As the term comes to a frantic end, with stacks of marking and piles of paper, I get to enjoy my favourite chunk of classtime: the student presentations. I’ve blogged about this before (HERE and HERE), but I thought that today I would share some of the most common errors I see in student presentations. Who knows – you just might recognise your own presentation-self in here.
1. Reading off the screen while presenting
We require our students to present with slides (most use PowerPoint; some use Prezi). I always stress that the slides should be a backdrop to their own presentation, that if there was an ESKOM blackout and they lost all use of the computer or the data projector, they should be able to continue with their presentation with no problem. However, students often find comfort reading the notes on the screen, which decreases the connection they’re able to make and sustain with the audience.
2. Strange involuntary body movements
I will never tire of watching the strange things that otherwise normal students do when they stand up to present. Legs shake… one hand flies around… weight shifts from foot to foot… a finger points at the audience… a groin gets periodically scratched (no jokes!). We’ve started filming the students while they present and then playing the video back to them so they can see the strange things they do. They’re almost always surprised at what they see.
3. Robot voice
There’s something about giving a formal presentation that makes many a lively, engaging, funny student turn into a robot. The whole presentation gets delivered in a strange sing-song tone to the voice a’la the talking clock you get when you’re lonely and you phone 1026. I know what this is: the student has learnt the presentation off-by-heart and is reciting it to the audience. The problem is this eliminates any natural spontaneity, which an audience finds appealing and engaging.
4. Being very, VERY serious
Yes, sometimes students present on things like illnesses, pollution or poverty, and a serious tone is justified. However, often they forget that audiences like to connect with real people, and real people exhibit a range of emotions during conversations. Often students forget to smile when they introduce themselves, or get excited when trying to get audiences to buy into their idea. This almost always affects the impact of their presentation, which can feel more didactic then is appropriate.
5. Making themselves small
I’ve been super-aware of this one since watching Amy Cuddy’s AMAZING Ted Talk (click HERE if you haven’t seen it yet) about how one’s body language shapes who you are. Some students, when they stand up to present, make themselves so tiny. Their shoulder close in, they wring their aims together, they slouch inwards. This doesn’t just create the impression of an unconfident presenters but, as Cuddy shows, feeds into feelings of powerlessness for the students themselves.
I’m passionate about helping students learn to present effectively and powerfully. I see these five errors a lot in student presentations, but I firmly believe that, in most cases, good presenters are bred not born. Seeing the students improve during our courses is proof of this.
Do you see your presenting styles in this list? Can you spot any I may have left out?