Teaching Presentation Skills

This article draws on materials originally used on our Delta Module One course and looks at three areas:

a) why learners might need to produce the genre;

b) what organisational and linguistic features they would need to be able to control in order to do so;

c) how you would teach this area. 

a) Why might learners  need to produce the genre?


1. Learners in a wide variety of professional and academic contexts might need to give presentations. Their audience may be native speakers, or they may be using English as an international language. Typical contexts include:

2. Business people working for a multinational company who might need to give presentations to colleagues working in branches in other countries during international meetings. Alternatively, if they work for a company with clients in other countries they may need to present their products/services to them. This would also be true for other professionals, such as architects, who might similarly need to present a project proposal to overseas clients.

3. Overseas doctors working in an English speaking environment might need to present patient details in case conferences with English native speaking colleagues.

4. Any type of professional person may wish to present a paper at an international conference – this could range from doctors to nuclear scientists to NNESTs.

5. In academic contexts, lecturers working in a university where English is the medium of delivery for some or all courses – as happens in many universities from Maastricht to Milan – will need to prepare and deliver lectures in English. Similarly, their students may be asked to prepare and give a presentation of a topic in tutorials.


b) What organisational and linguistic features would learners need to be able to control in order to do give presentations?


6. Organisation: The exact structure will differ depending on whether the presentation is given by a single speaker or is a team presentation. However, typical sections will be :  Introduction – Topic 1 – Topic 2 – etc – Summary and Conclusion - Questions. Variations are possible – eg questions may not be left until the end (though this is common) but invited after each topic has been discussed.

The linguistic features will again depend on the presentation structure, and also on the aim and topic of the presentation. Typical features include: 

7. Functional areas and related exponents (examples given) such as:

  • introducing oneself (and any other speakers in a team presentation) if not already known to the audience: My name is and I’m the representative of … /  This is my colleague XXX, our sales manager, …
  • explaining how the presentation will be structured and stating topics to be covered: First I’d like to talk about XXX, after which I’ll go on to YYY
  • introducing the first topic: Right, let’s start by looking at XXX
  • referring to slides or other visual aids: As you can see from this graph…
  • transition: indicating a move to subsequent topics (and speakers in a team presentation): OK, that’s all I have to say about XXX. Let’s now move on to YYY. / Thank you David. I’d now like to hand over to Jean who’ll talk about…
  • making recommendations with different degrees of directness: I think this shows that we definitely need to XXX / I recommend that we XXX / I’d like to suggest that we consider….
  • summarising the main points: OK, so we’ve looked at XXX, YYY, and ZZZ
  • concluding and inviting questions: Well, that’s all I have to say. Does anyone have any questions.


8. As the examples above show, in all types of  presentation the speaker will need to use discourse markers (OK, Right, Well…) and sequencing connectives (First, Secondly, Next, Finally etc). Other connectives (for addition, concession, cause and effect, exemplification, etc) will also be more or less important depending on the topic of the presentation.


9. The topic of the presentation will determine the lexical fields that the speaker needs to control. Eg a medical presentation will involve the presenter in using scientific medical terminology, while a marketing manager will need lexis describing trends (rise, fall, drop, remain stable, plummet etc).


10. If presenting to a native speaker audience, the presenter will need to control certain features of intonation which the audience will be expecting such as a rise in pitch (or “key” – Brazil, Coulthard and Johns) at the start of a new topic. For example, the pitch of ….I think this is the most crucial point. Turning now to the other problem of… will show a rise before Turning:

                                                             Turning now to the other problem of…

….I think this is the most crucial point.

 or a drop in pitch to show equivalence to or explanation of something already said, followed by a rise for the continuation:

we were expecting a certain drop in sales                                                              but not to the degree we actually experienced…

                                                                 it was inevitable given the situation

c) How would you teach this area? 

11All these features can be introduced through the use of a recorded model.  A videoed model or teacher demonstration may be preferable to an audio recording, and is necessary to focus on non-organisational or non-linguistic features such as effective body language. 

12. The model can be exploited using a text-based lesson format and functional approach

a) First, comprehension work is done on the text

b) Presentation: the teacher then focuses the learners’ attention on the feature to be presented and practised – eg they are given a gapped transcript with all the “transition” exponents gapped. Ls predict what the speaker will say, and the T. accepts all the possible exponents (listing them on the board and correcting/discarding the incorrect ones). The Ls then listen again for the actual exponent used. 

c) Controlled practice can then be done of all the exponents elicited using activities such as repetition work,  “put the verb in the correct form” gapfills, matching activities etc. (Eg matching the beginning and ends of about ten sentences including eg: Beginnings: I look forward to… / First, I’d  like to… Ends: … talk about XXX / …answering your questions). 

d) Production: Whether the Ls are immediately asked to transfer the expressions to a presentation of their own, or whether they need to work on other features before incorporating them in freer practice will depend on the level.

13. Contrastive models: Instead of using one “effective” presentation as a model, two can be shown to the Ls – one effective and the other not. The Ls can then analyse which they prefer and why. Focus on and practice of the features of the effective presentation can then continue as above.

14. As learners studying this performance skill will probably be at least at intermediate level, a test- teach – test format can be used. The Ls can first be asked to prepare and give a presentation for which all the necessary information is provided. They can then identify where they had problems and, by comparing their own presentation with an effective recorded model, decide where they could have improved their performance. Work on the features identified can then proceed as above.

15. Individualised work : In a 121 course, or in in-company courses where all the participants come from the same department, it may well happen that the Ls wish to prepare for a specific presentation that they need to give in the near future. In this case they can work together with the teacher first to decide the overall structure of the presentation, and then on the content and language of each successive section – with the T. incorporating the analysis of models and practice activities as necessary and as specified above.

A point to note:

A lot of learners may need to understand presentations without necessarily needing to produce them. – ie conference attendees would need all the knowledge mentioned above in order to understand the conference presentations, but only receptively. For this type of learner, the same approaches could be used, but the items presented left on a receptive level without asking the learners to use them in presentations of their own.