HomeAdults / Young AdultsHelping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations - Part 1

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.

Choose familiar topics

When students start to present, I believe they should begin with familiar, everyday topics which require little preparation.  The aim is to get them on their feet and overcome the block of standing up in front of other people. I often give them a menu of topics to choose from, which require little specialised knowledge or vocabulary e.g. public transport in my town, a national celebration etc. (The first few sessions, I don’t ask them to prepare anything for homework as they can worry too much.) Students who have picked the same topic from the menu can work together in pairs or groups. I allow them a few minutes to write down a few key ideas, and move round the class ready to provide a missing expression or quick translation. Then they present to the other members of their sub-group – making sure that the same topic isn’t dealt with at the same time as this can be distracting!

Poster presentations

Poster presentations are a great way of providing students with lots of practice in a less-threatening environment. Again, it is a useful activity for those of us who teach large classes and a common approach at conferences. I usually treat it as a collaborative activity with three or four people working on the same poster. I show a model of the kind of thing I expect – you can see an example on page 94 of ProFile Upper Intermediate. Students produce a poster on one or two large sheets of paper – pages from a flip-chart are ideal. This will usually mean meeting up for one or two sessions before the exhibition. They make the poster as visually interesting as they can and include the main points of their presentation – you need to emphasise that the poster is not a script which they simply read aloud.

Six or seven posters are enough for a small exhibition. Display the posters in different parts of the classroom or a reception area or school cafeteria. Student takes it in turns to stand by their poster and talk visitors through it while the other members of the poster team move around freely. Invite people from other classes to visit and ask questions. This will give students a taste of speaking to people outside their immediate class. Telling students that the head of department is coming provides a further incentive!

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

What are some tips you use to build your students’ confidence in presenting? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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  1. Great ideas. I have placed my students in sub-groups and it has worked wonders on their confidence. I also feel that providing situations in which student have opportunities to learn through trial-and-error is very important. I hear of many teachers just telling students they have a presentation and not giving them any practice. The same goes with speaking tests.
    In my syllabus, I have them start with short presentations in small groups then every three weeks the groups get bigger and the content get deeper, as well as an increase in presentation time. This leads up to a final presentation in front of the class for a time they choose themselves. Interestingly, most students who frown at the first 3-minute presentation ask from more time, such as 12 minutes that I cannot give due to time constraints. Thus, I feel trial-and-error is the key to increasing confidence.

  2. I’ve prepared quite a few one-to-one ESP students for business presentations, some of whom have only been pre-intermediate. I think you’re right when you say one of the biggest things is confidence, because when it came to it, they did really well – and that was down to them, not the teacher. No-one really minds a grammar slip or two when the content is engaging and presented. I think we can help the students get to know themselves as a presenter and that’s one of the most important things.

    I love the sub-group idea for larger classes. I’ve not tried it, I’ll definitely have to give it a go.
    You ask for any tips we might have, I’m sure you probably already do this, but I tend to recommend my students to record themselves; either on video camera or voice-recorder, so they can listen to their own voice and give themselves criticism. Obviously, they really hate it at first (who like listening to their own voice?) – but they get into it eventually. I really think it helps them with timing and you can also really key into the pronunciation errors they make.

  3. I have previously video’d myself and sent presentations vis youtube when I was unable to attend university. Although it was a bit of a cheat because I edited out all the bad bits, it was a useful tool in how to present successfully. Maybe it could be tailored for teaching kids?

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