Classes are conducted in an informal, communicative atmosphere and most lessons include a short interactive lecture. Students discuss issues raised and work together in pairs or small groups, changing partners each week in order to increase communication opportunities. Here are the main themes dealt with over the two courses:
Practical Presentations Skills (Research Skills C1)
The functions and pleasures of presentations
Reducing nervousness, finding your main idea and significance
Signal to Noise ratio
Logically structuring your presentation
Effective slide design principles, techniques
Delivery: voice, body language, interaction with slides
Question time strategies and language
Communicating at the right level for different audiences
Editing and preparation techniques to avoid timing problems
Practical Presentations Techniques (Research Skills C2)
Aims and benefits of presenting your research
Expressing your presentation purpose efficiently
Abstracts: clear and impressive structure
Attracting and persuading an audience
Creating logical flow through transition vocabulary and slides
Showing data and other support effectively, handling Q&A
Poster session techniques
Visual design for clarity and impact
About humor in presentations
There is no escaping the fact that the overwhelming majority of students are stressed by the need to give presentations about their research, especially if it’s in a second or third language. While overcoming nervousness is not the sole or even the primary aim of this course, it is something that needs to be dealt with, and I try to do that firstly by creating a relaxed, friendly, interactive atmosphere in which students are not afraid to make mistakes.
Secondly, at a cognitive level, I have students examine closely why they are presenting, and help them realize that a presentation is not usually an end in itself in the same way that a dramatic performance might be; a research presentation generally has the functions of disseminating results, garnering useful feedback, perhaps making useful contacts. In short, a research presentation is not usually an exam. Even if our research is going to be “tested” by some in the audience, that should have the constructive effect of improving our research.
With that in mind, I make it clear to the students that when they present in class, they should focus on getting useful feedback, which doesn’t necessarily mean entertaining the audience but keeping them interested and facilitating understanding through clear organization and delivery of material. So that raises what is definitely a central issue of the course, making a logically clear and persuasive case for an idea through the presentation.
In that sense, logical clarity—which generally means supporting a clearly stated thesis and cutting incidental material within the strictly controlled time frame of presentations—is basically a pragmatic, not dogmatic issue. It serves to communicate clearly and persuasively.
The other important issue I’ve discovered is giving plenty of feedback. I help students individually on request as they prepare their two presentations for each course, particularly with structural and slide design issues. I give detailed feedback after their presentations, along with somewhat less detailed (but nevertheless very useful) feedback from fellow students. The goal, I tell them, is not to produce a faultless presentation, since that is almost impossible, but to improve through consideration of the feedback and through experience.