I’ve been teaching my students presentation skills basically since I’ve been teaching Business English. If one of my students or groups identify ‘giving better presentations’ as an objective, then there are a number of presentation ‘basics’ that I always start with.
The ‘basics’ that I think are essential for every Business English student are: introductions, signposting and conclusions.
For introductions, we go over a pretty traditional 5-part introduction framework:
1. Greet your audience
2. Tell them who you are
3. Tell them the main topic of your presentation
4. Tell them the main sections of your presentation
5. Tell them about the logistics: how long it’s going to last, if they can ask questions as you go along, etc.
For signposting, I teach them how to ‘close’ one topic and ‘open’ the next one, with simple phrases like “So that was…., now let’s look at…”.
For conclusions, we look at how to:
1. signal that you’ve come to end of your presentation
2. to summarize the main points
3. to give them a take-home message
4. to thank them and open it up for questions
We go over a number of different ways to do these things, both formal and informal. I generally like to drill some key expressions, watch other learners and native speakers do presentations, and get them to do a few short presentations in class about business related topics.
It generally works. By the time we’ve spent a few classes doing all these things, students are generally left feeling more confident and are producing much better-structured presentation.
Recently, one of my students, we’ll call her Florence, who is in a small group class of about 5, was having real trouble doing ‘formal’ presentations. It wasn’t a problem of proficiency (she’s about a B2+) or fluency; Florence can go on talking very passionately and clearly about almost any professional or personal topic. During ‘formal’ presentations in class she would freeze up. All the fluency and passion (and even accuracy) would disappear. However, if I would ask her to talk about the same topic in a more informal discussion, all her English skills came rushing back and the passion, fluency and clarity were all there again.
I didn’t really now what to do. I kept working on presentations every so often (it was really an important goal for them), reviewing ‘the basics’ every time to make sure those that were still having trouble with it could catch up. But it just wasn’t working for Florence.
I knew I had to come at this thing from a different angle. But how?
Then I had an idea. Instead of making presentations these ‘high stakes’ situations which was obviously stressing Florence out, why not make them fun? Why not goof around and see if it helps Florence loosen up, learn the key presenting expressions and present with the same passion she has when she’s just having a chat with someone? Why not take the Steve Ballmer approach? Get fired up, get crazy, and just act plain nuts!
So I asked the students to prepare a short presentation for the next lesson, as I had done many times before. However, at the beginning of the lesson, I put up a few adjectives up on the board:
Shy, angry, overexcited, sad, insincere, proud, overconfident, happy, insane
Then I asked each student to pick an adjective and, in pairs, do just the introduction of their presentation as if they were feeling sad, angry, overconfident, or what have you.
Once they had finished, I asked them to pick a new adjective and do the next section of their presentation, as so on and so on until they were finished.
Then I played the Steve Ballmer video, just to remind them not to go overboard.
It worked! We all had fun with it and it has seemed to help Florence find her prensentation sea legs.
I’ve also added a few things to the mix since then. Ive had them present while clapping out the key words, while walking around the room, with a funny foreign accent. The options are endless! You just have to get goofy!