Citing Sources in an Oral Presentation

Citing your sources just means telling where you got particular ideas or bits of information that did not originate in your own head.  Sometimes this is called giving credit, attributing, or referencing.

When you cite sources in an oral presentation, there are 3 basic parts

  1. Orally cite sources of what you say
  2. Adapt a citation format to cite the sources of what is written on your visuals
  3. Have a full reference list handy for answering questions

Citing Orally

What Makes Citing Orally Special

In an oral presentation, your audience can’t flip back and forth between in-text citations and a reference list, nor can they look for a footnote or an endnote: you need to tell them where the information, idea, or words come from as you say it.  Since listening to a live presentation is a linear process (you can’t skim or jump around and hear it out of chronological order), it’s best to introduce the source before you present the information, so your audience members are ready to evaluate the information with the source (and your view of it) in mind when they hear the material from the source.  The citation needs to be brief, because it’s hard to digest the citation while evaluating the information, both of which are given within a few seconds’ time.

Technical How-To

  • Use an introductory phrase such as one of the following:
    • According to Joseph X, a professor of Yada Yada at Blah Blah University,…
    • Farooq Y, author of the well-researched 2010 study, Early American Nutrition and Politics, argues that…
    • Katherine Z, a journalist writing for the prestigious New York Times, offers this example….
    • Give your audience just enough detail to help them understand who provided the idea or information and how credible the source is.
    • If your source is original research (e.g. you conducted a survey, interview, experiment, or observation), just simply tell your audience what you did.
    • You might choose give your audience a brief (a couple of sentences) overview of how you did your research, much like the “methodology” part of a scientific study or the “literature review” in a scholarly article in the social sciences and humanities.  This can work well when you combine original research and published resources, when you work with different fields (e.g. both popular press articles and scholarly articles), or when you rely heavily on one or two sources that you present up front.
    • Clearly tell the audience what is quoted by marking the beginning and end of the quotes using one of the following options:
      • Pause slightly after the introductory phrase, then read the quote expressively so that the quote sounds like a second voice. Pause slightly again after the quote to indicate switching back to your own voice. This is the best method, but not easy to master quickly.  The two methods below, while not preferable, are also acceptable.
      • Say “Quote” immediately before you start reading the quote, and then say “Endquote” immediately after the last words of the quote.  
      • If people can see you clearly, you can use “air quotes” by holding up one or both of your hands and moving your pointer and index fingers up and down, as if you were drawing quotation marks in the air.

Citing on Visuals

What Makes Citing on Visuals Special

In the same way that you cite the source of everything in your paper that did not originate in your own head, you must also cite the sources of the text and images that appear on your visuals.  You need to cite-as-you-go on your visuals too, because your audience can’t page back and forth in your PowerPoint. Again, keep in mind how much information your audience can handle at once.  Remember the public speaking maxim: your visuals should guide your audience’s attention and support what you’re saying, not distract from what you’re saying.

Technical How-To

  • Distinguish your citations from the information by using one of these methods:
    • Use a smaller font
    • Use italics for the source (and then use underlining, not italics, for book titles)
    • Use a different color
    • Make the citation big enough so people can see it from anywhere in the room.
    • Don’t make your slides too busy.  It’s okay if you don’t have enough space for all the information you would put on a formally formatted reference list.  If trimming your citation, leave in the most important information: e.g. the author’s name, the title of the book or article, the sponsor and title of a website, the title of any book or journal the work is in (in the case of an article), and the date.
  • If your visual is a mashup, you still need to cite the sources of information, quotes, and images: in short, credit everything that someone else made that appears in your mashup. Use the same brief methods in the mashup that you use for other visual aids—sort of like the names and descriptions that flash on the screen when people are interviewed in a documentary or in a newscast. Make sure that you leave the citations showing long enough that someone can read them.  If you add a source list and/or a set of credits at the end (don’t forget to credit the music!), make sure they scroll slowly enough that the average person can read them.

The Full and Formal Source List

Why Have a Formal Source List Available?

You might get questions that require you to refer to sources that you used in your full study, but did not use in the presentation. If you have a formal source list available, it can remind you of author names, titles, dates, and other specific information your audience might want. You might also need to repeat specific information about a source you mentioned orally or give information that was too much to put on the visual.

Technical How-To

  • Put your list in a conventional format such as MLA style, APA style, Chicago style.  If your presentation is based on a paper you wrote, you can simply use the list at the end of the paper.
  • Make your list easily available to you in hard copy so that you can retrieve it during the presentation or follow-up question period.
  • Make sure you save an electronic copy of the reference list so that you can easily email it to an audience member if needed.
  • Should you put this list as a slide at the end of the presentation?  Only if you can fit it all on one slide that’s easily readable from all positions in the room. Using multiple slides often doesn’t work well because either you flip too quickly through them for them to be useful, or different audience members are interested in sources on different slides.  While it might be good to have such a group of slides “just in case,” a better solution would be ready with a couple of hard copies you can hand out, if needed.