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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 2

Jon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. This is the second of three posts on helping students to overcome challenges in presenting in English. You can read Part 1 here.

Preparation and research

Most good presenters readily admit that their success is a result of careful preparation and practice. Generally speaking, a presentation is a piece of carefully constructed writing delivered as an extended monologue and is often the result of research. However, expert speakers understand that there is no point in reading out detailed information or research findings. Instead, they recognise the need to keep their message simple. They will regularly summarise, return to their main points and say the same thing in different ways, so listeners have several opportunities to catch their message.

Lazy or unaware students sometimes think it is enough to find an interesting article and read it out to the rest of the class. This is usually catastrophic for the following reasons:

  • Articles often contain rare and difficult vocabulary and expressions unknown to the audience. This is frequently made worse by the reader’s poor pronunciation.
  • Articles may assume some kind of shared background knowledge with the reader. (A story which has been running for some time will often just add what is most recent to the tale.)
  • Articles are not meant to be read aloud. The information load is dense and there is little repetition or redundancy. Remember that when we read, we can return to the text as often as we need. Simply reading the text once does not allow listeners extra chances they need.

Presentation as a process

I believe the most important thing we can do as teachers is to make students aware of the process they need to engage in to produce an effective presentation from source material.

I often follow these steps:

  1. I find a text and read it aloud, making many of the typical mistakes of pronunciation, poor delivery and absence of eye contact common in these cases!  I then ask the class what the article I have just read was about. Few, if any, can answer confidently!
  2. I hand out examples of the text and get them to read it.  Then we begin the business of paraphrasing and simplification. We re-phrase complex sentences, identify rare or unknown words, idioms and expressions, either eliminating them altogether, or substituting items which our listeners are more likely to know.
  3. We then identify the main and subsidiary points of the article and decide which key ideas we are going to use.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, we then discuss what background knowledge the article assumes, and how we can supply this with a more general and clear introduction.
  5. Finally, we re-assemble the text into a coherent summary which can form the basis of a presentation.

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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 1

Young people giving a presentationJon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. In the first of three posts, he offers advice for helping students to overcome challenges in presenting in English.

Many schools and universities require students to give presentations. It is difficult enough to present successfully in one’s own language, let alone a foreign language. A shy and timid learner in his or her own language will not miraculously become a fantastic presenter in English!

This article will examine how we can help students become better presenters by developing their confidence and improving their preparation. Good presenters say something interesting, which they communicate in a lively and memorable way – it is a true performance art. Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that good presenters are made, not born, and that even those learners who lack self-confidence can be transformed into acceptably confident, albeit not brilliant presenters.

Download my helpful hints on Presentations – Expressions and introductory phrases (PDF).

Confidence building

Use sub-groups

The stress presenters feel tends to grow with the size of the audience they address. In most cases, during the training process, the audience will be other class members.  Recently, I have taught larger groups of up to thirty, so breaking them up into sub-groups can be useful.  Speaking in front of six people is usually less intimidating than speaking in front of thirty. Arranging the classroom into different zones means three or four students can present simultaneously. Not only is this a more efficient use of classroom time, but it shifts the focus away from a sole individual. I generally play background music to reduce distraction between groups.
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