'Presenting tips' by IATEFL members

31st March 2018

The annual IATEFL conference will soon be upon us. Of the 600 or so talks that will be delivered throughout the event, more than a few will be given by first-time presenters. IATEFL readily tries to encourage and provide support for first-time speakers. For example, there is the chance to be mentored by a more experienced presenter. In addition, in January 2018, we held a webinar in which some of the first-time presenters from IATEFL Glasgow 2017 gave their tips and advice. During that webinar, a lot of interesting questions came up, so afterwards we asked the IATEFL Facebook discussion group for their thoughts. Thank you to Shaun Wilden for putting the post together, by collating answers from the discussions in the hope that it provides some useful tips for those of you presenting in Brighton.

In week one of the discussion the questions centred on getting started:

  1. Can I use icebreakers in my presentation?
  2. Could you give some useful tips on a good start to a talk?
  3. Should a presentation be interactive i.e. have polls, use things like padlet etc?

One of the key points that came out was about how long presenters should spend introducing themselves at the start of a talk. The consensus seemed to be that, especially bearing in mind the limited time available, intros shouldn’t be too long. An introduction should briefly say who you are and what you are going to talk about i.e. a little bit of rationale – How/Why/When did you start thinking about this topic?

When it comes to icebreakers there is probably not enough time for this within the 30 minutes of an IATEFL talk. However, asking the audience a question early in the talk is a good way of letting you catch your breath. One way to do this is to ask people to discuss what they know about the topic to get an idea of their level of understanding. This could be, as one of our contributors put it, ‘a beehive moment’ where the room is buzzing with the audience discussion. A second suggestion was to have a ‘pre-presentation slide’ on display before your session begins. This gives the audience something to think about while waiting to start.

While we’re on the topic of slides, one no-no that came out of the discussion was reading your own slides aloud all the time. While it might be pertinent for you to occasionally read something aloud, it is better to paraphrase. Other advice for slides was the rule of 5 x 5. That is to have no more than 5 lines of text with five words in each line. For those of you presenting your research, the hive mind of the Facebook group suggested that you concentrate on the key points. The audience don’t want a blow-by-blow account of your research like your supervisor. They want to know: Why did you choose this topic? What did you learn from it? What questions does it raise? What more is there to learn?

In terms of the third question about how interactive presentations should be, perhaps the best bit of advice was that though interactive might be fun, don’t assume everyone is connected enough for you to use the technology. Something like padlet could end up being divisive rather than inclusive. Depending on the size of the room and whether you need the tech for some kind of output, e.g. a pie chart showing breakdown of answers, then show of hands is really as connected as you need your presentation to be.

In week two, the questions centred on the speaker and their audience.

  1. How does a presenter stop themselves from speaking too fast once they get nervous?
  2. How does a presenter stop themselves from forgetting what they are going to say?
  3. What should a presenter do if an audience asks questions which the presenter does not know the answer to?
  4. What techniques do you use to attract a bored audience?
  5. How would you deal with participants who are very outspoken and possibly negative?

Many contributors to the discussions said they created note cards, index cards or even scripts as a way to help them remember what they are going to say. Others noted that often the act of writing things out was enough to help the details of the talk stick in the memory. A more techie solution is to make sure that ‘presenter view’ is used in PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides as this will allow you to have presenter notes on your computer screen. A final useful piece of advice here was the idea of practising. Not only does this help with nerves but also gives you an idea of how much time things are going to take.

Preparation helps when handling nervousness. However, you’ll always feel some nerves and the group felt that this was a good idea, as your body doesn’t know the difference between nervousness and excitement. Use that energy to your advantage and if the nerves do rise, manage your breathing and deep breathe before your first line.

We will now move on to questions from the audience. As someone noted, even with the best will in the world, we can’t really be expected to know the answer to ALL the questions which might be asked. Acknowledge the question, say you don’t know the answer or “I haven’t thought about that” but give an opinion, and then invite the audience to help. Perhaps, though the hardest questions are not actually questions, but people who try to show off their expertise by making a statement disguised as a question that very often has little to do with the talk presented. The trick is then how to get them to be quiet. You need to do this as quickly as possible, perhaps by saying ‘Thank you. Does anyone else have a question?’

Finally, let’s address boredom. Worrying too much about whether the audience is bored or not seems to be a slippery slope. How can you tell anyway?! Passive audiences don’t necessarily mean bored ones. Many are quite happy just listening. That said, the audience feeds off you and your energy, and then you feed off theirs. If you’re hiding behind a podium, reading your notes, not making eye contact, and speaking in a monotone, you can’t expect the audience to be engaged. It’s a circle that starts with YOU.

Our final week of discussions included slightly more eclectic questions. For example: “Is it a good idea to use quotes from well-known professionals?” The group replied that if they serve a purpose then why not, but do not rely only on other people’s quotes. Participants want to hear something from you, too.

Another was whether humour should be used during a presentation. Answerers felt it can be a bit risky, but it also adds a nice touch. Maybe test it with a few people from different backgrounds if possible to see how it goes over, or at least ask a colleague.

So, there you have it. Well some of it! There were so many tips and pieces of advice given over the three weeks that it is impossible to include them all here. Do have a look at the facebook group if you want to see them all for yourself.

Many thanks to all of you that contributed to the discussions. Good luck to everyone presenting in Brighton, be it your first time or not. Let’s end with one final piece of advice:

Relax and be yourself!

See you in Brighton.