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:
- 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!
- 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.
- We then identify the main and subsidiary points of the article and decide which key ideas we are going to use.
- 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.
- Finally, we re-assemble the text into a coherent summary which can form the basis of a presentation.