I am a junior in high school, and I have to give a large history exhibition at the end of the year. As my topic, I chose to compare the POW camps following the construction of the Burma railway during WWII and the Hanoi Hilton, specifically the Alcatraz gang during Vietnam. I turned in my paper a week ago, I don't know if there is a way that I could attach it, so that you can read all 13 pages of it to get the idea of what I was going with. The dean of my school graded the paper, so hopefully it was well written and factual.

I took kind of a muckrakers approach, talking about the most scandalous treatment of POWs in both camps. I chose to talk about disease within the Japanese camp, and the torture techniques in Vietnam.

I have to present my project on June 6, to a panel of judges. I am allowed to invite more panelists as I see fit, but right now I think 6 will be present. The presentation is a maximum of 15 minutes. You have to branch off of the main topics of your paper to use as inspiration, so I want to go more in depth with facts about disease, working conditions on the railway, and torture. You then have to include a visual of some type, and close with an interactive activity that encourages discussion with the panelists. I want to make my presentation better than the other candidates, because we will be marked against a curve. I want to avoid using electronic mediums to present, because the panelists that I have talked to so far say that power points etc; all start to blur together. I want to use a lot of pictures for a visual, and then talk freely from my own knowledge. But I need help coming up with an activity. I had originally planned to just have a free flowing conversation with the panelist, but I want them to understand just how terrible these camps were. Perhaps something that made them feel like a POW would be interesting, but I'm not sure how to go about this. I don't know if sticking with the discussion plan is too boring, or if both activity ideas are completely worthless, and I need to start over with a new one. I have done no work on this thus far, so it doesn't matter what your answer is!

  • If they have to grade a lot of these that day, they may already be feeling like they are POW's....
    – T.E.D.
    May 25, 2016 at 15:49
  • 2
    BTW: Its possible you might get better answers from the Academia stack, since the core of your question seems to be about techniques for a good academic presentation.
    – T.E.D.
    May 25, 2016 at 16:05
  • @T.E.D. I guess that I have to answer my own question, because I'm not allowed to comment yet. I had thought of referring to specific POWs, because the best examples I have come from memoirs out of books like Defiant, which is about the Alcatraz 11. I think that will make the presentation more effective. Do you know of any specific content about my topic that you think would be interesting to include? (Just trying to make this pertain a little more closely to the history stack :) I'm going to try to post this to academia as well. Thanks for your help!
    – Hollis
    May 25, 2016 at 20:46
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway I found this Wiki link, thought it might help you.
    – Max
    May 31, 2016 at 10:57
  • @T.E.D.: I'm on the Academia stack and it's for graduate students only. So I wouldn't recommend using that to ask about a high school, or even undergraduate project.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 25, 2016 at 11:00

2 Answers 2


Use a slide deck, because the advantages of one far outweigh the disadvantages; but use it differently than your competition.

  • Restrict your verbal slides to between 1/2 to 1/3 of the total

  • If you have friends interested in film or photography, talk to them about the subtleties of visual presentations - such as the inferences made by audiences between left-facing and right-facing graphics. Use black-and-white instead of colour to highlight distinction between good and evil - then throw in a little colour for emphasis.

  • Use half-screens - left; right; top; bottom - to draw your audience with you .

  • Memorize your talk; and never read from the slides. Repeat - never just read from your slides. Use words on your slides as captions that ADD to your verbal presentation, not merely recap it.

Time your conclusion, and practice I until it is the best part of your presentation. Prepare about 5-7 minutes more material than you have time to present; plan your talk so that you can drop the excess material when the buzzer announces time to start your conclusion. Practice this. You will then have visuals for the most obvious questions asked by the panel.

Nothing wows a panel more than ending your talk within seconds of the final buzzer, and having visuals for their questions.


One thing you might consider is finding someone's memoirs of their experience in the camp, and presenting a small bit of that.

I say this because the author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing was worried his material was too dry and antiseptic given the topic*, and that's roughly how he handled it. Pretty much every chapter starts with a first-hand account from a historical genocide. It does a pretty good job of keeping the book grounded.

* - Good catch too. Its good information, but really really academic.

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