by Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
When I first started teaching Composition, I was loathe to assign the presentation that was required by the syllabus. As a result of my underwhelmed attitude, the students hated the assignment just as much as I did, and, for the most part, they did the bare minimum just to get it over with. This meant sitting through hours of students nervously shuffling their feet while they read their PowerPoints word for word to the class.
It took a few semesters before I realized that the presentations were so lackluster because I never actually taught my students how to present. I would give them the assignment instructions and just assume that they could do the rest. “They’ve given plenty of presentations before”, I would tell myself. “They know what they’re doing”.
I would never do that with any other assignment. If I want my students to write a response paper, I show them how to critique an author’s ideas. If I want them to write a research paper, I show them how to find and evaluate sources. But with presentations, I just fell into the same rut that I think a lot of other instructors fall into—I just assumed they knew how to do it. Or, even worse, I assumed that they couldn’t learn how to do better.
After a few semesters of this, I decided to actually start teaching students the skill of presentation. This definitely required me to step out of my comfort zone, but I found a few resources that made it easier. I thought I would share three particularly useful ones.
The first is a video that we use to start a discussion about how to effectively use visuals to enhance a presentation:
The next is a blog post from marketing genius, Seth Godin about what NOT to do: Really Bad PowerPoint. Students like this article because it gives them ammo against their instructors; I like it because it makes their presentations less dull.
And finally, a page from the website of King’s College in London about overcoming presentation anxiety. This topic is probably one of the most overlooked presentation problems, but remember that burying its head in the sand never did an ostrich any good. (Yes, I know that ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. I did my research!)
There’s a lot more to teaching students how to do well in presentations, but these should get you started. I also deliver a model presentation to the class, teach them breathing exercises, and do my best to prove to them that, even after having taught for years, I still get nervous in front of a crowd—even in front of them sometimes. Hopefully, though, these resources will help you rethink how you approach presentations in your classroom.
What do you do to help your students succeed at presentations? Do you have any resources to share? Leave a comment and let us know.