The art of delivering presentations
In many fields of life, people are expected to deliver presentations. This form of providing information has recently gained popularity, not only in business but in teaching as well. Accordingly, in this article I would like to tackle the extremely wide issue of PRESENTATIONS in the academic field.
Many lecturers include students’ presentations while designing their courses. Often, gaining a positive grade for making a presentation conditions the final end-of-course mark. It is not simply ‘fashion’ that prompted teachers to make presentations a meaningful part of many foreign language courses. This phenomenon is also a response to governmental level requirements, which dictate instructors to do so.
Preparation and finally giving a presentation undoubtedly can bring foreign language learners a lot of benefits. To enumerate just the basic ones: students need to use their research skills, find out how to cite the primary sources, organise the content and overcome their fear of speaking in public. Since many teachers do not even bother with explaining the issue of presentation, either forgetting about it or considering the topic unnecessary; the question is how to make a proper presentation. Are students given a good example by their lecturers? Do learners get clear instructions on how to do it well? Before lecturers assign their students with a task of making a presentation, it is always helpful to familiarise them with the most crucial steps in this field. A good idea for introducing students to the notion of presentations is to make one, and while delivering, try to be as close to perfection as possible.
At the beginning, catching audience’s attention is an important goal; however, even more crucial is to keep students awake and active for the whole span. Questions about previous experiences with presentations can serve as a good stirring for the discussion, for example, “When do you need to do presentations?”, “How often are you asked to prepare presentations?” “Have you ever done a presentation in a topic you are not good at?”, “How do you feel while presenting something to a wide audience?”, “What was the most boring/ interesting presentation you have attended, and why?” Remember to let students know what will be the expected outcome of the lesson, for example, that the learners will hopefully memorise and enumerate necessary steps in making a presentation, and that they will be able to differentiate between a well done and a dull presentation. The majority of the students will feel more secure knowing what are the teacher’s expectations.
Presenters should also briefly enumerate at the beginning what is going to be said further. Using questions as a form of outline is a good technique: 1) What is a presentation? 2) What makes a good presentation? 3) How to deliver a presentation? Even such a basic action, as explaining the term and finding its collocations may be necessary. At this stage, an English-English dictionary can be used. In one of the entries, we read that a presentation is “a talk giving information about something.”
Knowing the term, the instructor may continue with describing the process of planning a presentation. Many lecturers are in favour of activating students, and so we can try to elicit good solutions by asking questions “If you were the audience what would grab your attention, stimulate your mind or imagination and increase understanding of the topic?” Those who prefer a bottom-up approach may prepare a matching exercise with a few sets of questions, and adequate notions answering them: topic (What to do to meet your objectives? What examples show the topic best?), time (How much time would you like to talk? How to divide the material before and after a break, if there is a break?), audience (To what extent the audience is familiar with the topic? Are you allowed to use jargon language?), surroundings/venue (Should you rearrange the room? Can you use a computer? Is there a white or black board?). Coming to common conclusions, sum the information up, to clarify the information. If you allowed the group to ask questions anytime, answer them immediately; if not, after each step ask the students if they have any questions. Otherwise, announce at the beginning of the presentation, that students should write their questions down, and ask them when you are finished speaking.
Further, discuss stages in planning a presentation. Do not hesitate to mention even the most obvious ones, like introducing the speaker to the audience. Continue by familiarising the listeners with the content, structure, setting the outcome and stating expectations towards them. Again, you can ask helpful questions: what (the subject area) and how (for example, case/comparative study) will you be talking about the subject. At this point, inform the group what you wish to be the outcome of your presentation (the audience will get to know/ will be able to do something). Instruct students what they are expected to do while listening to you: take notes, ask questions in adequate time or take up other activities. An important task of the lecturer is to pay students’ attention to a very crucial step: review. Many presenters often do not review what they have prepared, which may result in certain misunderstanding, shortcuts, and finally mislead the audience. Some students, after writing their notes and preparing Power Point slides, do not even reread to make self-correction, which is a mistake. Many people may find it useful to rehearse their presentation, either individually in front of the mirror or together with a friend, asking for feedback. Doing this kind of life rehearsal, the presenter should also keep track of the time. Review can be conducted by means of a short questionnaire. There are some universal questions, which are supposed to be helpful: Did you reach your aim? Does the presentation meet the assumed objectives? Did you arrange it in a logical way? Is the train of thought easy to follow? Is the level adequate for your audience? Does the presentation fit within the time frame?
Many shy students may feel insecure when they are assigned to make a presentation, complaining about the fact that they need to stand in front of their group. However, the simplest way to overcome their fear of public speaking is to rehearse, make sure they have followed all the steps and meet the criteria given by the instructor. That is why, in my opinion, lecturer’s guidance is of great importance. Teachers should realise that not everybody is born to speak in public. Therefore, certain tips on this issue should be given to the group. In order to show students different ways of delivering presentations, you can search in the Internet for a good and a bad example. While watching them, ask students to write down both positive and negative aspects. Then decide which presentation was (almost) perfect, and which was dull. (Addresses of presentations which I use.)
Based on this exercise, together with students, try to brainstorm about the features characterising a good presenter. Personally, I show these examples at the end, as a revision, taking into account not only the presenter’s features but the computer presentation and venue as well. Pay attention to the aspects of the presenter’s posture, keeping contact with audience, tone of voice and body language. Make students aware of the fact that reading the whole presentation is a wrong habit and in the majority of cases will bore the audience. Therefore, reading the whole text is unacceptable. Students should feel comfortable with the topic they chose to discuss and be ready to talk about it without big note support. At the same time, they are expected to know the following parts of their presentations and the content. Presenters may read some quotes, data, tables but never the whole text of the speech they have prepared. It is good to advise students not to write the full text of their presentations, and tell to replace it with shorter points or key words. Learners ought to be instructed to show confidence and passion, to start strong, as the first minutes decide if they get audience’s full attention. Remind the future presenters that simple, short explanations are not perceived as unwise.
As far as an intelligent structure of the content is concerned, students should also wisely design visual aids used while speaking. Thinking of presentations, the majority of us will automatically come up with Microsoft Power Point or Prezi, computer programmes used for visualizing slides. Not in every setting, however, we will be allowed to use computers. It is worth to consider using handouts, flip charts and artefacts additionally to the abovementioned programmes or instead of them. Show students that visualizing what you say boosts understanding of the topic and is for the benefit of the audience. Use examples of well-organised slides and handouts. Elicit the positive and negative aspects that students noted. As far as multimedia presentations and paper handouts are concerned, tell students they ought to be clear and simple. Encourage the group to use diagrams, tables, the most important quotes and remind them that instead of writing the whole text, using bullet points is a more desirable solution.
Finally, point out that the future presenters should make a list of references they used while preparing the task. Students ought to be aware of the fact that they are welcome to use various sources to explore the subject. Knowing that, learners may feel safer and more encouraged to research deeper, which may result in improving the quality and attractiveness of the whole presentation.
All in all, a great amount of knowledge should be transmitted to students before they start to make their presentations. It is the lecturers’ responsibility to instruct learners on the whole art of doing presentations; showing step by step all the stages, followed by discussing certain examples. Students must be familiarised with a model of presentation before they start preparing their own ones. The knowledge of elements constituting a well-prepared presentation will help them to meet the objectives while planning, designing and finally delivering their pieces of work.
Mascull, B. (2002). Business Vocabulary in Use. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
McCarthy, M., O’Dell, F. (2008). Academic Vocabulary in Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.