8 fun ways to practice presentations!

Every day, people find themselves in the tricky situation of presenting to an audience.  Stakes are often high with not only the individual’s but also the organisation’s risk at stake.  Presentations serve a multitude of purposes: to instruct or persuade the audience, to relay (un)pleasant news, propose a course of action or perhaps help influence a major decision.  It’s therefore no surprise that pre-service learners of English are often required to complete presentation training classes in English.  I found myself teaching presentation skills on a logistics course at a university this semester where I had previously only taught academic writing.  Although I have plenty of experience in presentation training, working with people already in employment is very different to teaching the same skill to a group of 20-year-old university students!  I tried out a variety of activities with them aimed at exposing learners to a range of techniques and language strategies, as well as offering them enough variety to keep them motivated over 12 weeks of the semester.  Here’s a selection of ideas that might give you some inspiration if you’re teaching presentation skills soon.

Who am I?  Language focus: structure and signposting in basic presentations

Participants were given ten minutes to present something simple about themselves to the rest of the class.  This could be a short presentation of their job or studies, a skill or talent they have, something they’re interested in or something they’ve learned.  This was a nice, simple introduction to the course, as well as for both me and the participants to get to know each other.

Describing a process – language focus: stating presentation aims, sequencing and passives.

Lots of people need to describe how something works.  It could be a process, a machine, a system or a task.  I began by eliciting the right nouns and verbs involved, as well as sequencing language (firstly, then, finally).  The learners then researched a process and presented it in teams.  We had google glass, voice recognition software, the ageing process (!), studying at university and filling your car up with petrol.

Photo 1

Poster presentations – language focus:  stress, intonation and making impact. 

This task allows learners to repeat a short presentation again and again, becoming increasingly confident and enthusiastic.  In pairs I asked my learners to invent a new product, and then create a poster illustrating what it is, how it works, and what the benefits are to the customer.  They were then given 5 minutes to sell their idea to another pair.  Learners circulated, alternately giving their presentations and listening to others, before voting on the winner.

The winner!

The winner!

Debates – gestures, body language and asking and responding to (tricky) questions

This was a simple topic to set up.  Groups were give a role, for or against, and were then given topics to debate with another team.  We had practiced how to deal with questions, first using Bob Dignen’s RACER model (respond, answer, clarify, encourage, and return), and then using contrasting language when questions were directed which challenged the group’s position (whereas I agree, although you have a point…)

Job interviews – language focus: giving and defending opinions, responding spontaneously to questions, avoiding hesitations

This task took place after a lesson on CV/resume writing.  Half the learners were appointed to conduct interviews (As), the other half we to be interviewed (Bs).  Everyone received a job description.  A’s prepared a series of questions for their interview candidates, B’s prepared how they could relate their work experience and qualities to meet the requirements of the job.  Each interviewer then met three candidates, before appointing one, who was put through to a second round of interviews.  Finally one class member was appointed the job!

Discussing the news – language focus: hypothesizing

Participants brainstormed the major stories being reported in the press at the time.  Each group was allocated one story.  The objective was for them to them present the story in more detail, including background to the event and a hypothesis of its potential consequences.  They concluded by suggesting who had been most affected by the news and how, as well as the possible consequences on the world of business.

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Presentations in pictures – communication focus: giving presentations without being dependent on text, minimizing hesitations

We practiced 5 minute presentations on a topic of their choice, but whereas they could use PowerPoint slides, they were only allowed to show pictures.  One very tricky element of presenting is the ability to speak freely, and text on PowerPoint slides often acts as a crutch.  This practice helped learners appreciate that they can speak freely and that pictures are enough of a support to get them through the presentation.

The language trip of a lifetime – language focus: convincing and persuading

Groups were asked to present a plan of where the whole group could go on a language course abroad.  We ruled out the normal favourites: UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, as these would be too predictable.  They were given a number of factors to consider and then had to convince their class members that their plan was the most interesting, while also being the most productive way to spend the budget.  You can find my lesson plan on how we carried out this presentation project here – feel free to use it!

If you’re looking forward to a semester of academic presentation practice soon, or you’re just looking for a few ideas for lighthearted practice of this skill, you’re very welcome to try out any of these ideas. I’d love to hear how they go!

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21 comments

  1. Gabrielle, this is all excellent! However, some learners may still be “thrown in at the deep end” where presentations are concerned. In my last teaching context, learners were suddenly asked to present at the end of every language course – but without presentation training ever being included in the course descriptions. It can be stressful to present under such circumstances!

    Do you see a role for podcasting in this area? Explaining how things are done in 5-minute videos could be used by many, many teachers and learners in a “flipped classroom” format, and would help scaffold learning for many students of Business English. I’d happily discuss this idea further with you if you’re interested.

    1. Hi Philip
      I think that is an excellent idea. I was lucky that presentation training was the main focus of the entire course, so alongside these practice activities I was able to teach areas of language and strategies which would help them become better presenters. I think the idea of podcasting and making videos available is just brillient. We had a moodle where this would have worked wonderfully, and it would allow mre independent learning. For your participants it’s also a good way to give them the input which class time appears not to currently permit. I think it would also be a great project for the participants – to make a short video presenting a topic of their choice and to upload it for everyone else to critique. I’ll give it some more thought and try out a couple of things next semester – perhaps we can talk more then?
      Thanks again for your comments Philip,
      Gabrielle

  2. Hi Gabrielle, really useful tips.

    Do you think practicing “1 minute improvisations” through fun topics would be too much too soon for students?

    I´m a ex-president and long term member of Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org) and one of the most popular parts of meetings is the “improvisation part” especially when the topics are interesting and fun. People are given the challenge to improvise for more than 1 minute.

    1. Hi Christopher,
      I think that’s a great idea! Especially as it’s lighthearted and doesn’t focus on assessment. I think, in my scenario here, it’s important to begin with activities which help learners to speak confidently and spontaneously, and then to begin inputting useful language until then can produce a longer turn of language in presentation form which is both fluently delivered and professionally executed.
      Best wishes
      Gabrielle

  3. Hi Gabrielle

    Just for some ideas, what kind of topics would you use for the debate section of your list of activities? Thank you very much. ;-) :-)

  4. Hi Gabrielle,
    Some great tips and ideas here, kudos!
    I came across your post doing some research for an article on how to help NNSs with overcome nerves and stress when they have to give presentations in English, and lots of practice and preparation is definitely key.
    I really liked the suggestion about using pictures to create a presentation, which I’ll include in the article if I have your permission?
    I’ve linked my name to the blog if you prefer to check it out first (there are also some good role-plays and ideas for job interviews in one of the posts).
    Looking forward to the next article!
    Alex

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