There are many reasons why people
decide to give talks at conventions. On the professional level, it may be a step toward
obtaining a better position or because it looks impressive on a CV. On the personal level,
it can be intellectually stimulating and enjoyable to have the opportunity to share ideas
and theories with colleagues. Our aim in this article is to offer encouragement and ideas
to colleagues who are thinking about giving a presentation.
Our experience has been that
although the ideas contained in presentations can often be valuable, they are not always
presented in the most effective way. Presenting to peers is not an identical process to
presenting to students or trainees. In the classroom, teachers have the time to build
rapport with their students. Presenters, however, make a quick entrance and exit, often to
a large group of total strangers, and never have time to "finish the lesson next
The power dynamics also differ. In the classroom, teachers must sometimes assume the
role of "informer" talking to the "uninformed." There are elements of
this role in a presentation; but since presenters address colleagues and peers, they must
find the balance between "equal" talking to "equal" and
"informer" talking to the "uniformed." While a lot of elicitation may
be praiseworthy in the classroom, it may be seen as patronizing or a waste of time at a
A plan of action
In this article we would like to suggest how a talk can be effectively planned and
delivered. We will cover the following areas: fears, choosing a topic, planning,
title/summary/abstract, equipment, delivery, and evaluation of the talk. (See
Not many people naturally enjoy getting up in front of a large group of strangers and
talking about a complex subject. First of all, this fear of public speaking needs to be
overcome. This can be done in steps. Start by presenting an idea to a colleague or friend,
then to a small group and then to a larger group of sympathetic peers. Put yourself in a
positive frame of mind by remembering that your audience has chosen willingly to come to
It is also natural for nonnative speakers to feel somewhat uncomfortable about giving a
presentation in a language other than their mother tongue. This fear can be
overcome by ensuring that you know the specific English needed for your subject (the
EFL "jargon"). In addition, it is important that you are familiar with the
English needed to make a presentation flow naturally, such as opening and closing phrases
or linkers like "My first point is" and "Moving on to point two."
Finally, when working from a prepared text, you need to find a balance between a formal
written style of English and an informal style of spoken English.
2. Choosing a topic
Many presenters suggest starting with practical ideas which have worked for you in the
classroom. It is also important to back up your practical ideas with some kind of
theoretical justification: Research the topic and include some references to your reading
in the talk. It is a good idea to choose a topic which is of current interest. This will
probably mean that your talk is well attended. If the convention has a theme, try to show
that you are linking your topic to that theme.
Before you begin to plan, consider your audience. A group of teachers may call for one
type of approach and a group of university academics another. Think about what they
already know. How much background needs to be given? Do key terms need to be defined and
main points need to be simplified? And what should be the balance, for example, between
entertainment and information? Avoid material that may be offensive.
Once you have assessed the needs of your audience, a plan can be made. Whether the
presentation is 15 minutes or 15 hours, the framework remains the same: introduction of
idea(s), development of idea(s), and conclusion. To avoid confusion, handle one topic or
idea at a time. Some people like to use a mindmap (see Figure 2). Others like to use the traditional "table of
contents" approach with headings and subheadings.
The opening must be fresh in order to grab the audiences attention. It can take
the form of a challenge, a topical reference, a striking visual, an activity, a joke, an
anecdote, or a quote. (Note that these can also provide spirited endings.) Some like to
present an outline of where they are going, while others prefer to keep the audience in
suspense as the talk unfolds. Either way, it helps if the audience can actually see an
outline of the main points as you make them.
This is where visuals can play a key role. Before investing your time in preparing
them, check what the facility has to offer: overhead projector, projected computer screen,
a slide projector, flip board, chalk board, white board, room to display charts or
posters? On your personal notes, use coloured highlight markers to mark when to use the
You also have a choice of when to give out handouts. Some like to give them out at the
beginning of the talk so that the audience can make notes on them. Others like to hand
them out at the moment they are needed. Still others prefer to distribute them at the end,
so that the audience pays attention throughout.
A clear, logical order must be found for the middle. The pace must be varied to reduce
the possibility of boredom. Individual work, pair work, or group activities may be
incorporated, depending on the type of presentation, the size of the audience, the
facilities, and the time available.
Keep in mind that you should have some fillers such as anecdotes, activities, or
examples on hand to add or remove depending on the time available. Mark these on your
personal notes with coloured highlighters or double brackets.
Statements and proposals should be backed up by facts. Sources can be acknowledged
throughout the talk or at the end in spoken or written form; a bibliography or suggested
reading list is a good idea.
Give your audience visual and audible signals that the end is coming. They may feel
"something is missing" if you do not provide some kind of summing up. Since time
is a very important factor in talks and nothing is more unprofessional than a speaker who
goes on and on over the limit, choose a flexible ending. A question-and-answer period is
one way to finish; but remember, a strong ending makes for a lasting final impression.
Once your plan is complete, you can fill in the details. Think about how to prepare
your notes for the actual presentation. Some presenters like to work from numbered cards.
Others prefer to work from notes on paper. If you choose to work
from a whole written text, make sure that you present it in an interactive style,
maintaining plenty of eye contact.
When deciding on a title you can adopt one of two approaches. You can choose a simple
and clear approach which says in a nutshell what the talk will be about, such as "Ten
Practical Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary." Or you can choose to mystify or amuse, thus
motivating people to come to the talk because the title sounds intriguing, like "Why
Do I Call My Computer Names?" If you are absolutely stuck for a good title, try
brainstorming with a few friends. The title is often what attracts people to a talk, so
choose it carefully.
The summary should match what you are going to talk about. Participants justifiably get
quite annoyed if a talk bears little relation to what the summary in the program stated.
The summary should, of course, not exceed the number of words requested by the convention
The abstract should be an accurate, simplified version of the actual talk with a
rationale for the presentation and some academic references. Again, it is important to
keep within the stated word limit.
Try to familiarize yourself with the room and equipment beforehand. Is all the
equipment that you need there and in good working order? Even check to see that there is a
piece of chalk for the board!
If you intend to use a microphone, test to ensure you are holding it an appropriate
distance from your mouth. If you are not using a microphone, check at the beginning of
your talk that you are projecting your voice sufficiently. It is a good idea to imagine
that you are talking to the back row throughout the presentation.
In using an overhead projector here are some points to remember:
Dont overload the transparency with information.
Use large handwriting or typeset
so the words are visible from the back.
Check how the projector works before the talk begins.
Focus your transparency so that it is visible to all.
Turn off the projector when not in use.
The best presentation in the world will bomb if it is not delivered well. Start
preparing for the delivery long before you are at the podium: practise at home. Rehearse
the talk, and time it until you feel comfortable with it. Use the same notes you will be
using at the actual presentation to become familiar with their location on the page.
Immediately before delivery, try to relax. Obviously this is easier said than done. It
may help to keep in mind that even seasoned speakers get preperformance jitters. Taking
three deep breaths may help relax you. Or you might visualize a situation in which you
were confident and successful in the past. When you walk up to the podium with this sense
of calm and control, the audience will respond accordingly.
Your voice must be in prime working order. Speak slowly and clearly. Note that coffee,
coke, chocolate, and cigarettes dry out the throat. Water and herbal teas are beneficial.
Thinking of a lemon may help a dry mouth.
Project your voice or use a microphone; ask the audience if you are not sure, and
follow their advice. Speak to the entire room, and take care not to favour one side. Eye
contact should be maintained. It is useful to choose a few key people to watch for
immediate reactions, with the occasional sweep of the entire audience.
Gauge the audience. If you see that people are starting to fidget, look away, or lean
back with crossed arms, do something to change your style: change the volume of your
voice, speed up or slow down the pace, pause, say something funny, call on an audience
member for a response, physically move, or have them move (e.g., stand up). These actions
can regain the audiences attention. It also helps to work distractions, like the
noise of the air conditioning, into your talk.
Do not forget that you are communicating with your words and your body. Your posture,
movements, facial expressions, and appearance all reflect on you and your message. Use
them to your advantage.
Make notes as soon after the talk as possible about its strengths and weaknesses. Try
to take this self-evaluation into account when planning your next talk. An excellent way
of getting feedback is to ask a trusted colleague to come to the presentation. He or she
will probably be able to provide you with some very useful evaluation. Remember, too, that
questions at the end of a talk are usually an indication of interest and a sign that the
talk made a positive impression.
To conclude, presentations are for the listeners. They deserve the best we can give
Buzan, T. 1993. The mindmap book. London: BC Books.
Comfort, J. 1995. Effective presentations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Iatefel Newsletter, Presenting and conferences. 1995. 128, pp. 1227.
Schmitt, N. 1997. Dont read your paper, please. English Language Teaching
Journal, 51, 1.