In November 2010, the Oxford University Press Conference for Private Language Schools took place in Kyiv. Oxford News met with guest speaker John Hughes, whose presentation ‘Business people want results – now!’ was dedicated to the new title from Oxford University Press, Business Result. Interviewed by Igor Gnatyuk.
IG: Could you tell us a few words about the importance of Business Communication Skills?
JH: Business Communication Skills (BCS) have developed in the last 20 years and to some extent they’ve come out of management training: so, for example, in the past in Business English (BE) we tended to focus on professional content or different business topics and the key business vocabulary. But over time it became apparent from management training courses that business people actually needed lots of help with presentation skills, with meetings, negotiating, even socializing, or writing – writing reports, writing e-mails etc. – and that’s been incorporated into BE over the years. So, often our teaching can include what it is to be an effective communicator alongside effective use of the language. As a result, the demands on BE teachers have increased to some extent. We also need to be able to teach communication skills.
Teachers often think that teaching communication skills as well as language is a difficult challenge but nowadays many of the course books provide support in this area. For example in Business Result every unit has a section on BCS and it might focus on telephoning or having a meeting to discuss a project, these kinds of things. So Business Communication Skills have become one of the most important aspects of BE.
IG: Could you tell me about teaching Presentation Skills, perhaps from your own teaching experience?
JH: Often when we talk about Presentation Skills, people have this idea that it’s a big official context with a Managing Director standing up at the front of a large audience giving a presentation about products. While that is one possibility, it’s not necessarily the most common. Lots of our BE students give presentations every day and on quite basic things: maybe it’s a presentation about what they are doing this week in their department, maybe it’s an informal presentation of the product to a client – the range of presentations can really vary.
When we made some teacher training DVDs to accompany Business Result we had various students from different backgrounds who gave presentations and one of them was a qualified doctor. She was involved in selling medical products. If you watch the video in the Teacher’s Book (Business Result Upper-Intermediate) on Presentation Skills you’ll see her giving a medical presentation. And it’s not the presentation that people typically think of when they think of BE presentations, but she had to give this presentation as part of her work and so, therefore, it’s perfectly valid. And although the actual content of what she was dealing with was different from lots of other students, there were certain key elements that were common to her presentation and to anybody else’s.
Typically, that would be certain fixed expressions to help give a structure to the presentation; so expressions like: “Good morning, everyone! Thank you for coming. Please, feel free to ask any questions. Firstly, I’d like to talk about…”
Then there’s also another key issue – pronunciation. If you’ve got a student who gives presentations to people from England or to business people in Germany, you’ve got to consider their delivery. Is it going to be delivery that the audience is going to understand? Because potentially their pronunciation might impede the understanding. Their knowledge of business, their knowledge of context or even the fixed expressions might be great, but their ability to actually pronounce the words or pronounce the phrases in presentations can make it quite difficult.
It means you have to do quite intensive pronunciation work on people’s presentations. You can do that in a number of ways: recording people giving a presentation, then watch it on video or listen to it on audio and give feedback. You can even get the students to analyse their own performance as well, which is helpful if you teach large groups. It can be quite basic feedback based on question on a feedback form, such as: Did the presenter introduce the presentation? Did the presenter complete it successfully? Did the presenter use visual aids effectively? And then other students can give feedback on that. That’s one approach to teaching presentation skills.
But remember when you ask students to present in English, it is one of the toughest things people have to do in their daily work. They will often find it stressful in their own language, so to do it in English as well is even harder. You can’t underestimate how much time you need to deal with this area and also the range of both formal and quite informal presentations. It’s certainly a key part of any Communication Skills course.
How do you teach Business Communication Skills and Presentation Skills? How do you refine your own skills?