debate has become more complicated, moving away from the simplified dismissal of any social media activism that emerged around the turn of the century . Others have rightly pointed out that many influential contemporary social movements, that have had real-world impacts, did emerge from social media, such as the BLM and #MeToo movements. 

As such, there’s a lot of room for different arguments here regarding whether a critical perspective of ‘social media slacktivism’ has become outdated in a world that is increasingly unavoidably based on the internet.

Possible Contentions: 

  • Social media activism is unavoidably the way that young people are going to engage with political issues, and a rejection of it is naive and impractical. 
  • Political activism should distance itself from the online world if it wants to make real-world change that doesn’t fit neatly under existing power structures.

6. Is the overload of various media streaming service subscriptions sustainable?

‘Streaming fatigue’ has emerged as a 2023 talking point that may have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Remember when we just had Netflix offering us a new way of consuming film and TV that was both more convenient and cost-effective than ‘pay TV’ packages (which were often heavily inflated in price and packed with unwanted channels )?

However, as we move into 2023, many have argued that the current subscription landscape now mirrors the previous pay-TV model. Consumers once again find themselves having to pay for an increasingly large amount of services if they want to conveniently access their film and TV shows. Predictably, this has seen a re-emergence of video piracy . 

Does this mean that it's fundamentally impossible for us to access our media as conveniently as we’d like to, and the years of Netflix being the only streaming service that had all we wanted were never sustainable? Or maybe corporations are unfairly squeezing every dollar they can out of us, and piracy is a fair and just consumer response?  

  • Through offering convenience that is unparalleled by any other previous technology, streaming services are still worth the cost. 
  • Consumers should actively engage in digital piracy until media corporations create a more affordable streaming environment.

7. Is a post-COVID work-at-home model healthy for the next generation of workers?

Although 2020 and 2021 may be remembered as the ‘years of COVID’, 2022 onwards is perhaps when we will see which long-term impacts of the pandemic continue to stick around. Aside from the permanent placement of public hand sanitiser stations, working from home has emerged as one of the most prominent main-stays from our lockdown years. 

Is this something that we should embrace? A lot was said during the lockdown about the mental health effects of being deprived of human connection; is this something we should just forget about when it comes to work? As with many of these issues, the question arises as to whether this shift is an inevitable effect of technological advancement, which we can either accept or fruitlessly battle until it becomes the new normal. 

However, the fact that this ‘work from home’ dynamic only emerged due to a pandemic complicates this idea, making it possible that we may have accidentally all become accustomed to a new economic model of work that we would be better off without. 

Possible Contentions:  

  • We must actively push back against the ‘work from home’ model; if we don’t, we will suffer both mentally and financially into the future.  
  • Working from home is a win-win; it's more convenient and cost-effective for both employer and employee.

8. How can gentrified and aestheticised versions of social movements be avoided?

I wonder whether you saw the Indigenous name for Victoria’s capital city (Naarm) appear more frequently on your social media feeds this year, with people adding it to their Instagram bios or referring to it on TikTok? What started as a conscious choice to respectfully refer to the city by its original Indigenous name quickly became criticised as a trendy aesthetic for outwardly progressive white Victorians, with terms like ‘naarm-core’ becoming short-hand for a specific kind of trendy fashion that was ‘ devoid of any ties to First Nations people ’. 

‘Naarm-core’, therefore, stands as another example of a movement that may have started with admirable aims, but was drowned out by those who just wanted the social benefits of participating in progressive politics. Think of the recent similar debates about ‘rainbow capitalism’, with similar criticisms being made of brands that co-opt progressive concepts like LGBQTI+ identity purely for social (and financial) capital. The question naturally emerges as to how we can avoid this for future political movements. 

Or maybe you disagree with all these critiques? Political discussion moves so fast these days that it can feel like people are in such a rush to criticise things that they miss actual progress being made. After all, the use of the term ‘Naarm’ to refer to Melbourne was undeniably popularised on the back of this trend. 

‍ Possible Contentions: 

  • The criticism of political movements that deal with race being tokenised by white people can only be solved by allowing people of colour at the centre of these movements.
  • People are too cynical about social movements and trends; virality and popularity, despite ‘inauthentic intentions’, often do more good than harm. 

9. How can the highly polarised discussion concerning COVID vaccines become more productive?

Another thing you may have witnessed from living in a post-COVID world is an increase in how divided simple issues seem to make us. Ever tried to convince a relative or friend that, no, in fact, vaccines are not designed to implant us with microchips - seems impossible right? 

For many people, the pandemic was a tipping point into full-blown conspiracy communities, meaning people are increasingly able to exist within their own social-media realities that don’t need to be bound to scientific truth or objective fact. This all creates a division between those with different beliefs that is somehow wider than before, where we can’t even agree on simple statements of truth. 

The debate around what to do about this deals with questions of human psychology, social media (again), but also freedom of speech. Should spreading (potentially dangerous) false information that conflicts with scientific consensus be allowed on social media? Most importantly, how do we encourage actual communication between different sides?

Possible contentions:

  • Talking in person is the only way for people with vastly different beliefs to find common ground.
  • Those spreading dishonest and dangerous conspiracy theories about public health cannot be reasoned with, and need to be actively shut down wherever they appear.

10. With the infamous Oscar slap, what ‘consequences’ should comedians and satirists face for what they say?

Here’s a news story that you’re probably tired of hearing about! Actor Will Smith’s act of violence against Oscar host and comedian Chris Rock for a joke about his wife’s alopecia (hair loss) caused many different conversations to happen at once; about toxic masculinity, celebrity culture, violence as a spectacle. These are all totally valid angles for your Oral Presentation, but let’s focus on maybe the most common debate; did Chris Rock deserve this?  

Functioning as a comedian hosting an awards night, Rock’s job was to poke fun at everyone participating, and these sorts of roles have often involved controversial comments and jokes . Does this mean they have immunity from any consequences for their words though? What should these consequences look like? And, if we excuse smaller acts of violence, what does that normalise? 

The 2015 terrorist shooting of the staff of satirical French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ for their depiction of the Islamic prophet may seem a world away from Will Smith’s slap, but some may argue that this is the logical end-point for a world that believes physical violence is the way to deal with jokes people don’t like. 

  • The idea of comedians actually being threatened by violence is overblown; the slap was an isolated incident.
  • Protecting the safety of those who make controversial jokes is paramount to maintaining freedom of speech.

11. With Optus and Telstra’s recent data breaches, is placing all our valuable personal information in virtual spaces sustainably safe? 

This year saw a record-level data breach from one of Australia’s leading telecommunications companies, Optus. The personal details of almost 10 million customers were given to the hackers. 

Then, two weeks later, a similar data breach happened at Telstra. Yes, this time, no customer information was leaked, but information on the company’s employees was again released. 

All of this may disturb the image we all have in our heads of online databases as relatively unbreachable, locked away behind thousands of firewalls somewhere in the cloud. In fact, much of modern society operates on this assumption. Maybe you’ve added your credit card details to your Chrome tab because it makes online purchases easier? This convenience comes with the implicit assumption that online personal info is pretty much always safe when protected by a big tech company, but these events arguably prove otherwise.  

Cyberattacks are ‘ increasing as a threat ’, yet danger for the sake of convenience is something that all of us deal with. Maybe you think there are degrees to this; should we draw a line at information that can cause us legitimate harm if given to a malicious party?  

  • Our society is already too technologically dependent to try and ‘go offline’ for the sake of data safety.
  • Valuables of any kind are always going to run the risk of being stolen, and digital piracy is no different.

12. What is the role of Western countries in resisting the unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine?

As already mentioned, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was one of the biggest news stories of 2022. Putin’s unlawful decision to attack the country’s capital in February of 2022 has left more than 10,000 people dead and millions displaced from their homes. Virtually all world leaders condemned this act immediately. Yet, almost a year later, the war continues, and documented war crimes occur on Ukrainian soil.

Thinking larger than just social media, the question of what can actually be done to help by the countries who condemn this war has naturally emerged. Many nations have supported Ukraine financially, including the US giving nearly $20 billion . Some may argue that this is not nearly far enough, and that all world powers have a responsibility to wage direct war against Russia in support of Ukraine. Naturally though, many are strongly against Western intervention in this form, believing that countries like the US should not see themselves as all-knowing powers that can intervene in other nations based on their ideological beliefs. 

‍ Possible Contentions:

  • Any attempt to guilt individual citizens about their need to ‘do something about Ukraine’ is completely unfair; the responsibility for any meaningful action is entirely on the government.
  • The West, particularly the US, has a long history of militarily invading smaller nations for their own purposes; their condemnation of the Russians is hypocritical.

If you haven’t already done so, check out our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for some general tips and tricks to get you started!

Written by Milo Burgner

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oral presentation questions

Access a FREE sample of our How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation study guide

Written by Lisa Tran, who achieved FULL marks in her Oral Presentation:

  • How to choose, plan and write your oral presentation and written explanation
  • A simple, persuasive speech structure that will blow your audience away
  • All essays FULLY annotated so you know exactly what you need to do and what not to do

oral presentation questions

Don't forget to also check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for everything you need to know for Oral Presentations.

Here are over 20 Oral Presentation Ideas for you if you're presenting a speech on Australian issues in the media.

  • Should gay couples have the same adoption rights as straight couples?
  • Should businesses be required to have a sex quota?
  • Should political parties be required to run a certain percentage of women candidates?
  • Gender workplace diversity
  • Treatment of refugees on Manus Island
  • Should there be a temporary ban on all immigration into Australia?
  • MP citizenship
  • Should the government classify Bitcoin as a legal currency?
  • Homelessness in Australia
  • Obesity in Australia
  • Sexual harassment in the TV/movie/hollywood industry
  • Should gender identity be added to anti-discrimination laws?
  • Should universities provide ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ for students?
  • Should workplaces provide ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ for staff?
  • Informed consent with online data
  • Religious freedom
  • Same sex marriage freedom
  • Adani coalmine
  • Political donations
  • Penalty rates in Australia
  • Wage theft in Australia
  • Indigenous recognition in the constitution
  • Should we invest in public interest journalism?

See last year's Oral Presentation Ideas here . You might also be interested in Advice for A+ oral presentations here too! Best of luck!

List of topics

1. ‘implementing a sugar tax to curb australian obesity.’.

Premise: Mexico and UK have already implemented the ‘Sugar Tax’ on soft drinks to prevent obesity through the avenue of consumer choices, with this debate being sparked in Canada and Australia as to whether this is a viable solution. The World Health Organization believes this could reduce consumption of sugar by reinvesting the more expensive prices into health initiatives against ‘Childhood Obesity’. The Federal Government is facing this decision in 2019, to introduce these radical changes. Thus, whether or not the sugar tax should be implemented would be the core of your oral.

Basis of the tax

Young stakeholders ‍

Expert opinions, use this for further reading ‍

Mexico comparison, who have done this

British conversation, opposing views on sugar tax ‍

2 . ‘What can Australia do to reduce the dangers of paramedic assault and overtime?’

‍ Premise: Lately in the media, paramedic attacks and unreasonable overtime shifts means that the safety of our ambulance staff is compromised. A series of movements and a necessity for awareness has been sparked in Australia, with one paramedic being assaulted every 50 hours, and 147 assaulted in 2018. Whether or not people choose to support ambulance safety on a political front, social front or preemptive front (see Ambulance Victoria’s ‘Help keep our ambos safe at work’), action has been gaining momentum in contemporary news and campaigns. Is Australia doing enough for paramedic safety? This would be the basis of your oral.

‍ Ambulance Victoria’s campaign

Paramedics’ Union urging Political Parties in 2019

Other factors, overtime shifts

Further reading on specific cases of paramedic violence ‍

3 . ‘How are our politicians dealing with events of Melbourne CBD terrorism ?’

Premise: A series of concentrated terrorist attacks on Melbourne’s Bourke Street and around Melbourne’s CBD has led to preventative measures such as 88 concrete blocks and anti-terror speaker systems. With politicians such as Matthew Guy pushing movements such as suspects facing curfews and counselling and drones around the city being put in place to monitor events like Christmas Day and New Years, this issue is being noted. But is enough being done? How effective are these measures, and are the police and government working closely enough to avoid these situations? This would be the basis of your oral.

Victoria Police’s response to terrorism

Bourke Street incidents

Links to other attacks and opinion article ‍

Political movements from Matthew Guy ‍

Anti-terror measures

4 . ‘Are loot boxes just gaming, or gambling?’

Premise: The question of whether loot boxes being utilised in video games marketed to underage children are in fact exposing them to gambling is currently being debated at a Senate level in Australia and around the world. Whilst opinions are segregated on whether this is harmless or harmful, statistics and experts seem to believe in Europe that the detriment is too high, with 15 gambling regulators pinning game developers and publishers. Similarly, the UK and especially Australia have been making movements to rid the gaming industry of this practice. However, ‘EA Games’ is a big player against this, thriving of their sales in games such as ‘FIFA Coins’ and ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’. Thus, whether it is just gambling or gaming would form this oral.

The Senate Inquiry on loot boxes ‍

Are loot boxes gambling? ‍

Expert Opinions ‍

Age restrictions with gambling v. gaming ‍

Global statistics/reasons against

5 . ‘ Anti-vaccination movements within Australia.’

Premise: The anti- vaccination movement, concentrated in the beachside town of Byron Bay in Australia is claiming more young lives daily, as medical reports are starting to note a greater toll in whooping cough cases and other vaccination related diseases. With campaigns such as the ‘No Jab, No Play’ initiative and other experts stating the way vaccinations are being handled, the situation is not apt in the current necessity for herd immunity amongst young Australians. Whether or not vaccination should be more heavily emphasised would be explored in this oral.

Geographic case study for vaccinations

Implications and health issues

No jab, no play campaign

Case studies

For vaccination

6 . ‘The competition of Uber, Taxis and other ride sharing services.’

Premise: The hyper competitive nature of ride-sharing services and transport on the Australian field means that Uber and taxis have a lot more competition with one another, meaning shared business can affect the others customers in a major way. Hence, the Australian approach of lawsuits and the pickup of other services such as Shebah, Gocatch and Ola, means that drivers are facing harder times finding customers and also maintaining a steady stream of income. Whether or not these competing companies escalate the quality of transport or are too detrimental to driver’s livelihood would be explored in this oral.

The premise ‍

Taxi share zones, official action/recognition ‍

The legal aspects ‍

For the competitive nature

Other platforms that affect this ‍

7. ‘The drought impact on Australian farmers.’ ‍

Premise: Communities within Australia, specifically in Queensland, prepare themselves for overwhelming drought this 2019, with as their profits will most probably drop below $13,000 in this next financial year for farmers. Whilst milk companies and other politicians have attempted to rally with farmers, more attention seemingly may have to be put in place to assure the livelihood of these agricultural practitioners. Hence, even with drought relief practices and campaigns with many stakeholders in the government and as owners of business, it may require more of a push on a formal level in these pivotal years for farmers. The necessary movements and activism for greater support of farmers would be explored in this oral. ‍

The lack of support for drought ‍

What the implications of drought are ‍

Campaigns and movements already in place ‍

Stakeholders and the issues amongst them ‍

The up and coming concerns for drought in 2019 ‍

8. ‘ Microplastics in the Ocean.’ ‍

Premise: The rise in plastic consumption on a global scale and also lack of environmental solutions has led sea turtle’s digestive tracts and parts of the deepest oceans to be littered with seemingly minute particles called ‘microplastics’. However, these particles have detrimental effects and often litter foods, water sources and our ecosystem, usually sinking to the bottom of the ocean, with 99% of the plastic the seas contain building on the bottom. Ultimately, how we deal with these microplastics and whether it is important would be illustrated in this oral.

Marianas Trench plastics ‍

Contamination in foods ‍

Actions against microplastics ‍

The basics of microplastics ‍

Expert opinions 9. ‘ Indigenous ‘Close the Gap’ Campaign’. ‍

Premise: The ‘Close the Gap’ campaign originally focused on integrating the Indigenous people back into modernized society that excluded them wrongly. Objectives were necessary to fulfill educational reforms, social necessities and the favour within employment that needed to be shown in order to “even the playing field”. Over the years, this has been scrutinised and subjected to downfalls, both political and social, with many of these objectives not achieved. Thus, greater attention or movement may have to be incited. Hence, whether enough is being done or more needs to be provoked would inspire this oral. ‍

Scott Morrison on the current ‘Closing the Gap’ measures

Discussion of the origins of this movement

Stakeholders in parliament, Indigenous rights

A review of the campaign and its downfalls

The new closing the gap campaign and its implications

10 . ‘Can we use genetically modified foods in daily life?’

Premise: The discussion of GMOs (genetically modified foods) and their ethical, moral and health implications have segregated both consumers and producers alike. Australia’s viewpoint of the scientific practice in modifying foods has been portrayed in the recent elongation to bans in South Australia until 2025, but has also been challenged with groundbreaking research that could double the crop yield in theory, due to the advances in photosynthetic characteristics and other chemical properties of plants. Thus, whether or not they should be refuted or supported would form the basis of this oral.

The science behind GM foods

Other global players accepting GM crops

Advances and what this means for farmers

Photosynthesis/scientific endeavours in the field of GM crops

The bans in South Australia, and the dangers

11 . ‘The wage gap : Women in STEM.’

Premise: It is rare to find a career where the exact same work will be paid differently based on sexuality, race or gender. It seems in the contemporary age the real issue is that cultural norms raise more women lawyers, doctors and teachers than engineers, physicists and STEM workers. Rather than a direct percentage of the pay gap, it is made apparent that it is rather a systematic average of less over time because of the careers being chosen. Whether or not the wage gap is due to STEM and what we can do to prevent this would be the formation of your oral.

What is the gender pay gap?

Statistics and figures

Australian specific pay gap

Against the gender pay gap

12. ‘Should we take on Finland’s education system ?’

Premise: Standardised testing is often a debate that goes without alternatives that truly work. But the core of Finland’s number 1 education system in the world is that they hire so many good teachers, hence independent learning is monitored and possible. The VCE system and IB curriculum does not streamline because students are so pressured they do not take time to explore and ultimately find what they want to do in tertiary. In Finland, it is less about the competition, and more about individual learning up until university so that they excel in different pathways. What would it take to change Australian systems to model this? This would be a key idea within your oral.

Australian education reform

Study assist packages being released

Universities involved, education opportunities amongst

Finland school system comparison

The National qualifications bureau

13 . ‘Should we change Australia day? ’

Premise: This is a heavily utilised oral topic. The Australia Day debate is a popular one, and this is because it is rich in cultural, social, ethical and political stances within itself. With the date remaining the same in 2019, and with the fireworks of the Perth council still going ahead, more protests and council movement means that these discussions are still very contemporary and readily available online. The bids and failed attempts to change the day to a Reconciliation Week celebration, or any date but ‘Invasion Day’ all form evidence to back up either side. Hence, the question of whether or not the date should be moved would be the primary focus of this oral.

‘For’ changing Australia Day in its entirety The council players in changing the date Bids/failed attempts to change the date The council’s on movements and government reflection on history

14 . ‘Is the National Broadband Network , working?’

Premise: The National Broadband Network policy meant that the telecommunications sector was supposed to gain momentum and strengthen itself, however, downfalls of the technicians and rollout of the service have meant public scrutiny and Government blame being laid. Telstra’s work on this with ping and download speeds being effective, but upload speeds suffering means that Australian consumers are not completely satisfied with the service, putting into question the ultimate effectiveness of NBN as an invested infrastructure. The success of NBN would form the base of this oral.

New rollouts geographically

New government policies

The effectiveness of NBN

Does it work as promised?

Downfalls of NBN

15. ‘ Teaching standards for undergraduates in Australia.'

Premise: The teaching standards of Australia have been heavily scrutinised after certain lower ATAR scores were primarily accepted into the fields. Thus, the question of whether the right teachers are being accepted and their skills are being honed is put into the spotlight, as a lower bar for the academic necessity of the career sparks debate on whether the standards for Australian education has fallen. However, with 2 teachers in the Global Top 50 for the education sector means there is still hope, and with lots of regional areas geographically, it can be difficult- So whether or not Australia is doing enough would form this oral.

ATARs and their own role in teachers

The skills necessary for teachers

A lower bar for academics means a lower bar for teachers

The consequences for teachers in regional areas

Australian teacher’s success stories

16. ‘Is the cost of living rising too high in Australia?’

Premise: The cost of living within Australia is inevitably rising, with a spike of homelessness within Sydney and the common retiree locations being in Asian countries forming the basis of whether or not we should start working on this sector of Australia’s wealth. However, some sources argue that our economy is steady and positive, with the perspective gained on this challenging what 2019 seems to hold for the cost of living. It is a contemporary topic as the next generation will have to face these challenges, proving an interesting oral if you focus on the stakeholders in each category (teenagers, workers, government and retirees).

The rising homelessness rates

Key area in the study of rising prices

The perspective of the greater economy in comparison to the cost of living

The meaning for retirees and where they have to go

The changes in 2019 to the cost of living

17 . ‘Are we doing enough to aid beekeepers in Australia?’

Premise: The ‘Save the Bees’ campaign begun as we started to realise the necessity and imminent danger we would face if bees were in harm's way. Recently, South Australia faced some strange occurrences with mysterious bee deaths, and younger stakeholders attempting to grasp Australia’s bee population. National Geographic focused on real steps and actions that could be taken within Australia, with measures that could potentially be put in place in order to protect these bees. Hence, this could be a unique oral if presented with the statistics and urgency of this issue.

Young stakeholders trying to save the bees

The implication of bees dying

Bees dying in South Australia

The plan to save Australia’s bees

Other measures in place that may affect bees

18. ‘The impact of the strawberry needle scare. ’

Premise: The Strawberry Needle Scare was a 2018 issue, with 2019 implications in the dangers of food tampering, and a case of needles in grapes at a Melbourne store. Moreover, the implications for farmers and the agricultural community meant that many workers were affected by this, as consumers initially feared the worst, affecting Australian livelihood at its core. Thus, in order to do a contemporary oral on this, you would focus primarily on the impact on the farmers, what future fears could arise, (eg. the grape needle scare), and what consumers need to be aware of in future contamination.

The grape scare, new to 2019

The Western Australian side of the strawberry scare

Food tampering in history, where this fits

The effects on farmer that the needle scare has

The movement for farmers from consumers to just ‘cut them up’

19. ‘The epidemic of anxiety. ’

Premise: In a digital, gratification-desiring age, anxiety and depression are symptoms of the high pressure scenarios within daily life. Recently, new studies proving the dire nature within Australia’s mental health provoked more attention by experts and the population into methods and the ‘epidemic’ we face, as we continue to head down a dark spiral. With case studies, statistics and the current situation within pressurised work situations, this could form a strong oral.

The need for instant gratification

The effects of employment on mental health

Australian statistics on worry and anxiety

The Kids helpline and a case study

More statistics/stakeholders in the debate

20 . ‘Is the zero road toll possible?’

Premise: The concept of the ‘Towards Zero’ campaign is that we would have no deaths on the roads in short. This takes drink driving measures, the hazardous first months of a probationary driver and the zones in which these accidents are most highly occurring into consideration, as the government, younger drivers, and adult drink drivers are all concerned. There are already worrying trends going into 2019 however, as this forms the basis of some concerning patterns, and could be explored either way in an oral of whether or not the ‘zero road toll’ is truly possible.

The action plan, released by TAC branch

The implications of striving for the road 0 toll

What is already in place, is there grounds to this?

Trends and why it may not be possible

The official campaign

Welcome to 2014! As many of you will already be in your second or third week of schooling, it’s likely that you’re getting plenty of workload from across your subjects. Some of you may very well be preparing for your oral presentation SAC that’s coming up very soon! If that is the case, I’ve collated a list of some popular topics that have cropped up in the Australian media since September last year. The list is intended to help you brainstorm different issues you may wish to debate in your speech, with the contention left for you to decide once you have researched enough on the topic! Check it out below:

  • Treatment of asylum seekers 
  • Processing of asylum seekers
  • ‘One punch law’
  • Street violence
  • Should mathematics be compulsory in schools?
  • Shark culling in South Australia
  • The end of car manufacturing in Australia
  • Sex education and homosexuality
  • Work-for-the-dole scheme
  • Needle vending machines
  • East-West tunnel
  • Cory Bernadi’s book – The Conservative Revolution (Abortion)
  • Should we smack our children?
  • The Indigenous employment gap
  • Tecoma McDonalds
  • Sexism in the media
  • Animal cruelty
  • Treatment of fare evaders
  • Wearing the hijab in schools
  • Childcare wages
  • Should the government fund private schools?
  • See  Oral Presentation Issues in 2013  for other ongoing issues

The oral presentation SAC is worth 40% of your unit 4 English mark and is comprised of two sections: your statement of intention, and your oral presentation. It can be difficult to understand what is expected of you, as this SAC definitely varies from your typical English essay! So, if you need help understanding what’s expected of you, check out Our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations . If you’d like an even more in-depth guide on how to approach this assessment, definitely check out the How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation study guide!

Here, I’m going to dissect five of the most common mistakes students make during their oral presentation, and gloss over ways in which you can improve your marks for this critical SAC.

1. Writing an Unentertaining Speech

Whilst your other English SACs may require you to write in a formal and sophisticated manner, the oral presentation SAC is the one shining exception! Many students fall into the trap of writing a frankly boring and uninspiring speech that does no justice to their academic ability. Here are some mistakes to watch out for:

Choosing the Wrong Topic

Your school may or may not already give you a list of topics to choose from. However, in the event that you must research your own topic, it is essential that you choose an issue relevant to your current audience. You must adopt a clear contention in your speech. 

Do not, for example, write a five-minute speech on why one sports team is better than the other, or why murder should be illegal. Choose an issue that you can take a passionate stance on and engage the audience with. Avoid a contention that is obvious and aim to actually persuade your class. Make sure you choose a 'WOW' topic for your VCE Oral Presentation .

‍ Writing With the Wrong Sense of Tone

This is one of the biggest mistakes students make when writing their oral presentation. I cannot stress this enough – your speech is not a formally written text response! You are presenting your stance on an issue, which means that you are allowed to be passionate and creative. You can educate your audience on the facts without boring them to sleep. Let’s analyse two sample excerpts on the same issue to see why:

Issue: Should the Newstart allowance be increased?

Sample 1: 722,000 Australians are on Newstart. Single people receive approximately $40 a day. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently increased this payment by $2.20 to adjust to price inflation. However, I am arguing that this price should be increased more.
Sample 2: As Australians, we pride ourselves on community values, and supporting one another. Yet, the way in which we treat 722,000 of our most vulnerable people doesn’t reflect this. The Australian government recently increased the Newstart payment by $2.20 weekly. But this means that Newstart recipients still live on just over $40 a day. Ask yourself, is that really enough to survive?

Samples 1 and 2 have the same information. Yet, Sample 2 engages with the audience in a much more effective manner. Try to avoid an overly formal tone and speak with passion and interest.

2. Presenting Without Confidence

Presenting in front of your class can be a very daunting experience. However, in order to distinguish yourself from your classmates, you must speak clearly and with confidence. Try to avoid making the following mistakes:

Reading Instead of Talking

Think back to primary school. Remember when your teacher would read you a storybook, and they would put on voices to make the story more engaging and interesting? The same sort of idea applies to your oral presentation. Simply reading a well-written speech will not get you marks. Rather, you should talk to your audience. Make eye contact, maintain good posture, and project your voice. Confidence is key!

Stalling for Time

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we haven’t prepared ourselves for a test as well as we should have. The oral presentation SAC is not an assessment that you can simply wing on the day. Oftentimes, poor scores stem from a lack of preparation which can be reflected in the way students present themselves – and stalling for time is a big giveaway. Save yourself the mental stress and prepare for your SAC by writing out your speech beforehand (or even preparing a few dot points/cue cards). I personally find it helpful to practise in front of a mirror or even in front of pets/stuffed toys.

3. Not Distinguishing Yourself From Your Class

If you’re gunning for a good mark, you want to stand out from your class. This can be especially difficult if you are presenting the same topic as one of your peers. Avoid:

Starting in an Uninspiring Way

This is another big mistake students make when presenting. Let’s just estimate that there are approximately 20-25 people in your English class. Now, imagine if every person who presented before you began their speech with:

“Good morning, today I’ll be talking about why Newstart should be increased”.

It gets repetitive. You can distinguish yourself by beginning in a myriad of other ways. Here’s an example of how I started my own oral presentation for my SAC:

Topic: Should we ban sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate?

Imagine you are a foreigner, excited to visit Australia. In your head, you’re picturing our beautiful flora and fauna, our stunning beaches, and the Great Coral Reef. You finally arrive after a long flight, eager to explore the country. You’re expecting the Great Coral Reef to be boasting colour, to look like all the pictures spotted online. Instead, you find what looks like a wasteland – a reef that has essentially been bleached to death. As Australians, we have to wonder what went wrong. If we really loved and cared for our environment, how could we not be protecting the reef, preventing any further damage? Recently, Hawaii banned sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, reasoning that these chemicals were causing harm to coral. Yet, in Australia, banning sunscreens with these chemicals are seen as drastic and useless measures, which simply isn’t true when you look at the facts. 

This is an example of an “imagined scenario” starter. How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation outlines other ways to start your speech with examples! If you’re having trouble figuring out how to start with a BANG, definitely make use of this resource.

No Enthusiasm

I say this to my students regardless of the English SAC that they’re writing – you want your writing/speech to reflect that you are indeed learning and enjoying your education. Your teacher will be able to tell if you choose a topic that you have no interest in, or if you are simply regurgitating information. Use this SAC to learn about an issue and take interest in your learning. Believe me, your grades will thank you for it.

4. Incorrectly Using Visuals

Whether you are allowed to present with visuals or not is up to your English teacher. However, it is essential that you do not incorrectly use these visuals, as it can cost you marks. Avoid:

Overusing PowerPoint Slides

I’m a bit old-fashioned myself and honestly prefer presenting a speech with no images. That’s not to say that some images can’t be a great addition to your piece. However, PowerPoint can quickly steer you away from presenting your topic in an engaging manner. 

This is an oral presentation with a stance on an issue, not an assessment where you are marked for presenting information to an audience. Therefore, reading off of PowerPoint slides is a big NO. 

Using Cluttered Infographics

The point of focus of your oral presentation should be on YOU – your words, your stance on the issue. This ties into the PowerPoint criticism I made above, but using a cluttered infographic takes away from your well-written speech. Below is an example of an overly cluttered infographic:

oral presentation questions

If your speech was on renewable energy, your audience would be detracted from your stance, and too focussed on reading the information from the visual. If you have any key information that needs to be explained, it is better to embed this into your speech than rely on an infographic. ‍

5. Disregarding the Statement of Intention

If you’ve finished writing your speech, you may have let out a big sigh of relief. But don’t get too comfortable yet – you still have to write your statement of intention ( SOI ). This piece of writing is supposed to accompany your speech, and it’s worth 25% of your SAC mark. Do not waste all your hard efforts by not taking the SOI seriously. 

I like to think of an SOI as a language analysis of your own speech. Essentially, you should be explaining your choice of language, tone, and rhetoric, and justifying why that would make a profound impact on the audience.  Make sure you understand what an SOI is.

I like thinking of this as a three-step approach:

  • Quote my own speech 
  • Explain why and how my language would impact the audience
  • Link back to my overall contention of the issue

‍ How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation outlines exactly what is expected of you in this section of your SAC. If you’d like to see an annotated A+ statement of intention, be sure to check it out!

I hope that going through these mistakes will help you when writing your own oral presentation! It’s always best to ask your teacher or English tutor for advice if you’re unsure of where to start. Happy writing!

There are a plethora of controversial issues in the current Australian media that may be perfect for your 2017 oral presentation! Below are just a few ideas to get you started on your way towards acing that SAC. Remember, pick a topic that you’re passionate and enthusiastic about. Don’t forget that there is no ‘right’ opinion, however, make sure you offer a distinctive argument, even if it means adopting an alternative point of view. Good luck!

oral presentation questions

  • Should the Australian Government ban the wearing of the burka in public?
  • Should the homeless be banned from Melbourne’s CBD? (Robert Doyle proposal)
  • Should the Australia Government continue to fund the Safe Schools Coalition?
  • Should gay marriage be legalised in Australia?
  • Should the date of Australia Day be replaced/changed?
  • Treatment of asylum seekers in detention centres (especially women and children)
  • Is enough action being taken to diminish the sugar industry propaganda to minimise obesity?
  • Should on – site pill testing be mandatory at all public events?
  • Cultural insensitivity in Australia
  • Is the development of technology and social media encouraging narcissism in young adults?
  • Victoria’s legal system
  • Stem cell research
  • Is the development of technology and social media encouraging the sexualisation of boys and girls?
  • Drug testing and drug control in Australia (Bourke Street attack)
  • Fake news being published by researchers to the media
  • Should Victoria’s juvenile justice system be improved by the Government?
  • Do students learn as effectively with ebooks compared with traditional, hardcopy books?
  • Should security footage of detention centres be released?
  • Is Australia becoming an alcohol and sugar driven society?
  • Has the notion of privacy been compromised in the 21st century? (internet, technology, terrorism)

Before you start writing your oral presentation, you can't miss our A+ tips that have helped hundreds of students get perfect marks in their SAC. Stand out from others with confidence now .

oral presentation questions

1. What is an Oral Presentation? 2. What are you expected to cover? (Oral Presentation Criteria) 3. Choosing your Topic 4. Choosing your Contention 5. Writing your Speech 6. Presenting your Speech 7. Writing the Written Explanation 8. Resources to help you prepare for your Oral Presentation

What is an Oral Presentation?

For many VCE English students, the oral presentation is the scariest part of the course; it’s often also the first.

Doing a speech can indeed be daunting— you’re marked in real time, you can’t go back and edit mistakes, and the writing part itself is only half the battle. Nonetheless, the Oral SAC can also be one of the more dynamic and engaging tasks you complete in VCE English, and there’s plenty of ways to make it more interesting and also more manageable for yourself.

Keep reading for a comprehensive overview of what you need to know to succeed in your Oral Presentation. We’ve got you covered- from choosing your topic and contention, to writing and presenting your Speech.

We’ll also be suggesting useful resources, Study Guides and YouTube videos that will provide more detailed information and give you more confidence. Let’s get into it!

What are you expected to cover in an Oral Presentation? (Oral Presentation Rubric)

1. Your Oral Presentation SAC has two components. The first is the Oral Presentation itself (“a point of view presented in oral form”), and the second is a Written Explanation, also known as a Statement of Intention.

2. Your selected topic needs to be an issue that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year

3. Your aim for this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.

Here’s the raw version of VCAA’s expectations from you, taken from the VCAA website :

oral presentation questions

How to choose your Oral Presentation topic

1. select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 september of the previous year.

This can be time consuming and tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.

Firstly, you need an event.  An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.

You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.

The ABC news archive is also really helpful for finding events since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then. Otherwise, Wikipedia has helpful pages of  events that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2023 in Australia” might well be a starting point. 

When you have your event, you can then look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister.

Most importantly, choose an issue from an event that’s interesting and important to you. After all, you’re going to be spending the time researching, writing and presenting!

2. Filter out the boring events/issues

Understand who your audience is.

Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?

This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters.

Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.

That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. Also, avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words, because as soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech.

Now you may be asking yourself; what is the best topic for oral presentation?

Here are some example topics from previous years to give you inspiration:

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2014

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2015

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2016

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2017

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2018

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2019

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2020

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2021

VCE English Oral Presentation Topics 2022

For more detailed information on choosing a topic, read my blog Choosing a WOW topic for your VCE Oral Presentation ‍

How to choose your oral presentation contention

Once you've chosen an interesting topic and have researched all of its different viewpoints, it's time to formulate your contention.

Often, creating a killer contention is about avoiding some common traps that will make your overall presentation boring, bland and just like the rest of your cohorts'.

So, there are three things I like to AVOID:

1. Broad, Overarching statements

2. A Contention That Is Just Plain Obvious

3. Avoid A Contention That Is Generally Accepted As True In Today’s Age

For more information on writing a contention, read my blog Creating a Killer Contention for your Oral Presentation ‍

How to write your speech 

1. Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence.

2. RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.

3. If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character.

4. Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. I usually use repetition in conjunction with the ‘rule of three’.

5. Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instil your oral with emotion, varied tone and sentence lengths.

In fact, I've talked about a few of these in a 'Must Dos and Don'ts' video. If you haven't seen it yet, watch below before you read on.

4 tips on presenting your Speech

1. Body Language

Confidence is key. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and, more importantly don’t move your legs. Especially if you’re nervous, swaying or shuffling will be noticeable and make you appear more nervous—when you practise, pay attention to the lower half of your body and train it to stay still if possible.

That being said, do use your arms for gestures. Those are more natural and will help engage the audience, though don’t overdo it either—usually, holding cue cards in one hand frees up the other but also stops you from going overboard.

2. Eye contact

Cue cards brings up another important consideration- eye contact. Hold cue cards in one hand as high as you can without it feeling uncomfortable. This means you don’t have to take your eyes away from the audience for too long or too noticeably to check your notes.

Eye contact increases your engagement with the audience. It also gives the impression of confidence and that you’ve been practicing and know your speech inside and out!

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

In a best case scenario, you won’t need to rely on your cue cards as you will have your speech basically memorised! Read your speech aloud and pretend that you’re actually delivering your speech. This means:

- Looking up ahead

- Holding the cue cards in the right spot; and

- Not just reading the words, but speaking as if to an audience

 It’s extremely helpful to also practice your speech to an actual audience! Practice in front of your family and friends. An alternative is to put a sticker next to your camera and record yourself. The sticker will help indicate where you should create eye contact. Look back at the video and give yourself some feedback, you might be surprised at your presentation!

4. Tone variation

Tone variation involves emphasising certain words, using pauses or slowing down for effect, or modifying volume. Incorporating some of these elements- even writing them into your notes by bolding/italicising/underlining will help you break out of monotony and make the speech more engaging.

Be sure to emphasise emotive language and any evidence you might use to illustrate your arguments. Most importantly, don’t speak too quickly!

5 things to keep in mind while writing the written explanation

For oral presentation based written explanations, the VCAA study design requests students write...

"A written statement of intention to accompany the student’s own oral presentation, articulating the intention of decisions made in the planning process, and how these demonstrate understanding of argument and persuasive language."

Using the topic, 'Why we need to stop crying 'cultural appropriation' when cultural exchange is far more important, ‘let’s see how this can be done with FLAPC with some examples below:

2. Language

3. Audience

For more information on writing a Written Explanation and a sample FLAPC compiled and rearranged for flow and fluency, read my blog How to Write a Stellar Written Explanation (Statement of Intention) .

Resources to help you prepare for your Oral Presentation

Doing this study all by yourself can be rather daunting, so we've got your back. We specialise in supporting VCE English by creating helpful videos, study guides and eBooks. Here are some just to get your started:

oral presentation questions

‍ A Three Part Guide to Nailing Your Oral Presentation

Advice for A+ Oral Presentations

How I Got A+ in My Oral Presentation | Live QnA With Lisa Tran

How To 'Overcome' Your Fear of Public Speaking

Oral Presentations | How To Do Speeches

5 Common Oral Presentation Mistakes

Our How to Write a Killer Oral Presentation Study Guide has all the information you need to succeed in your Oral Presentations. Sample A+ essays and written explanations are also included!

Whether you’re analysing at one article or two, there are plenty of things you can write about. In this, we’ll look at the structure of articles, the placement of different arguments and rebuttals, and other things you can use to nail your essay!

There are four main parts of an article:

What: The arguments that support the contention

When: Their placement in the article

How: The language techniques used to support them

Why: The overall effect on the reader

Try to address all these elements of the article in your essay, as it’ll ensure you’re not leaving anything out.

WHAT: Arguments

The arguments an author uses can usually fall into one of three categories - ethos, pathos, or logos.

Ethos arguments are about credibility, for example, using quotes from credible sources or writing about a personal anecdote.

Pathos arguments target the emotion of the reader. Anything that might make them feel happy, angry, sad, distressed and more can be classified as this kind - for example, an argument about patriotism when discussing the date of Australia Day.

Logos arguments aim to address the intellectual aspects of the issue, and will often have statistics or logic backing them up.

It’s important to mention the different arguments used in the article and it can be useful to take note of the category you think they fit into best. It’s also helpful to mention the interplay between these elements.

WHEN: Structure

Certain elements of the article can have a different effect on the reader depending on where the author places them.

If an author places their rebuttal at the beginning of the article, it can set up the audience to more readily accept their following opinions, and separates them from contrasting views from the get go. You can see this in the 2013 VCAA exam , where the author argues against opposing views early on in their article. In it, the author references the opposition directly as they say ‘some people who objected to the proposed garden seem to think that the idea comes from a radical group of environmentalists’, and rebut this point by proposing that ‘there’s nothing extreme about us’.

The placement of a rebuttal towards the end of the article can have the effect of the author confirming that their opinion is correct by demonstrating why opposing opinions are not, and can give a sense of finality to the article. It’s sometimes used when the author’s contention is a little controversial, as it’s less aggressive than a rebuttal placed at the beginning.

In some articles, the author won’t include a straightforward rebuttal at all. This can imply that their opinion, and theirs alone, is correct and must be supported - as it’s the only opinion that exists. Check out the 2018 VCAA exam for an example of this kind of article. ‍


An author’s contention is the main claim they’re trying to prove throughout their article.

Placing their contention at the beginning is the most direct method, and has the effect of positioning the reader to the author’s beliefs from the outset.

A contention placed at the end of an article can have the effect of seeming like a valid, logical conclusion to a well-thought through discussion. To see this in effect, you can look at the 2014 VCAA exam , where the article leads up to the author’s final contention that the governments needs to ‘invest in the next generation of technology’.

The contention can also be repeated throughout the article. The author may have chosen to present it in this way in order to continue reiterating their main point in the audience’s minds, aligning them to their views. An article that uses this technique is on the 2016 VCAA exam , as the author repeats multiple times that a ‘giant attraction’ must be built to encourage visitors and put the town ‘on the tourist map’.

The different ways an author orders their arguments is also something worth analysing.

A ‘weaker’ point might be one that the author doesn’t spend much time discussing, or that isn’t backed up with a lot of evidence. In comparison, a ‘stronger’ argument will generally have supporting statistics or quotes, and may be discussed in detail by the author.

If an author starts with their strongest point and ends with their weakest, they may be attempting to sway the reader’s opinions to align with their own from the beginning so that the audience is more likely to accept their weaker points later on. Take a look at the 2017 VCAA exam to see this kind of technique, as the author’s arguments - that ‘superfluous packaging’ will cause irreversible environmental damage, that the changes they want to implement are easy, and that students should prepare their own snacks rather than have takeaway - get less developed as the article continues.

On the other hand, ending with their strongest point can give the piece a sense of completion, and leave the reader with the overall impression that the article was strong and persuasive.

Want to learn more about these different article components and see how different A+ essays incorporate these elements? If so, check out our How To Write A Killer Language Analysis ebook for all of this and more!

HOW: Language

This refers to the different persuasive language techniques used in the article and their effect on the reader.

The main thing to remember is that the study design has changed from Language Analysis to Analysing Argument . This means you’ll need to focus on the language in relation to the argument - such as how it supports the author’s contention - rather than on the language itself.

If you’re after some more resources, you can look at some Quick Tips or this video:

WHY: Effect

There are many different ways you can describe what the author is trying to do through their article, but they all come down to one thing - persuasion, that is, the writer of the article is trying to get their audience to agree with them. Linking different arguments, their placement and the language that supports them to the overall authorial intent of the article is a great way to enhance your essay.

For some more information on this area, check out this blog post !

We all love hacks. Life hacks, game hacks, Netflix hacks  (wait, what) ? They're all fabulous. Even better is when we can use English study hacks - because who doesn't want to make English just that much simpler?

Watched the video above already? Awesome! Keep reading for extra life hacks:

Extra hack #11 - don’t just write essays..

There is a massive difference between writing an essay for the sake of writing an essay, as opposed to actively learning when applying your skills. If you feel yourself slipping into the dreaded ‘reusing the same evidence for every essay’, or you’ve somehow ended up doing 5 essay prompts based on the same character – STOP RIGHT THERE. Be proactive. You have to keep switching things up. This means constantly trying new prompts that are more challenging than the last and always trying to find new evidence you can use. Yes, there will always be our go-to pieces of evidence we like to use, like our favourite quote or symbol, but change it up often so that you don’t become complacent.

‍Extra hack #12 – Unique interpretations

The purpose of develop a unique interpretation of a text or film is so that you can demonstrate originality in your thinking and bring something new to the table that teachers have never come across before. After all, if you’re marking 30 essays in a row, you’d get pretty bored reading the same arguments again and again, wouldn’t you? Try to view the text from different lenses – feminist, Marxist, post-colonial perspective – and these will offer you new ways of interpreting the story.

Extra hack #13 – FOCUS

Some books can be very long (and no, we’re not talking about don’t need to go into detail with every single passage. Instead, have a selection of passages throughout the book that you know really well. It’s much better having an in-depth understanding of fewer passages, but produce a sound essay than to have a superficial overview of the book and struggle to write much at all!

English is not easy, but it doesn’t need to be hard either. Adopt only a few of these hacks and see your improvement in English – they really do work! Keep it up!

Updated on 11/12/2020

  • Introductions
  • Themes in Ransom and The Queen
  • Similarities and Differences
  • Literary and Cinematic Techniques in Ransom and The Queen
  • Essay Topics for Ransom and The Queen
  • Resources for Ransom and The Queen

1. Introductions

Set during the Trojan War, one of the most famous events in Greek mythology, David Malouf’s historical fiction Ransom seeks to explore the overwhelming destruction caused by war , and the immense power of reconciliation . Drawing on The Iliad , the epic poem by Homer, Malouf focuses on the events of one day and night, in which King Priam of Troy travels to the enemy Greek encampment to plead with the warrior Achilles to release the body of Priam’s son, Hector. Maddened by grief at the murder of his friend Patroclus, Achilles desecrates the body of Hector as revenge. Despite Achilles’ refusal to give up Hector’s body, Priam is convinced there must be a way of reclaiming the body – of pitting new ways against the old, and forcing the hand of fate. Malouf’s fable reflects the epic themes of the Trojan War, as fatherhood , love , grief , and pride are expertly recast for our times.

To learn more, head over to our Ransom Study Guide (which covers themes, characters, and more).

Set in the weeks leading up to and after the infamous death of Princess Diana in 1997, The Queen captures the private moments of the monarchy's grief and loss , and Queen Elizabeth II's inner conflict as she attempts to keep her private and public affairs separate.

The film opens with Tony Blair's "landslide victory" in the election as the "youngest Prime Minister in almost two hundred years", preempting viewers of the "radical modernisation" that's to come as he takes the reign. Juxtaposed with Blair's introduction is the stoic Queen Elizabeth II, residing in Buckingham Palace serenaded by bagpipes, in a ritual unchanged since Queen Victoria, immediately establishing the entrenched traditional values she represents. Princess Diana’s sudden death at the hands of relentless paparazzi results in turmoil in both the lives of those in the monarchy and adoring British citizens who mourn for the loss of the “people's princess". As days ensue with no public response from the Royal Family, the British people grow in disdain towards the authority , demanding a more empathetic response. Caught between the people and the monarchy is Blair, who sees the Royal Family’s public image suffer as a result of inaction.

Despite heavy resistance from the Queen, he eventually encourages her to surrender old royal protocols and adopt a more modern approach to meet public expectation: to fly the flag at half-mast, hold a public funeral, and publicly grieve for the loss of Princess Diana – all in all, to show the people that the monarchy cares. The Queen’s decision to accept Blair’s advice ultimately reconnects her with the British people and restores the Royal Family’s reputation amongst the public.

Together, Ransom and The Queen showcase the challenges involved in leadership roles : the inner conflict that leaves these individuals torn between their private and public demands . More on this in the next section.

2. Themes in Ransom and The Queen ‍

Parenthood and leadership.

In both texts, deaths act as a catalyst for both Priam and the Queen’s personal change – Priam’s son Hector, and the Queen’s, ex-daughter-in-law, Princess Diana.

In Ransom , we learn of the familial sacrifice Priam has needed to make as a leader . His separation from loved ones is expected as he has been ‘asked to stand…at a kingly distance from the human, which in [his] kingly role…[he] can have no part in'. Up until Hector’s death, Priam has been removed from paternal experiences, a sad truth when he admits that his relationships with his children are merely ‘formal and symbolic,’ and a part of the ‘splendour and the ordeal of kingship'. Unlike his wife Hecuba, whose grief is assailed by intimate moments with her children as she recalls, ‘Troilus was very late in walking…I was in labour for eighteen hours with Hector', Priam is unable to recall these private memories . Despite what would ordinarily be experiences shared by both father and mother, Priam cannot echo his wife’s grief to the same extent as these experiences have not been ‘in his sphere’ and he is even ‘unnerved’ by them. Malouf demonstrates how Priam’s royal obligations have suffocated his role as a father, and consequentially, he has been unable to connect with his family in the way he would desire to.

While Priam’s overt expressiveness in his limitations as a father may sway empathy from Ransom readers, Queen Elizabeth’s stoicism at first makes her appear cold-hearted and unfeeling. Her reaction to Prince Charles’ desire to fly a private jet to see Diana in hospital (‘Isn’t that precisely the sort of extravagance they always attack us for?…this isn’t a matter of state.’) is one from a leader's mindset - she's more concerned of the media’s reaction, rather than offering familial care and concern. However, as the film unfolds, viewers come to understand that her stoicism doesn’t necessarily come about because of her own personal choice , but rather, because her leadership role demands it of her.

TIP: Save the words ‘stoicism’ and ‘stoic’ to use in your essay. These words describe someone who experiences suffering but doesn’t openly express it.

We see the Queen’s quiet intentions to protect her grandchildren – ‘I think the less attention one draws to [Diana’s death], the better…for the boys’ – yet her silence is the inadvertent cause of public scorn. As such, Frears doesn’t make a villain out of the Queen, someone who on the outside may seem unfeeling and apathetic, but encourages viewers to see her from a unique perspective – a woman who struggles to manage her identity in both the private and public light.

It is only when Priam and the Queen detach themselves from their traditional roles that we see a change for the better in both of their personal journeys. Priam’s removal of his ‘jewelled amulet [and] golden armbands’ is symbolic of his shedding of the royal weight, and paving way for his step into a paternal role. Likewise, the Queen’s physical distancing from Buckingham Palace, an iconic symbol for tradition , into the public sphere where she mingles with the British people enables her to finally play the role of a grandmother. Both texts show how parenthood can lead to a more enriched human experience. Malouf finally portrays Priam as a happy man when he has the vision to be remembered in his legacy for his role as a father first, then as a king. Likewise in The Queen, her highness’ public mourning connects her with her people , and brings her joy and delight at last.

Tradition, Change, and the New

Both texts explore the challenging tug and pull between upholding traditions and making way for the new.

As humans, we cherish traditions because they are customs or beliefs that have been passed on from generation to generation. They have sentimental value, and by continuing on these traditions, our actions show that we respect the path our elders have laid for us. Tradition is not necessarily depicted in a negative light in either texts, but rather, shown to have its place. The Queen’s resistance against sailing the flag at half mast is out of deference for her elders. Even Somax’s casual storytelling about his daughter-in-law’s griddlecakes is customary, as each time his son would ‘set up the stones’ and her ‘quick and light…flipping’ of the cakes. However, Frears and Malouf both assert that adaptability in upholding tradition is also needed in order for us to grow and develop as humans.  

The new is not depicted as an experience one should fear, but rather, an experience one should approach with curiosity . As Malouf writes, ‘[Priam] saw that what was new could also be pleasurable'. The following positive expressions from the king ‘chuckling’ and ‘smiling’ echo the sentiment that while humans naturally resist change, embracing it is often beneficial to our lives. To be meta, Ransom is the retelling of the Trojan events, but Malouf adds to this tradition with a fresh perspective on the story.

Frears and Malouf both demonstrate that change is often propelled into possibility through the support and urging of others . Priam’s vision for his journey is instilled by the goddess Iris, who comes to him in a dream. His consequential journey is supported by Somax, whose ordinary everyday experiences teach Priam more about fatherhood than he had learnt as a father himself. Meanwhile, Achilles drags Hector’s body day after day, with no intention of change until Priam suddenly appears in his camp. Both texts highlight the influence those surrounding us can have on our personal change.

3. Similarities and Differences

At LSG, we use the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, it's worth checking out my How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook to see how you can really set yourself apart and ace Comparative writing. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes above and techniques in the next section. To help you get started, here are some questions to get you thinking about the similarities and differences between the two texts:

  • Public vs. Private Spheres: how is public vs. private life portrayed in either texts?
  • Stories and Storytelling: who tells the story in either texts? Is there power in storytelling? Why do humans share stories?
  • Grief, Death, and Loss: How do humans deal with death? What emotions do we experience?

4. Literary and Cinematic Techniques in Ransom and The Queen

Opening portrayals of queen elizabeth and priam.

oral presentation questions

When Charles consoles Prince William and Harry after informing them of their mother’s death, Queen Elizabeth peers inwards from outside the room, distant and removed from her family. The enclosed frame of the door only serves to heighten her isolation from her family as she is pained by the ‘unrestrained intimacy and affection’ between the boys and their father, something she is unable to partake in. Her face half-covered by the shadows stresses how her familial experience only occurs from afar as she prioritises her role as her highness. Internal change, at least at this point in the film, has yet to begin.

oral presentation questions

Meanwhile in Ransom , Priam’s journey of personal change is established immediately as he realises that he needs to move beyond this ‘brief six feet of earth he moves and breathes in'. The finite space he has become accustomed to now almost represents (and this may be an intense interpretation) a jail cell in which he as a father, as a human being, has been incarcerated in. He is ready to pursue a new identity beyond just that as a king. Both Ransom and The Queen showcase the sacrifices made by both leaders, and the rigid, almost-dehumanising expectations that are set upon them when they take reign. Both texts encourage their audience to empathise with the leaders , for the challenges they face in their unique positions.

The Queen Film Techniques

I created an in-depth video on the first 20 or so minutes of The Queen you'd might find helpful. Have a watch and see whether you missed out on any film techniques:

[Video Transcription]

To begin with, we have this quote that is displayed at the very start of the film, and it says,

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,"

and it's spoken by Henry IV Part II. So, the Part II gives me an indication that this is a quote from some way in Shakespeare's texts. If I then go on Google and actually have a look and type up this quote, then I know for sure that it is indeed from Henry IV Part II, a text and play that was written by William Shakespeare. So, I'm telling you these things because this is actually how I would go on to learn information about the film. I don't just automatically know for sure that it is from this particular text that Shakespeare wrote up. So, I want to ensure that I'm right by going and having a look at Google.

Quotes at the start of any film, at the start of any book, usually have importance to them and they usually should give you an insight as to what's to come. And, for me, I find when I look at this particular quote, it definitely links to the themes of leadership, of motherhood, parenthood, and of perhaps the sacrifices that the queen has needed to make in order to lead her nation. So, with this particular quote, I would write it down somewhere and keep it in mind as you're watching the remainder of the film, because you'll see those themes come to life and have a better understanding of what this quote is talking about.

So, immediately, this film opens up with a news presenter talking about Tony Blair going to the election polls. It's displayed as footage on a TV screen. This gives us insight into a couple of different things. Firstly, it gives us context. The second thing is that it's displayed on a TV and it's broadcasted by a news channel. And, as you probably know, the media, the paparazzi, and just the entire culture of representing news during this time is something that will be heavily explored throughout this film. Especially because it may or may not have led to the death of Princess Diana.

So, again, contextually, it gives us an idea that around this time, the news media was quite overwhelming and omnipresent, which means that it was sort of just everywhere. It was always around. It's sort of no different from today, but there's a reason why they establish it as an opening shot. And that's just sort of give us as viewers an understanding that the news has a big play in what's going to happen in the remainder of this film.

So, I really liked the quote,

"We're in danger of losing too much that is good about this country, as it is,"

that's spoken by the painter, who's drawing a portrait of the queen. This, again, sort of establishes that idea of change immediately at the beginning of the film, or should I say, resistance to change. So, it's already sort of outlining the path that this film is about to take.

Again, I really like this quote,

"The sheer joy of being partial."

So, from the onset with the queen, I think it's important to understand that we don't villainise her, or at least the director doesn't villainise her. He portrays her as a human being, as somebody who is in this position of the queen, which has a lot of weight upon it. And you can tell that she's all glammed up and she's fulfilling her role as the queen, but she's admitting that she envies us as everyday citizens being able to vote, to be able to have an opinion, and just go to the booths. To me, this establishes her as somebody who I empathise with, or sympathise with even.

I think this part with the music in the background and how the queen breaks the fourth wall. So, the fourth wall is basically when any character inside a film actually looks directly at the camera, at you, as the audience. And, to me, this gives me a sense of joy. It makes me feel like it's quite funny, the way that she's looking at us, especially with the...and again, this sort of reiterates my idea that we're not supposed to look at the queen as some evil or some cold-hearted person who is unfeeling for Diana's death later on, but that she's just like one of us and she can participate in a joke and we come to see this in a little bit.

So, in the next scene, we have a wide shot of Buckingham Palace, and in the background, you can hear bagpipes playing. This is something called diegetic sound. Diegetic sound is when you have sounds that come directly from the world in the film. So, the bagpipes sort of establish this sense of tradition. Everything in the scene represents tradition. Buckingham, Palace, the flag, the bagpipes, and that as an early shot of this film sort of shows us the entrenched tradition that exists. That nothing has changed as of yet, and things as sort of going on as they've always had.

Again, Frears is trying to show us the human side of the queen. And so that's why we've got the shot of her waking up in bed. She's all cuddled up and snuggled up in warm and comfy bedding. And it shows that she's vulnerable, in a way. And this is important for us as viewers, as we come to understand her inner thoughts and feelings later on.

So, immediately when the queen wakes up, she has a pile of newspapers in front of her. That adds, again, to that sense of omnipresent media. It's all around us, at least in that period of time.

This time, we have archival footage. So, archival footage is footage that has been taken from that period of time and placed into this film. It adds to the film's sense of authenticity, the fact that it's based off historical offense.

I really like this shot as the queen and Robin walking down the hallway to meet Tony Blair. This is a great snapshot and a great mise-en-scene. And mise-en-scenes, basically, to me anyway, it's when you pause the screen and it's everything that's inside that shot from props, in the foreground, in the background, what the person is wearing, or what the characters are wearing. So, with this particular art, we can not only see the two characters, but we can also see everything that's in the background.

And again, this really adds that sense of tradition because you've got all these paintings from probably famous people back in the day, or ancestors of the monarchy, and then you've got Robin saying he's promising a constitutional shake up, the first one in 300 years, and the queen saying, "Oh, you mean he's going to try and modernise us?" This is a great juxtaposition between the new coming in versus the old.

When Robin makes the joke about Tony Blair's wife having a curtsy that's described as shallow, it's humorous, it's funny, and the queen laughs as a result. The humor that's speckled throughout this film, I think really helps to lighten up the situation, but also to again, show us that the queen is human and that she can enjoy a joke.

I think this is a great snapshot as well. So, we've got the camera looking down at Tony Blair and his wife. When a camera does look down at an object or character, it gives us, as the audience, a sense that that person or character is inferior or they're not in a position of control. And it ties in with the fact that this is Tony Blair's first day in Buckingham Palace as a prime minister and he's only just onboarding the role.

So, in terms of him versus the queen or the monarchy, which is symbolised by everything around him, the setting that he is encompassed in, it shows that he really isn't the one who's playing the field here. He's not the one who is in charge. I love that we've got one of the queen's men giving them rules on what they need to do.

So, we're slowly walking up the stairs towards the queen who is in position of power. So, the staircase is quite symbolic.

Another important thing to know is that Mrs. Blair is actually accompanying the prime minister this first time round that he goes to Buckingham Palace. It shows that he is nervous, he said it himself, but he's not entirely comfortable with his role yet. So he needs the support of his wife. This is in comparison with later in the film at the very end, actually, where Tony Blair goes to Buckingham Palace himself and conducts a meeting with the queen, very similar to the one that he's doing now.

This shot where we've got Mrs. Blair sitting opposite the guard at quite a distance adds to the sense of awkwardness, and it's paralleled with the sense of openness between the queen and the prime minister as well. So, it shows that we've got the old and the new sort of coming together and sort of not really gelling.

Something to keep an eye on is parallels in the film. It's always a really good idea to compare the start and end of this particular film, because we've got such similar scenarios in meaning at the start of the film and in meaning at the end of the film. What you'll notice in this particular scene is that they don't appear in the same shot. They sit opposite one another and one shot on Tony Blair, one shot on the queen, and it sort of goes back and forth. And that's to heighten that sense of distance between them. That sense of unfamiliarity. This is in comparison with the end of the film when we see the two of them walking down the hallway together, out into the garden as equal.

Here's another great shot. So, to add on the idea of the queen having more power versus prime minister, it's quite clear here as he sits down and asks for her hand.

I love the way that Mrs. Blair walks. She's sort of like half...I don't know how you would explain her stride, but it's obviously not one that is aligned with how the queen walks, which is quite poised and quite together. Rather, Mrs. Blair's walk is sort of frumpy, it's sort of bouncy, and her arms are sort of flailing around a little bit, and so adds to that sense of new, of change, of difference. And so that adds to the story of Tony Blair and his family and what he represents as something new and different and probably unwelcome for the queen.

So, that's it, that's my analysis of the first 10 minutes or so of this film. If you're interested in a more detailed film technique analysis, I've just written a killer comparative based on Ransom & The Queen. In this, I show you film techniques that I pick out throughout watching the film, how to analyze them, and also then go on to show you how they are used in A-plus essays. I'm so confident that this study guide will be able to help you improve your understanding of both texts and get you towards that A+ for your SAC and exams.

If you're curious about what's inside the study guide and want to see if it's right for you, head on over and read a free sample to see it for yourself. I hope it gives you something to launch off. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the description box below. I have plenty of resources for you guys down there as well if you needed help for your SAC and exams and I'll catch you guys next time. Bye.

Historical Footage and Context

oral presentation questions

Based on historical events, The Queen is interspersed with real archive television footage leading to, and following Princess Diana’s death. Frears incorporates these clips to help provide viewers insight on the politics, media culture, and public reaction in 1997.

Princess Diana’s introduction through archival clips at the beginning of the film highlight her as a vulnerable individual at the mercy of oppressive and intrusive tabloid newspapers. The sweeping pan of paparazzi on the night of Diana’s death serves to emphasise the obsessive media, who at the time, were paid in excess of one million pounds for taking photos of her. Moments of her kissing on a boat are revealed to the world without any respect for her privacy. This archival footage helps viewers understand the distressing omnipresence of the media, and the turn of the public against the paparazzi and media following Diana’s death.

Likewise, Malouf uses parts of The Iliad as foundations for his novel. The original tale, written during the 8th century BC, explores in detail Achilles’  refusal to fight for his leader Agamemnon, Patroclus’ role in the war, and also the disputes between the gods as they argue over the fate of mortals. By offering a retrospective of this historical story, Malouf invites readers to better understand the Trojan War and Greek mythology, and the impact the gods had on Trojans and Greeks.

For more discussion on literary and cinematic techniques, have a look at my A Killer Comparative Guide: Ransom & The Queen . In this in-depth study guide, Angelina Xu (ATAR 99.6, 46 English study score) and I also break down 5 essay topics, providing you explanations on how to brainstorm and plan each of these essays, then convert these plans into A+ essays complete with annotations! I've dropped some sample essay topics below for you to try at home yourselves:

5. Essay Topics for Ransom and The Queen

"I told him he shouldn't change a thing." ( The Queen ) Compare how Ransom and The Queen explore resistance to change.
Compare the ways the two texts explore the efficacy of different leadership types.
Compare the ways the two texts explore the importance of storytelling.
'Wordless but not silent.’  ( Ransom ) Ransom and The Queen explore how silence can be louder than words.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” ( The Queen ) “...the lighter role of being a man.” ( Ransom). Compare how the two texts show the burden experienced by those in leadership positions.

‍ 6. Resources for Ransom and The Queen

Ransom Study Guide

[Video] Ransom Themes (Revenge, Grief, Forgiveness) and Essay Topic Tips!

The following resources are no longer on the study design; however, you might still pick up a few valuable tips nonetheless:

Ransom and Invictus

Ransom and Invictus Prompts

[Video] Invictus and Ransom | Reading and Comparing

[Video] Ransom Literary Devices & Invictus Film Technique Comparison

All the Light We Cannot See is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Breaking Down an All the Light We Cannot See Essay Prompt

We've explored themes and symbols and provided a summary of the text over on our All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!

Here, we’ll be breaking down an All the Light We Cannot See essay topic using LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy , a technique to help you write better VCE essays. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, you can learn about it in our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide.

Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:

Step 1: A nalyse

Step 2: B rainstorm

Step 3: C reate a Plan

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

‍ ‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour.’ Discuss.

Step 1: Analyse

Taking a look at this prompt, the first thing to note is that it is theme-based. Specifically asking about the line that separates civilised and uncivilised behaviour within the novel, this prompt focuses directly on the theme of human behaviours and how you ultimately interpret the fine line (i.e. seamless, difficult, changing, manipulative) between such ideas. Fundamentally, you have to discuss how this theoretical line drawn between the contrasting behaviours is explored within the novel in various ways throughout Doerr’s examination of humanity. 

The question tag of Discuss is the most flexible type of prompt/topic you will receive, providing you with a broad and open-ended route to pretty much discuss any ideas that you believe fit within the prompt’s theme of uncivilised and civilised behaviour. Although this may seem hard to know where to start, this is where Step 2: Brainstorm , comes into play. You can read through LSG’s Question Tags You Need To Know section (in How To Write A Killer Text Response ) to further familiarise yourself with various ways to tackle different prompt tags.

If you’re not sure what it is meant by ‘theme-based prompt,’ take a look at The 5 Types of Essay Prompts. 

Step 2: Brainstorm

A fundamental aspect of writing a solid Text Response essay is being able to use a diverse range of synonyms for the keywords outlined in the prompt. Our keywords are in bold. When you are brainstorming, if any words pop into your head, definitely list them so you can use them later. You may want to have a highlighter handy when unpacking prompts so you can do just this!!

‍ ‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour .’ Discuss.

  • How people have grown up determines the civil and uncivilised behaviours shown by individuals of different backgrounds and childhoods - Bastian is symbolised as the eagle that circles the youth camp, which is an uncivilised /unwanted form of hawk-like behaviour . This compares to Fredrick's love of birds as a young boy which makes him a softer character. - Bernd had ‘no friends’ as a child - showing his isolated past - which could be described as the reason he leaves his father and goes off to join the Hilter Youth ‘just like the other boys.’ (find this analysis in the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’)
  • There is a fine line that Doerr draws between the stereotypes of women and their ability to remain civilised despite being suppressed by uncivil livelihoods and experiences. - Jutta is characterised as a strong and independent woman instead of the traditional ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’. Society expects most women to stand on that side of human behaviour and representation however she defies this.
  • The strength of women to cross/overcome the line of uncivilised behaviour is significant within the sexual abuse and misconduct driven by soldiers. Can remain true to oneself despite the horrific behaviours a woman faces. - The role of women on the homefront (i.e. Fredrick’s Mother) highlights the stark contrast between men fighting and thinking about the ‘men they killed’ and mothers who put on a ‘fake smile to appear brave’ (the line between barbaric behaviours of many soldiers and caring/loving behaviours of those on the homefront) - women and their sacrifices is an important topic here
  • It is one’s ability to adapt to change that draws the line between civil and uncivilised behaviours . - Marie Laure’s ability to look past being a ‘blind girl’, and move on from this hardship. She adapts to the ‘changing times’ around her despite others who are suppressed in such an environment (e.g. Etienne and his ‘dread’).
  • The game of flying couch is a symbol of escaping the uncivilised world around them (metaphorical line of the human imagination). - Werner is predominantly overwhelmed by the world around him, which reflects his inability to no longer ask questions as he did as a young boy. Instead, he succumbs to the uncivilised world of death and destruction as he is unable to change. 
  • Symbolic use of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in epilogue - symbolises his loss of perspective and wonder of the world,
  • Ultimately it is this line that makes the human existence so unique

Step 3: Create a Plan

After having brainstormed all the ideas that came to mind, I’ll be approaching the essay prompt with the following contention. 

In a world where society is grounded by behaviours both civil and uncivil, there is a clear distinction between humanity's response and representation of these behaviours.

Coming up with a clear contention allows you to put together a cohesive and strong essay that answers all aspects of the prompt question. 

Now, onto developing our topic sentences for each paragraph!

P1: Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative*, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life.

*A nonlinear narrative is a storytelling technique Doerr uses to portray events out of chronological order. 

P2: Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them.

P3: In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world.

The art of recognising the ephemera of the human existence is painted by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See as a fine line between behaviours of civilisation and extreme brutality (1) . In the inordinate scheme of history, Doerr fosters the dichotomy between those who remain socially aware and others who are marred by desolation as a reflection on one's past. Further subverting the traditional depiction of women in a ‘war story’, the strength of women is established as a key turning point for individuals to escape barbaric behaviours and cross the line to civilisation. Fundamentally, however, it is the overall response to change that crafts human behaviours that Doerr underpins within society (2) .

Annotations ‍ ‍ (1) it is important to include synonym variation in your opening sentence to ensure that it does not look like you have just copied the prompt and placed it on your page. This idea should be carried out throughout your essay - vary your words and try not to repeat anything, this will ensure you are clear and concise!

(2) In order to improve the flow of your writing, the final topic sentence of your introduction can be a concluding statement on why/how the topic is OVERALL expressed within the novel. When you formulate your contention, it is not enough just to state it, you must also provide reasoning as to why you are writing from this point of view or how you came to this conclusion. For example, my final topic sentence here is a concluding sentence about how I believe a fine line between uncivilised and civil behaviour has an influence throughout the entire novel and Doerr’s intention, one’s response to change. As you read on, you’ll also see that this sentence relates to my final paragraph, thus linking together ideas throughout my essay.

Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life. The initial illustration of the ‘smokestacks hume’ and the ‘black and dangerous’ imagery (3) of the war paints a clear picture of the destruction and trauma that individuals have lived amongst, thus why people were ‘desperate to leave’. Empathising with an ‘old woman who cuddles her toddler’ on the streets, Doerr laments how young individuals who end up ‘surg[ing] towards one cause,’ which this toddler may similarly grow up to do in the Hitler Youth, directly reflects the ‘intense malice’ of their childhood. This idea that one’s past affects the future behaviours of a generation is further captured within the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’ (4) , which outlines how Bernd’s upbringing with ‘no friends’ promotes him to ‘just leave’, in order to experience something new, despite knowing this something new would bring unjust decisions into his life. Becoming ‘just like the other boys’, Doerr suggests that the line between civil and uncivil behaviours is so thin (5) that a mere need to escape one’s past is enough to create feelings of negativity and at worst death. Encapsulating the darkness that prevails over such individuals, the symbolism of Bastian’s ‘sharp eyes’ (6) poetically describes the eagle that circles the youth camp where Doerr seeks to paint a metaphorical cruel depiction of Bastian as a harmful hawk. Underpinning the fine line between human behaviour, Fredrick’s ‘love of birds’ is ‘so beautiful[ly]’ representative of his respectful nature and approach to life while Bastian’s immersion in ‘the self interest of the world’ ultimately explains how his fallacious behaviour towards others is embodied by his environment within the war. Overall, the behaviours displayed by humanity are a reflection of past experiences and how they shape the individual.

Annotations (3) Imagery is a key aspect of All the Light We Cannot See and goes hand in hand with the vast symbolism Doerr uses within his novel. When including imagery, it is great to include a few related quotes; however, you must then ensure you analyse and delve into how this technique (imagery) demonstrates the idea you are writing about. In this case, the imagery of the chimneys and foggy/dirty air illustrates the desolate environment individuals lived in during the war.

(4) This chapter is something not many students analyse or touch on so if you’re looking to add some spice to your writing I would definitely take a look and see what you can extract from some of those more unique and nuanced chapters!

(5) Referencing the ‘fine line’ continually throughout your essay ensures that you are staying on track and not talking about topics away from the prompt. 

(6) Symbolism is very important in All the Light We Cannot See . The use of the quote ‘sharp eyes’, really shows that you have considered not only how Doerr simply explores the behaviour of each character but also the physical interpretations of how individuals may demonstrate a certain persona within the novel. This focus on character description on top of dialogue adds extra layers to your writing. 

Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them. Instead of characterising Jutta as a ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’, whom the soldier will ‘fight and die for’, Doerr proffers the unconventional humanisation of women on the home front to pay tribute to the power of staying true to oneself (7) . Despite facing the barbaric reality of ‘sex crazed torturers’, Doerr illuminates Jutta’s capacity to ‘look them in the eye’ rather than shy away from them as a meditation on her own morals of (8) ‘what is right’. The tragic nature (9) of such abuse is specifically chronicled by Doerr to concatenate (10) the continual brave behaviours Jutta portrays even when succumbing to the line that attempts to draw women away from strength and independence. Further referencing her desire to ‘lock away memories’ of the past in her life after the war, the novel posits the importance of women during a period of inordinate history as a powerful force that remained civil even in times of ‘absolute blackness’. From the perspective of Fredrick’s mother, Doerr seeks to display how her ‘fake smile to appear brave’ outlines how many mothers and women had to remain strong for their children, such as Fredrick with brain damage, even though they were so close to falling into a world of sorrow and isolation. A clear segregation between soldiers who thought about ‘the men they killed’ and women who were made to ‘feel complicit in an unspeakable crime’ (11) they did not commit overall affirms the sacrifices women made during the war and without such sacrifices and strength the thin line between behavioural acts would be broken.

Annotations (7) Here I have included an analysis of Doerr’s message - what he is trying to say or show within his novel. Ultimately an author has a message they seek to share with the world. Providing your own interpretation of certain messages the author may be attempting to send to his readers adds real depth to your writing, showing that you are not only considering the novel itself but the purpose of the author and how this novel came to explore the fundamental ideas of the essay prompt.

(8) This quote directly relates to the keyword: civilised behaviour. Finding quotes that are also specific to your prompt is crucial to producing an essay that flows and has meaning. 

(9) The use of adjectives within the essay paints the picture of whether an act is civil or uncivil which is ultimately what we are attempting to discuss from the prompt. Here the phrase ‘tragic nature’, underpins the essence of unjust behaviours shown by the soldiers.

(10) Concatenate - link/connect ideas together

(11) Comparing aspects within the novel is a great way to show your understanding and how the same theme or idea can be shown in many different ways. 

In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world. Established by Marie Laure’s characterisation as a ‘blind girl’ who can ‘project anything onto the black screen of her imagination’, Doerr illuminates her ability to adapt to the ‘changing times’ around her. She is seen to be ‘carried away by reveries’ rather than a plethora of voices who ‘forgo all comforts’ and ‘eat and breathe nation’. Through the chapter and make-believe game ‘flying couch’ (12) , Marie’s nature to ‘surrender firearms’ with Etienne in their imagination is a symbolic adoption to escape the world around them, hence the uncivilised society they are learning to live in. Doerr’s congruent imagery of Etienne’s changing voice of ‘dread’ to ‘velvety’ as he becomes intertwined within ‘Marie’s bravery’ underpins the ability for individuals to seamlessly cross the line from a lack of cultured behaviour to a world of hope and prosperity. Contrasting this, however, Werner, an individual who was initially curious about ‘how the world works’, is so ‘overwhelmed by how quickly things are changing around [him]’ that his ‘interest in peace’ is stripped away and no longer exists due to his inability to change with a changing world. Doerr, therefore, laments the transmogrification of his character as a reflection of his uncivil thoughts and ideals as a soldier, ultimately resulting in his loss of ability to ask questions. This idea places emphasis on Volkheimer receiving Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in the epilogue (13) where the translation of the book’s title ‘Fragen’ - to ‘ask’ in English - is symbolic of the moment Werner decided to ‘work, join, confess, die’ he immediately lost the open mind and curiosity he once had. Ultimately, the dichotomy between these two lives and their opposing character transformations resembles the line between remaining calm or acting out of haste when subject to change.

Annotations (12) Analysing not only the game but the whole meaning behind chapters and why Doerr has given them certain names is an interesting avenue to take. Here ‘flying couch’ not only underpins the imagination of Marie Laure but also symbolises freedom and bravery within just the name itself.

(13) The analysis and evidence used from the epilogue is a crucial part of this paragraph and is significant to Doerr’s novel. Unpacking All the Light We Cannot See , there is a lot of evidence and juicy ideas you can draw from the beginning and end of the novel. Here I have almost analysed the meaning of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ to the bone; however, this adds a lot of depth to your writing as I’m sure your ultimate goal is to make your essays as unique as possible?!

As a project of humanism, Doerr seeks to portray a fine segregation in people's behaviours as the microcosm (14) of what makes the human existence so unique. Following the journeys of individuals who even ‘see a century turn’’ the novel displays how one’s past has an immense influence on how their future values, actions and behaviours grow and develop. Further subverting the stereotypical representation of women living in a war, Doerr establishes an acknowledgment of their roles and strength in the face of cruel situations. Ostensibly, it is the human capacity to adapt to change that marks the difference between what is just and unjust in a society that weighs both on a very unstable scale. 

Annotations ‍ ‍ (14)   Microcosm - a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.

If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our All the Light We Cannot See Prompts blog post. You can have a go at those essay prompts and feel free to refer back to this essay breakdown whenever you need. Good luck!

Montana 1948 is narrated by David Hayden, now a middle-aged history teacher, reflecting on the summer of 1948 that changed his entire life.

It begins with David noticing that his Native American babysitter, Marie Little Soldier is unwell. Gail and Wesley, David’s parents, attempt to enlist the help of Wesley’s brother Frank, a well-respected doctor in the community. However, Marie reacts to this idea with fear, anxiety and resistance. Gail concludes that something sinister must be happening for her to have such a reaction and she presses Marie for why she is so afraid. Marie then reveals to Gail that she has heard that Dr Frank has been sexually abusing many of his female Native American patients. Gail immediately confides in Wesley who is both the Sheriff of their town and Frank’s brother. This becomes the central source of tension, as Wes must decide between his duty as the Sheriff and his loyalty to his family.

This is all told from the perspective of David, our protagonist, who has to watch his father confront his Uncle Frank about these taboo accusations. Eventually, it seems they reach an agreement with Frank to stop the abuse.

Marie is discovered dead the next day in her bed when Gail goes to check up on her. Later that night, David admits to his parents that he saw Frank go into their home in the afternoon and immediately, Wesley concludes that Frank “is guilty as sin” for murdering Marie. As the Sheriff of the town, Wesley is obligated to arrest Frank, but in order to spare Frank the embarrassment, he keeps Frank in their basement instead of sending him to jail.  

Upon hearing this news, David’s grandfather, Julian, orders Wesley to release Frank. Julian accuses Wesley of arresting him out of jealousy and he threatens to use his power within the community to set Frank free. At this point, Wesley realises that the power of his father would only be matched by the law, and he decides that he must officially prosecute his brother.

That next day, David, Wes and Gail wake up to find Frank dead, having used broken glass to slit his wrists and commit suicide. Young David believes that this was the right action and hopes that everything would go back to normal. But as the story goes, this is not the case.

Prejudice, discrimination and the abuse of power

Another key theme is prejudice, discrimination and the abuse of power. Frank’s abuse of the Native American women is both an abuse of his power and responsibilities as a Doctor and a way to take advantage of his personal belief in White “racial superiority.” Julian and Frank embody the toxic, violent and bigoted mentality prevalent during that time period, which Watson deplores as reprimandable and unacceptable. Even at the novel’s close, Frank’s death is symbolic in two ways. Firstly, it means that Frank managed to escape persecution, public denouncement and jail time. But more importantly, he is still revered in the community as a “respected man” and a “war hero. '' Therefore, while he physically passes away, his ‘legacy’ and façade of heroism remains alive.

Law vs Justice

One of the central themes of ‘Montana 1948’ is the conflict between abiding by the law and doing what is just. Due to the institutionalised racism that existed in the 1940’s, Frank’s actions were not considered technically illegal, however, by intuitive standards of morality , his rape of Natives in his practice and his subsequent murder of Marie clearly warrant punishment. Thus, Watson touches on the failures of the judicial system to consistently hand out judgements that are morally fair and instead reveals the flaws within the legal system of the time that reflect widespread and corrupt social attitudes .

Loyalty vs Morality

Watson also touches on the conflict between loyalty and morality. This, as we know, forms the crux of narrative’s tension . Should Wes arrest and prosecute his brother Frank or not? Should he stay loyal to his family or uphold the moral values that he must stand by as the towns Sheriff? Gail, David’s mother, embodies all the virtues of morality that we all stand by and she is appalled by Frank’s behaviour and demands that he be persecuted regardless of his relationship with Wes. In sharp contrast, Julian believes that Frank can be excused for his actions because the victims were merely “red meat ” Native American women who he views as subhuman.


Gail is David’s mother and Wesley’s wife. She is a compassionate, idealistic and courageous woman. This can also be seen as she stands up for Marie, despite the prejudices in the society at the time. She also spends a ‘good deal of energy’ protecting herself and her family.  She also doesn’t take part in Wesley’s racist jokes. For example, when Wesley makes a joke about Marie, ‘never been to anyone but the tribal medicine man’, David responds with ‘my mother didn’t laugh.’

David is Wesley and Gail’s son and is the narrator of the text. He doesn’t share Wesley’s beliefs surrounding race and forms his own moral perspective. This is demonstrated when he makes a fuss about wanting to wear moccasins (which Gail sides with him on) while his father says will make him ‘as flat-footed and lazy as an Indian.’ 

Unlike his father, we don’t see David conflicted with his loyalties and he is particularly critical of his father. This is best demonstrated when he ‘was beginning to already think of Uncle Frank as a criminal’ upon hearing sexual assault accusations against Frank. When Wesley spares Gail the details of his investigation into Frank, David believes it could be because he is ‘trying to protect his brother and keeping the number of witnesses to the accounts of his crime to a minimum’. After Wesley arrests Frank and takes him to the basement for imprisonment, David assumes his father killed Frank despite Wesley not being depicted as a particularly violent person in the novel.  All it takes is an indistinct noise from the basement for David to conjure up ways his father could have killed his Uncle Frank.

Frank is Wesley’s brother and is described as a ‘witty and charming’ doctor, and war hero who is widely loved by the community -particularly by his dad, Julian. In reality, Frank is a criminal who abuses his power - both a white man and a doctor to sexually assault Indian women - which he believes he can get away with.  This is compounded when he states, “I am not concerned about social progress.” Through Frank, Watson demonstrates how some individuals can abuse their positions of power and privilege, and to not lose any sleep over it (‘at smiling ease with his life and everything it’).

Wesley is Julian’s son, Gail’s husband, and David’s father and the sheriff of Mercer county. He dislikes Native Americans and frequently makes jokes about them and stereotypes them. He even uses the fact that Marie Little Soldiers is a Native American to belittle and doubt the credibility of her experience. 

Wesley’s conflicting loyalties become more complex and difficult once you consider the prejudices at the time, his job as an officer of the law, Frank’s station in the family and community, Gail’s strong opinions and his constant need to seek validation from his father. An instance that mirrors Wesley’s conflicting loyalties is when he tells Gail, “I wish you wouldn’t have told the sheriff.” When she told informed him of Marie’s sexual assault allegations against Frank. However, in Wesley’s eyes, Frank’s murder of Marie Little Soldier, is where the latter crosses the line. The magnitude of his brother’s crime is too large for him to let his previous conflicting loyalties as a sheriff and a brother hold him back from arresting Frank. After convicting Frank and having to argue about it with his father, we learned ‘for the first time how this experience with his brother was ruining him physically.’ 

Julian is a bigoted racist man who has an unconditional love for his son Frank and unfairly favours him over his son Wesley. When he learns of Franks charges he exclaims, “What kind of bullshit is this?” He belittles the sexual assaults as Frank just ‘feeling them up’ and ‘assaulting an Indian’. At this point, Julian taking Frank’s side exposes how irrationally loyal he is to his son and suggests that even if the women were not Indian, he may still stand by Frank's actions. He protests that the only reason Wesley convicted Frank was that ‘ever since the war, ever since Frank came home in uniform and he [Wesley] stayed here [home],’ he’s ‘been jealous’. However, this comment seems to say more about Julian’s feelings than Wesley’s - perhaps, this is why Julain felt this inclination towards Frank. After this argument, we see Wesley’s feeling of defeat and heartbreak - that despite Frank being a murderer and a rapist, his father still seemed to pick his side over Wesley’s. 

Quotes on Prejudices, Discrimination and the Abuse of Power

  • “He wears those and soon he'll be as flat-footed and lazy as an Indian" - Discrimination is evident in Montana 1948 where Wesley uses stereotypes of Indians to imply they are inferior to them, and that David shouldn’t be like them.
  • "She's an Indian- Why would she tell the truth?”  
  • “Your mother and I thought we’d have more to show than just one grandchild … and white- we want them we want them white”
  • “Screwing an Indian. Or feeling her up or whatever. You don’t lock up a man for that.”
  • “You know Frank’s always been partial to red meat.”  
  • “Well if Sheriff Hayden says it's so, it must be so.”
  • “Wesley, your brother is raping these women. These girls. These Indian girls.”

Quotes on Law vs Justice

  • “Why did my grandfather first run for sheriff? … He wanted, he needed power. He was a dominating man who drew sustenance and strength from controlling others.” This quote shows that many people in society at the time held positions of power such as lawyers or sheriff but didn’t enforce the law or worry about the morality of their actions. Thus creating an unjust legal system that would allow these people to shape how the law is enforced with their own prejudices.
  • “You know what your Grandad said it means to be a peace officer in Montana? He said it means knowing when to look and when to look away.”  
  • “I think the problem has been taken care of. Frank said he’s going to cut it out”

Quotes on Loyalty vs Morality

  • "David, I believe that in this world people must pay for their crimes. It doesn't matter who you are or who your relations are; if you do wrong, you pay. I believe that. I have to."
  • “I wish you wouldn’t have told the sheriff.” 
  • “You don’t lock up your brother. A respected man. A war hero.” “This is a legal matter.” “Bull sh*t. ” “Then why have you got him locked up here and not over at the jail? This is your brother here. My son! ”

Quotes on Destruction of Innocence

  • 'I had gone back into the house -to the kitchen, to my room, out the backdoor, I had left the porch and followed frank's steps down the front walk - I never would have heard the conversation between my father and mother, and perhaps I would have lived my life with an illusion about my family and perhaps the human community’ - page 33
  • “The shock of hearing this about Uncle Frank was doubled because my mother was saying these words. Rape. Breasts. Penis. These were words I never heard my mother use-ever- and I’m sure her stammer was not only from emotion but also from the strain on her vocabulary.”
  • “But I was on a trail that would lead me out of my childhood.”

With contributions from Fae Saberi.

In your English class, you probably feel like your teacher is making stuff up. Moments where you think, “The author can’t possibly have meant that”. To your English teacher, the smallest details have major implications in interpreting the text.

In fact, you probably agree with jokes like this:

The Book: “The curtains were blue.”
What your teacher says: “The curtains represent the character’s depression.”
What the author meant: “The curtains were blue.”

Or even this one...

oral presentation questions

The disconnect you feel between yourself and the teacher is not just because your teacher is stretching for something to analyse. Whilst the author may have meant something different to what your teacher thinks, this doesn’t mean your teacher is strictly wrong. Context and the author’s intention are two complicated considerations in English, and a whole range of study is dedicated to it. At the VCE level you must consider the context your text was written in, and the author who wrote it, but this shouldn’t hinder your own unique interpretation of the text.

Before you begin reading, I'd highly recommend that you check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response .

Your interpretation is more important than the author's intention

In 1968, Roland Barthes proposed a theory that has stuck with critics and academics of literature. “The Death of the Author” claimed that the biography, views, or intentions of the author are not a part of the literary object.

The text you are studying in English does not belong to its author, but to the reader, and what the reader decides to make of that text is valid, as long as it is backed up with evidence (as your teacher will say). Barthes’ original essay is complicated, but at a basic level, “The Death of the Author” says that the curtains are not only representative of the character’s depression but could also represent the character’s love of blue orchids.

When we read, we automatically apply our own experiences, biases, and understanding of the world to the text. As such, each person is likely to interpret a text in different ways. This is a major part of studying English, as the critic (you) is more important than the author’s original intention. The fact that a single text can give rise to multiple interpretations is the reason we study English; to debate these interpretations. When you are given an essay topic you are being asked for your opinion on one of these debates, not the author’s opinion on their own work. If you were reading The Fault in Our Stars and claimed it romanticised cancer, you would be participating in the literary debate, despite going against John Green’s original intentions.

In the modern age of mass media, the author is attempting to revive themselves. These are authors who attempt to dictate interpretations of their works after they have been published. The most famous of these is likely J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s twitter page adds many pieces to the Harry Potter canon and Rowling offers her own interpretations of the text. To Rowling, her intentions are the only correct ways to interpret her texts, and as such she shares them frequently.

oral presentation questions

This is not true, however, for any author. Authors are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to the interpretation of their texts. Despite having intentions and opinions on their texts, there is also evidence which counters their interpretations.  

When it comes to the debate surrounding the texts you study, you need to remember that the interpretation of the author is only one part of the debate. It is an opinion equal to everyone else involved in the debate. Imagine the author is on trial. They may have an opinion of the crime (or text), but so does the prosecution. You are the jury and must come up with your own interpretation of the crime. Whether it matches up with the author’s intentions or not does not matter, as long as there is supporting evidence within the text.

Context in VCE English

But what about the circumstances in which something was written? Every time you start a new text you are probably asked to research the time in which it was written, or what major political events may be relevant. Unlike the author, these factors are very important in interpreting a text.

For starters, a text may explicitly reference a certain event, and so understanding that event is key to understanding the text. An episode of the Simpsons may make fun of Donald Trump, and the writers assume we have the contextual knowledge to know who Donald Trump is, why he is important, and why the joke is funny. It is easy for us to understand this context because we live in the context.

If you’re studying texts from 200 years ago it becomes harder to interpret because we’re unfamiliar with the context. While you don’t have to know the context of your text perfectly, understanding the cultural beliefs and major events will help you consider the text objectively.

Researching the context of a text acknowledges that literature is a product of the culture and politics of its time. Its themes may still be relevant in the modern age, but it is difficult to fairly judge, critic, and interpret these texts if we do not consider the context in which it was written. A piece of literature will either follow or criticise the views and opinions of the time, and it is the responsibility of the reader to understand these views and determine where the text sits.

Okay, so the text is a reflection of the time from which it stems, and is separate from the author that wrote it? Not quite. Counter to “The Death of the Author”, the author is also a part of context, and this means certain parts of the author should be considered in interpreting a text.

If there is ambiguity in the meaning of a text, the author’s personal beliefs may clear it up. If a character of a certain race is stereotyped and mocked, the meaning of this may change depending on the race of the author. If an author stereotypes their own race, they might be criticising the way other people see them, whereas making fun of a different culture is most likely upholding racist or discriminatory belief systems.

If you're studying VCE Literature, read The Importance of Context in Literature for some further info!

Deriving Meaning From Texts in VCE English

So, what ARE the curtains?! What do they mean? Well, they're a metaphor, representing more than their literal role as curtains. But also, they’re just blue.

The truth is whilst context and the author are relevant, we should try to gain as much from the text as possible before relying on the context to guide our interpretations. While studying your texts, it is reasonable to apply modern standards to your interpretations.

Shakespeare’s plays are a tad sexist, and we’re able to criticise that, despite Shakespeare writing in a different context. For more on studying Shakespeare in VCE, read How to Approach Studying Shakespeare . But it would also be difficult to appreciate the meaning of texts without the context, especially when the text is a response to a major event. At the same time, we’re allowed to expand on what the author has written. We are not confined to what the author meant to say when we interpret texts. As an English student you have the opportunity to consider what each word may represent for the characters and how it influences your unique interpretation.

So, the curtains mean whatever you want them to mean. You can make reasonable assumptions about a text based on the context it comes from and from the author’s life, but you shouldn’t assume that something means nothing. Trivial things like the colour of curtains may not have been important to the author but allow us as English students to analyse and look deeper into the text, its themes, and the psyche of the characters.

In your SACs and exams looking at these small details and deviating from the author’s intentions is an easy way to stand out. Looking to get to that A+ level? Read How to Turn Text Response Essays from Average to A+ . So, when your teacher says the curtains are a metaphor, consider what else could be a metaphor, and don’t assume the author has all the answers, or that there is only one interpretation.

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