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Oral presentations

Chinese students who have completed a first degree in China will have had the experience of giving at least one oral presentation at the end of their degree program; but few will have done this in English, and most will have to learn the techniques of effective public speaking in the same way that local, native-speaker students do - largely through actual practice.

Have you ever done an oral presentation here?

Yes, I have.

And had you ever done one at University before [i.e., in China]?

Yes, I had.

Any differences?

It was OK. Maybe the time limit was a bit longer here.

When you gave a presentation in China, was it in English?

No.

Did that cause a problem for you in your first presentation here?

I was a bit nervous at first, but then it was OK. But I'm afraid my English was a mess!

Do you have any techniques for practising or improving your presentation skills?

I think people can learn from experience; the more they do, the better they will get over time. Basically it's a question of confidence, I think. Lots of students think their English is not good enough; and I know at the beginning I was rather shy.

— Jade

In setting an oral presentation as an assignment you may wish to refer your students to the section on Oral presentations Opens in a new window in Language and Learning Online Opens in a new window for guidelines on:

Where appropriate, group presentations have the advantage of spreading the burden for the speakers - and for their audience as well.

Doing a presentation, did you have any problems?

This was fairly new to me, not just public speaking, but doing it in a second language - it was quite hard. I think this is a weak point for Chinese students; we get little practice in that sort of activity.

So how did you go about adapting to this?

Just by doing a lot of group presentations, that's all. We would get the stronger people in the group to present; though of course we divided it up. We very rarely had to do an individual presentation; they were mostly group presentations.

But in a group presentation, did every member of the group have to speak?

Sure, everyone was supposed to speak. But the more important or more difficult parts would be done by people with the better language skills.

— Luke

Giving feedback

Students did comment, however, that they got very little feedback on their oral presentation technique (as compared with their written assignments), when feedback was given orally only, in the brief time available at the end of the class.

The ability to make an effective oral presentation is a significant component of an academic's skill-set, and the provision of constructive feedback is something that should be taken seriously.

One way to do this is to draw up a simple assessment rubric, distribute it to the students who make up the audience for the presentation, and have them use it to evaluate the presentation, individually or in pairs or small groups. You might prepare the rubric yourself, but doing it in class prior to the presentation in consultation with the students is an invaluable way of raising awareness of the issues involved, as well as giving the students a sense of involvement and ownership. You might also consider seeking advice and/or co-operation from language and learning support staff Opens in a new window. If in your course students are required to give more than one oral presentation, you have the possibility of changing the rubric the second time around, to focus on different aspects of the task.

Possibly the most effective feedback method is to video-record the presentation, so that presenters can evaluate their own performance, by themselves and/or in discussion with a staff member. (A student who is not presenting can usually be co-opted to operate the camera - even, if need be, to provide a camera for the purpose.) Bear in mind that some students may be quite unwilling to be recorded, initially at least, and they must be allowed to opt out without penalty if they so choose.

Obviously, the two approaches outlined above can be combined.

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