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Teaching Presentation Skills

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    This article draws on materials originally used on our Delta Module One course and looks at three areas:

    a) why learners might need to produce the genre;

    b) what organisational and linguistic features they would
    need to be able to control in order to do so;

    c) how you would teach this area. 

    a) Why might learners  need to produce the genre?


    1. Learners
    in a wide variety of professional and academic contexts might need to
    give presentations. Their audience may be native speakers, or they may be using
    English as an international language.
     Typical contexts include:

    2. Business
    working for a multinational company who might need to give
    presentations to colleagues working in branches in other countries during
    international meetings. Alternatively, if they work for a company with clients
    in other countries they may need to present their products/services to them.
    This would also be true for other professionals, such as architects, who might
    similarly need to present a project proposal to overseas clients.

    3. Overseas
    working in an English speaking environment might need to present
    patient details in case conferences with English native speaking colleagues.

    4. Any
    type of professional person
    may wish to present a paper at an international
    conference – this could range from doctors to nuclear scientists to NNESTs.

    5. In
    academic contexts, lecturers working in a university where English is
    the medium of delivery for some or all courses – as happens in many
    universities from Maastricht to Milan – will need to prepare and deliver
    lectures in English. Similarly, their students may be asked to prepare and
    give a presentation of a topic in tutorials.


    b) What organisational
    and linguistic features
     would learners need to be able to control in order to
    do give presentations?


    6. Organisation:
    The exact structure will differ depending on whether the presentation is given
    by a single speaker or is a team presentation. However, typical sections will
    be :  Introduction – Topic 1 – Topic 2 –
    etc – Summary and Conclusion - Questions. Variations are possible – eg
    questions may not be left until the end (though this is common) but invited
    after each topic has been discussed.

    The linguistic features will again depend on the presentation
    structure, and also on the aim and topic
    of the presentation. Typical features include:

    7. Functional
    and related exponents (examples given) such as:

    • introducing oneself (and any other speakers in a team
      presentation) if not already known to the audience: My name is and I’m the representative of … /  This is my colleague XXX, our sales manager, …
    • explaining how the presentation will be structured and stating
      topics to be covered: First I’d like to
      talk about XXX, after which I’ll go on to YYY
    • introducing the first topic: Right,
      let’s start by looking at XXX
    • referring to slides or other visual aids: As you can see from this graph…
    • transition: indicating a move to subsequent topics (and
      speakers in a team presentation):
      OK, that’s all I have
      to say about XXX. Let’s now move on to YYY. / Thank you David. I’d now like to
      hand over to Jean who’ll talk about…
    • making recommendations with different degrees of directness: I think this shows that we definitely need
      to XXX / I recommend that we XXX / I’d like to suggest that we consider….
    • summarising the main points: OK,
      so we’ve looked at XXX, YYY, and ZZZ
    • concluding and inviting questions: Well, that’s all I have to say. Does anyone have any questions.


    8. As the
    examples above show, in all types of  presentation
    the speaker will need to use discourse markers (OK, Right, Well…) and sequencing connectives (First, Secondly, Next, Finally etc). Other
    (for addition, concession, cause and effect, exemplification,
    etc) will also be more or less important depending on the topic of the


    9. The
    topic of the presentation will determine the lexical fields that the
    speaker needs to control. Eg a medical presentation will involve the presenter in
    using scientific medical terminology, while a marketing manager will need lexis
    describing trends (rise, fall, drop,
    remain stable, plummet


    10. If
    presenting to a native speaker audience, the presenter will need to control
    certain features of intonation which the audience will be expecting such
    as a rise in pitch (or “key” – Brazil, Coulthard and Johns) at the start of a new topic. For example, the pitch of 
    ….I think this is the most crucial point. Turning now to the other problem of… will show a rise before Turning:

                                                                 Turning now to the other problem of…

    ….I think this is the most crucial point.

     or a drop in pitch to
    show equivalence to or explanation of something already said, followed by a
    rise for the continuation:

    we were expecting a certain drop in sales                                                             
    but not to the degree we actually experienced…

                                                                     it was inevitable given the situation

    c) How would you teach this area? 

    11All these features can be introduced
    through the use of a recorded model
    A videoed model or teacher demonstration may be preferable to an audio recording, and is
    necessary to focus on non-organisational or non-linguistic features such as effective body

    12. The model can be exploited using a
    text-based lesson format
    and functional approach

    a) First,
    comprehension work is done on the text

    b) Presentation: the teacher then focuses the learners’
    attention on the feature to be presented and practised – eg they are given a
    gapped transcript with all the “transition” exponents gapped. Ls predict what
    the speaker will say, and the T. accepts all the possible exponents (listing
    them on the board and correcting/discarding the incorrect ones). The Ls then
    listen again for the actual exponent used. 

    c) Controlled practice can then be done
    of all the exponents elicited using activities such as repetition work,  “put the verb in the correct form” gapfills,
    matching activities etc. (Eg matching the beginning and ends of about ten sentences
    including eg: Beginnings: I look forward
    to… / First, I’d  like to…
    Ends: … talk about XXX / …answering your questions). 

    d) Production: Whether the Ls are immediately asked to transfer the expressions to a
    presentation of their own, or whether they need to work on other features
    before incorporating them in freer practice will depend on the level.

    13. Contrastive models: Instead of
    using one “effective” presentation as a model, two can be shown to the Ls – one
    effective and the other not. The Ls can then analyse which they prefer and why.
    Focus on and practice of the features of the effective presentation can then
    continue as above.

    14. As learners studying this performance
    skill will probably be at least at intermediate level, a test- teach – test
    can be used. The Ls can first be asked to prepare and give a
    presentation for which all the necessary information is provided. They can then
    identify where they had problems and, by comparing their own presentation with
    an effective recorded model, decide where they could have improved their
    performance. Work on the features identified can then proceed as above.

    15. Individualised work : In a 121
    course, or in in-company courses where all the participants come from the same
    department, it may well happen that the Ls wish to prepare for a specific
    presentation that they need to give in the near future. In this case they can work
    together with the teacher first to decide the overall structure of the
    presentation, and then on the content and language of each successive section –
    with the T. incorporating the analysis of models and practice activities as
    necessary and as specified above.

    A point to note:

    A lot of
    learners may need to understand presentations without necessarily needing to
    produce them. – ie conference attendees would need all the knowledge mentioned
    above in order to understand the
    conference presentations, but only receptively. For this type of learner, the same approaches could be used, but the items presented left on a receptive level without asking the learners to use them in presentations of their own. 

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