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How To Teach ´Great Openings´ for Presentations In English




Young businessman giving presentation
Photo via Dries Buytaert under Creative Commons license

Christopher Wright has worked as a Business English Teacher and a Business Trainer in the UK, US, Spain and France. In his first guest post for OUP, he outlines techniques for teaching Business English students the art of opening presentations.

Doing presentations, like anything in life, is a question of preparation, positive attitude and ´practice makes perfect´.

Just like in the popular BBC TV Show Dragon´s Den the more preparation and practice participants (students) have, either in front of an audience (no matter how small) or recording themselves on a web camera, the more relaxed and confident they will feel when they actually have to give their presentations.

So what can we do as teachers and trainers to help? Here are 6 tips:

1. Visual Aids

Visual aids such as images, objects, sculptures and models are a fantastic but under-exploited tool for making ´great openings´ in presentations in English. A visual aid immediately helps grab the audience´s attention and piques their curiosity. And once the audience starts thinking “what is it?”, “how does it relate to the presentation?” and “why have they shown me this?”, the presenter starts winning their battle to achieve their presentation objective (to inform, persuade, entertain etc.). Visual aids also act as a great support for non-native speakers who are nervous speaking in front of people, as it removes them from the spotlight. Also it helps focus their attention on the presentation opening instead of worrying about the audience´s reaction. Watch this great example, a 5 minute TED Talk by a Dutch Engineer, and how he uses a visual object to make a boring presentation really come alive. Count how long it is before he actually starts speaking.

2. Petcha Kutcha 20×20

Petcha Kutcha events are organized around the World. They were started by a group of young designers in Tokyo in 2003 and have become world famous. Their goal is to improve ´The Art of Concise Presentations´. Each presenter is allowed to show 20 images (one per slide), with each slide lasting up to 20 seconds, hence the 20×20. So how does this relate to teaching presentations in English? In an internet obsessed world that has become more visual, faster paced, and now suffers from information overload, the ability to quickly communicate your key messages is vital. Other advantages include: being a useful technique for teaching time-poor professionals and managers; helping long- winded students become more concise; and finally there is a cross-cultural aspect.

3. Storytelling

Nancy Duarte wrote an excellent book called Resonate (Wiley, 2010), which helps any person learn how to craft visual stories and present them using the techniques normally reserved for cinema and literature. With Resonate, presenters learn how to: connect with the audience empathetically; craft ideas that get repeated; use story structures inherent in great communication; create captivating content; inspire and persuade audiences. It´s a book full of quick and easy-to-use communication techniques for creating great presentation openings.

4. Power of your Voice

Following on from point 3, great story-tellers also know how to use the power of their voice to captivate, entertain and influence their audience. There´s a reason why children (and some adults) will sit quietly, attentively and listen for a long time to a good story-teller. What is it they do? They vary their tone, pitch, volume, speed, intonation, emphasis and pauses to create moments of suspense, excitement, danger and happiness. There are hundreds of good examples on YouTube you can analyse with your students to show them the effect of the power of their voice when giving a presentation. Try comparing a presenter with a monotonous tone and one who knows how to use the power of their voice to see how different they are.

5. Using Quotes

This can feel like a very American presentation style, but its appeal is much more international than you´d think. They key is to select quotes from internationally known and famous authors, figures and people both from the past and present. Here is a good source for presentation quotes. Why do presenters use quotes? For two reasons, firstly it helps them quickly frame an argument or key message for the audience. Secondly, it gives their own presentation a little more credibility as people tend not to question these quotes as much as they would if they’re the presenter´s own.

6. Evaluating and Giving Feedback

At the beginning of this post I mentioned ´practice makes perfect´ and also the TV program Dragon´s Den. Why? Both highlight the importance of ´Evaluating and Giving Feedback´ to perfect a presentation. As teachers we can work with our students to develop criteria to evaluate their own and other presentations so they can learn through watching others as well as themselves. Technology (webcams, private YouTube channels, etc.) gives students the option of peer review of their presentations, either by themselves, or by teachers and classmates.


  1. How To Teach ´Great Openings´ for Presentations In English | International Business Skills (Business English, Business Skills and Intercultural Communication)

    […] Also published on Oxford University Press ELT Global Blog  September 11th. […]

  2. Although the cultural background of the students is a factor to consider, I try to encourage strong eye contact. Resistance to looking at the audience is a natural response that comes from a fear of public speaking, but it is something that can be conquered with training. That means looking at different points in the room you are addressing. It lends authority to the speaker.

    • Hi Mark I agree and teach the “lighthouse method” which involves dividing the room in three and making eye contact with one or two people in each of the three areas. Moving your eye contact from each of the three areas after a certain time, like a lighthouse does.

  3. Thanks for this article:) very interesting. I have been thinking a lot about how to teach students to give successful presentations as this is a very important lifelong skill. I teach them about the rules of effective presentations and what I pay special attention to is the last point on the list, i.e. giving feedback. I think it is also a very important thing to teach students how to actively listen to someone’s presentation (this is something that Polish students find extremely difficult – or maybe it’s true about all Polish peapole:)). So before they start listening to someone I give them a table where they give the presenter the points for: 1. the contents/interesting theme 2. sticking to time limit 3. the quality of the language 4. voice 5. body language 6. pace 7. structure of the presentation 8. originality 9. the quality of visuals 10. relationship with the audience. I must say that this set of questions helps as they have the reason to listen 🙂

    • Thanks Gosia that´s a really useful tool to learn from evaluating others and improve our active listening.

  4. Reblogged this on Nancy's World and commented:
    I went to a Pecha Kucha 20×20 last Friday. It’s an amazing way for practicing presentation 😀

    • Thanks Nancy! Both Pecha Kucha and Toasmtasters a great way to practice presentations.

      • Thanks Nancy! Both Pecha Kucha and Toastmasters are a great way to practice presentations.

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  6. Excellent article! Thanks Chris. I would add joining Toastmasters International to practice those tips. It really helped me!

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