Developing presentation skills in a foreign language with (very) short presentations

Martin Businger
Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Business, Switzerland
martin.businger@hslu.ch

Abstract

This article suggests classroom activities that aim to develop the presentation skills of foreign language learners at B1 level or higher. Students practise their skills by preparing and delivering very short, but well-structured presentations. Learners in the audience, too, should be active while listening to their fellow students’ presentations and are therefore always given a task to perform.

Introduction

Speaking in front of an audience is a daunting task, even more so when a talk has to be delivered in a foreign language. Therefore, language learners who want to improve their presentation skills need training opportunities designed to promote the learners’ confidence and linguistic autonomy — as often as possible and early on in the learning process. Below, I describe suitable classroom activities for students at B1 level or higher. They have been developed in courses for German as a foreign language at university level, but they can, in principle, be adapted for training in any foreign language. Whereas Ruuska (2015), for example, focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of presentations in authentic settings, this paper deals with the benefits of delivering (very) short presentations (lasting from a few seconds up to a minute) in the target language. At the same time, these mini-presentations have to be structured carefully, in the same way that ‘big’ presentations do.

There are significant advantages in using short presentations as a training tool: Firstly, this method takes account of the well-known time-on-task principle, which says that “the more time you spend doing something, the better you are likely to be at doing it” (Nation 2007, 1). A learner who is accustomed to standing up and speaking in a foreign language in front of an audience is well prepared for presentations, be they short or long. Secondly, long presentations tend to be tedious for the audience (normally the other learners in the course) and there is a considerable risk that the listeners’ precious learning time is wasted. If presentations are short, the learners in the audience can (and should!) be given a simple task to be carried out during the presentation(s) (cf. below). This way, the audience is more likely to stay attentive and to profit from listening to the other learners’ talks. Thirdly, short presentations allow learners’ attention to be drawn to an important aspect of successful presentations: They have to be well-structured. To this end, learners are always given a ‘skeleton’ of the presentation that they are to prepare. How this works is shown in two examples in the next section.

(Very) short presentations: two examples

Almost any topic covered in class can serve as a starting point for a mini-presentation. In my example, I introduce some vocabulary on the topic of devices and items to be used in presentations (for example, slide, projector, handout). The students then prepare a 20-second presentation by ‘filling in’ the model in figure 1.

The phrases and expressions (in bold) for structuring this presentation (and in the second example below as well) are given in English for convenience. It goes without saying that the phrases have to be provided to the students in the target language, for example, German.


Figure 1: 20-second presentation

As in real life presentations, the learners are forced to formulate a substantial message (even if it is a ‘fun statement’). Because of the presentation’s brevity, it is quite natural for the learners to speak without notes. If students become used to speaking without a manuscript right from the beginning, it will be easier for them to do so in longer presentations as well. Without notes, it is much easier to make eye contact and thereby establish a connection with the audience.

The presentation in the second example is slightly longer than in the example above: approximately one minute. The basic idea of this learning sequence is that learners ‘translate’ the abstract or metaphorical content of a proverb into a clear and well-structured short presentation (cf. Clapp & Kane 2005, 228–232). To start with, students work in pairs or small groups doing online research in order to find and understand proverbs such as Practice makes perfect or Barking dogs seldom bite. After that, everyone chooses a proverb s/he can identify with and prepares a presentation using the structure sketched (and shortened) in figure 2.


Figure 2: Presentation on a proverb

With a longer presentation like this, learners need time not only to prepare, but also to practise. This can be done in two steps: First, the learners rehearse in pairs (if there is not enough space in the class room, simply send the students outside): Everyone gives her/his presentation several times in front of one other student, receives feedback (“Your paraphrase of the proverb / your example is not clear to me.” etc.) and thereby improves her/his presentation — after that, the two swap roles. As a last step, the learners give their talk in front of a larger audience. It is important that this audience is also given a task, for example:  “For every presentation, write down if and why you (do not) agree with the proverb that was presented.” In a follow-up activity, the students discuss their notes taken during the presentations. This way, everyone in the audience is forced to follow the presentations and to listen carefully.

Conclusion

Preparing and delivering (very) short presentations can be easily integrated into any course format without taking up too much time. Learners get used to speaking in front of others — without notes, but in a structured way.

Parts of this paper are based on Businger (2016). I would like to thank Ursina Kellerhals (Lucerne) for her help.

References

Businger, Martin. 2016. Präsentationstraining im DaF-Unterricht. In: Anatoly S. Karpov et al. (eds.) Synthese aus Tradition und Innovation. Deutsch in der modernen Fremdsprachenausbildung. 147–157. Ulan-Ude: Buryat State University Publishing Department.
Clapp, John Mantle & Kane, Edwin A. 2005 [1928]. How to Talk: Meeting the Situations of Personal and Business Life and of Public Address. New York: Cosimo.
Nation, Paul. 2007. The Four Strands. In: Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching (Vol.1/1). Online version: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/2007-Four-strands.pdf (6.3.2017)
Ruuska, Petteri. 2015. Foreign language learning through presentations in authentic settings. In: Language Teaching Tomorrow. http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:jamk-issn-2343-0281-19 (6.3.2017)

URN

http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:jamk-issn-2343-0281-22

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