Teaching Tip: Improving Student Presentations

In creating class presentations, students often do not know how to begin. So they begin as they would with a paper. With an outline. And then they put that outline on slides, sometimes as bullet lists, sometimes as complete sentences, add in a few pictures, and then they think they are done.

What they often fail to realize is that presentations are very different from writing papers. Presentations offer a unique opportunity to engage directly with your audience and utilize visuals that enhance the content of the presentation. And they are also an opportunity to communicate expertise on a subject without reading out prepared sentences created with reference materials at hand.

An interesting presentation method, that serves as something of an antithesis to the reading-an-outline-directly-from-slides method, is Pecha Kucha. This method is also called the 20×20 method, as the slides consist of twenty images, each shown for twenty seconds (a little over 6 1/2 minutes total) and progressing automatically. A variation of this is Ignite, which shows each image for only fifteen seconds (so five minutes total).

The challenge of these presentation styles is that there is minimal text – either just a title/keyword, or the labels on figures. For the most part, each slide is just a highly illustrative and relevant image. Finding appropriate images can be tricky, but it means that students are putting more thought into the visual content of their presentations, rather than simply using clip art and stock images.

To give a good presentation, then, the student must have the most important content saved for what they say. They might have note cards for reference, but for the most part, they need to simply know their subject. And because each slide advances automatically, they don’t have time to go on tangents or include extraneous details. The entire presentation is on message. And because they aren’t reading off slides, the students are more likely to look at and engage with their audience.

Although the Pecha Kucha and Ignite formats won’t work for every type of presentation, they provide a great exercise to help students generally improve their presentation skills. These formats allow students to see how a presentation can go beyond the basic bullet list and transform into an engaging talk.

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