Last week I finished my first presentation skills course with a group of first year business undergrads, culminating in assessed 15-minute group presentations on some business-themed aspect of one of the MINT countries (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey – it’s a business thing). I’ve never taught a course devoted to presentations before (in fact I’ve often argued against doing presentations) BUT this is EAP, and a business BA at that, so the students REALLY WILL NEED PRESENTATION SKILLS IN THE FUTURE. A new course in a new job, I stuck fairly close to the outline/materials the first time round, and overall it went pretty well, but I’ve been gifted with the perfect opportunity to improve and expand on it as I started a second, elective presentation skills course with some (higher level) second year biz students this week! I also have a ton of student recordings to look back on as I even had the luxury of mounted integrated video recording equipment in the classrooms. Cue some hardcore reflection…
What will I do again?
- Get students doing some kind of presentation in EVERY class. Their confidence grew visibly over the 3 weeks
- Focus plenty on paralinguistics – Gesture, eye contact, use of space etc This made a huge difference to the effectiveness of the final presentations compared to their early attempts
- Focus on sign-posting/linking/transition language. Not an easy thing with 3 students per presentation, but they even managed some neat reference to what other members had discussed earlier in the talk and on the whole the presentations were very cohesive given the short prep/practice time
- Openings and closings, ‘hooks’, great examples from ted talks here
- Dealing with Qs in the Q&A – I devised a complete lesson on this which i’ll stick in the lesson plan section.
Very little of the above relates to actual language does it? It became quickly apparent this course was 99% ‘soft skills’ rather than English teaching, definitely out of my comfort zone as I’m not exactly a presentation expert myself, so we learnt together as we went along. One of the nice things about them having lots of practice at giving presentations is little language input was needed anyway as theres sooo much opportunity for on-the-spot input and remedial work.
What do I need to work on/add?
- Helping with appropriate choice of topic/title. It was challenging for sts to get the scope right, then talk only about this (not giving a general overview of the country, for example). ACTION: Give Ls less choice and a clearer purpose by providing more example titles, perhaps in the form of Qs. Get sts analysing structure/content of a talk in relation to the title by predicting content then comparing it to a ticklist
- Achieving a coherent narrative thread. Students managed this to varying degrees but despite several pep talks, examples and using templates to plan out the presentation, a couple of talks started one place and ended in another. ACTION: More genre analysis? What story does the speaker tell? How?
- Rhetorical questions and other devices. Students attempted this with varying success, some chucking questions in at random hoping it’d do the job regardless of their actual impact. ACTION: More structured practice at creating these in context and thinking about their impact on the audience, lesson plan to follow…
- Avoiding over-memorisation. It was virtually impossible to persuade some sts not to sneakily type their part out and learn it verbatim (pressure of assessment looming). The general effect was flat, unengaging delivery closer to written text than an oral presentation. Worse, if students forgot their lines they paniced. I say over-memorisation here because I think a degree of memorisation is expected and unavoidable, indeed there’s a fringe benefit in the sense learners ARE internalising new language, but unfortunately the presentations suffered from too much of it. In our first lesson of the new course, how tempting it is to memorise immediately came up ACTION: experiment with cue cards and improv around a few memorised words/phrases as suggested by various gods of presentation-giving. The practice practic practice. Apparently Steve jobs practiced for days but his presentations seem very relaxed and spontaneous.
- More structured self and peer-evaluation. As well as using the classroom camera, this time I’ll incorporate much more filming with smart phones for immediate self and peer feedback as seen at Kat Robb’s talk at IH BCN, based on the student-generated criteria from the first lesson….
Lots to think about, not least how will I keep up with these guys who are clearly already better at presentations than I am judging by our first lesson efforts! The one thing I haven’t already mentioned is the need to give room for students to develop their own voice. I’m wary of making this course overly product-orientated, but at the same time it’s a very specific genre with a wealth of good examples online so I hope I can strike the right balance between this and letting them make their presentations their own.
Anyone out there had similar experiences on this type of course? Tips? Revelations? I’d love to hear from you.