So, over the years I’ve taught countless presentation lessons. I’ve tackled them from many different sides. I’ve looked at linking words, planning and creating successful Powerpoint slideshows but what I noticed is that no matter how much planning went into the presentation or how much of the target language they used or even how well they used linking words, the presentations were always a bit rubbish. Nobody could ever really follow them and even though the content might have been interesting, they always seemed a little boring.
So, I decided to look at it from another angle, from pronunciation.
The idea is simple, if students are pausing in the right place and stressing the right words, they can more or less control their audience.
When I did this, we had a week of presentation skills lessons in an English for Work class that finished with them all giving their own presentations and getting feedback from me and their peers. The ones who followed the pronunciation guidelines we’d talked about, got the best feedback from the other classmates…I think it was largely because it was easier to follow.
Level: Pre-intermediate / intermediate / upper intermediate / advanced
Time: 30-60 minutes
Objective: By the end of the lesson your students will be more aware of when to pause and what words to stress in a presentation to keep the attention of their audience.
This is a simple lesson and the idea can be used to with any presentation really. You can adopt it and apply it to any speech or Ted talk you might think is interesting.
What I used for this lesson was a snippet from the welcome talk the students receive on the first day.
1.Intro: I like to start by getting the students thinking about the importance of pausing and stress in public speaking so we start by discussing these questions:
- What makes a good presentation?
- Do you ever lose concentration in a presentation? What recaptures your attention?
- What makes a bad presentation?
We discuss these, first in pairs and then as a whole class
2. I give them the following snippet from the welcome talk and ask them to draw a circle over any words I will stress and to put a dash after any word where they think there will be a pause.
Hi guys. First of all, thank you very much for your patience today. I know it’s been a long day. I just want to give you some information about the school: safety, academic information, etc., then we will give you your timetables, your passports and ID cards and then, we’ll take you to the pub, buy you a drink and you can relax after a long day.
3. We listen to the text and students check their ideas in pairs.
4. I display the text above on the board and together we mark where the stress was and where the pauses were.
5. I ask students to analyse the text and come up with some guidelines for pronunciation in presentations. I’m looking for the following:
- We tend to stress linking words / phrases and pause after them.
- We tend to stress the final word in a clause / sentence and pause after them.
- We often stress words we feel carry the key points of the utterance.
6. Just to hammer it home, I often give them the following gapfill to complete.
Complete the gapfill below using the following words:
(saying / linking words x 2 / audience / clause / stress / sentence / pauses / pause)
In public speaking it is very important that you think about your ___________. You can control your audience using _________ ________ , __________ and _____________.
We usually stress __________ ______ and the final word in a ____________ or ______________.
We usually __________ after the words / phrases above.
This helps our audience to refocus on what we are ____________.
7. Practice: For practice I give them another section of my welcome talk. They mark the stress / pauses and then listen to check.
In a few minutes, my colleague is going to come in and organise you into groups. He’ll give you a map of the area and help you to choose team names. After that, you’ll go out for a tour of the area which will finish in our local pub. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. We are here to help. Thank you very much for listening and I’ll see you all tomorrow.
8. As further practice, I like to get some students to practise and record the intro to the welcome talk and some the end and then we play them in the class and give feedback on their pronunciation.
Alternatively, they could just say it in front of the class instead of recording them.