Presentation skills

Using assessment criteria to teach presentation skills

If you teach presentation skills for Academic or even Business English Purposes, you may find this post interesting. Today, I will talk to you about a little project I did and talked about at the Cultures of EAP online conference held last week. This is actually me, reporting about my talk and digging a bit deeper into issues I mentioned and some I neglected to mention during my talk. So, anyhow, let’s take things from the beginning.
A bit of context: An idea is born
I was doing module 3 of the Delta and decided to specialise in EAP presentation skills. My aim was to create a presentation skills course, but….where would I start from? My first step was to start thinking of the elements of a good presentation. If I wanted to make a syllabus, I needed to know the characteristics of a good and effective presentation. As I had taught presessional English many times, I had been trained on how to teach EAP presentations skills, I had assessed my students’ performance in them and I had access to loads of material, I thought I would start there.I also had three very important sheets: Presentation Skills Assessment criteria from three UK universities (Newcastle, Bristol and Sheffield) and voilà.

Time to create my syllabus
Why and how can I use assessment criteria?
I am not a presentation skills guru. I know some things about presentations, but I felt a bit insecure to design a whole course and define the objectives and aims based only on my experience. I decided to combine all the assessment criteria sheets into one and then decide what should be part of a presentation skills course.
What are the elements of a good presentation?
Based on what I found, when students present their  research or give an academic presentation ( this of course, extends to all kinds of presentations), they should focus on the following criteria and relevant sub skills/strategies/features:
Task fulfilment & Content/Structure:
Here the focus is on the introduction/overview, main body and conclusion of a presentation. Stages of a presentation are integral as well. This criterion also addresses issues related to backward and forward referencing. Key question: Is the subject matter clear?
Language (Lexis and Grammar):
Closer look: when giving a presentation, the learners’ language needs to be clear. A variety of structures should be used. Discourse markers are also important. On the whole, a very good control of the language is what is essential here.

Here the focus is on the pronunciation of the words and connected speech. Voice and rhythm. Is the speaker monotonous? Does the presenter know which words/ how to attract attention? What about intonation?

Technique/Communicative effectiveness/Presentation skills: 
Closer look: This has to do with eye contact and using gestures/facial expressions when delivering a presentation.Visuals and timing also affect the delivery of a presentation.

So should we be using criteria to asses or inform? Or Both?
In my case, presentation skills assessment criteria were used as a way to informally asses my students through formative assessment. It also was a great teaching and learning tool. Giving your learners assessment criteria at the beginning of a course works wonders as well:
  • It allows the learners to familiarise themselves with the aspects of a good presentation.
  • Students can self assess their performance.
  • They can pinpoint the areas where they are having difficulty with.
What are the implications of using assessment criteria to create a course?
If you design a course that focuses on using assessment criteria as a guide to syllabus, there may be a few implications you may need to consider. The course I designed focuses on criteria which are assessed in EAP presentations. This, of course, may not be connected to the students’ real life needs later on. Assessment may lead to anxiety as your learners may always feel that they are being assessed which may make the lessons less fun. ‘’Receptive skills can be tested objectively but productive skills usually require subjective testing’’ (Jordan, 2012, p. 86) So, you, the tutor, may have undergone standardisation on how to assess, but subjectivity is always an issue in these cases. Also, the assessment criteria focus on general academic skills, so if your group is a specialised group of students and you are teaching English for specific academic purposes, you may need to focus on some criteria more than others. For example, a student majoring in mathematics  will probably not have the text size of a student majoring in history and so on.
I gave a talk about using assessment criteria in order to design the syllabus of a presentation skills course at the Cultures of EAP Web Conference. You can watch the presentation here Of course, I know I am not really talking about something new in this post, but it is definitely worthwhile knowing the elements of a good presentation prior to teaching one. Assessment criteria enable you to do that!
Till next time….

 Jordan, R. R. (2012) English for academic purposes: a guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6 thoughts on “Presentation skills

  1. Hi Joanna! Thanks for a very informative post. Whether one's teaching context is EAP or not, I'd agree that having a set of performance criteria (or rubric) helps students know what they're aiming for.

    However, do you not think that audience rapport deserves mention here? I've yet to try teaching presentation skills in an EAP context, but in Business English this seems to be a big deal. A good presenter will try to build a connection with their audience, even if they are a bit cerebral. I wonder what you think!


  2. Hey Phillip! Thanks for reading!! That's an interesting point. I think that attracting the audience attention and rapport are important but we don't really “assess” them when assessing presentations. I think this goes under communicative effectiveness/delivery of a presentation. I agree though that this in BE is a big deal. Do you think this may be because often in BE ppl are promoting, inspiring etc and not presenting results of their research(just a thought here). Also, in academia I am not really sure how interactive the audience is. In a BE presentation I would invite a joke or a trick during a presentation. I would not want my EAP sts making a joke(s) during an EAP presentation. The other thing that I find interesting is the dynamic presentations element in BE. I am not saying that in EAP presentations are a snooze fest but not really sure how dynamic they are either! What about citations? Would yu bite off your BE student's head off if he didn't cite things? (in EAP, I would!! : P).


  3. Interesting points, once again. Communicative effectiveness and delivery are certainly things we should be interested in, but I wonder a little bit whether rubric can clarify the rapport-building aspect of all of this.

    A BE presentation ought, I'd suggest, to be persuasive. The audience needs to be changed in some way by the presenter, and the aim should be explicit. That implies capturing attention, starting with the familiar, presenting the new, and then seeking commitment at the end (or something analogous). Perhaps in an EAP presentation a summary along the lines of “So what does this mean?” aimed at the audience would suffice.

    One or two of my recent presentation skills students at Corvinus University chose to take an “academic” route with me, and that was interesting. The best of these presenters went for something resembling a “dynamic literature review”, full of commentary and references at the end. I'd venture to suggest critical thinking/evaluation and originality are what should be aimed for in an EAP context, but crucially, the presenter should converse with the audience and use inclusive language (e.g. “We”, “Us”) and interactive devices at intervals.


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