Approaches to developing students’ oral presentation skills

This blog post was written by Chris Ireland, Academic Skills Tutor in the Business School at the University of Huddersfield. In this post he presents his experiences with supporting students to improve their oral presentation skills. Chris is currently undertaking doctoral research in which a main objective is to ascertain which aspects of the approach described are seen by the most apprehensive students as contributing towards their development as presenters.

Illustration of student presenting

One of the aims of the first year Accountancy and Finance module Accountants in Organisations that I work on with John English is the development of key competencies which are demanded by professionally focussed employers but are also useful for study at university. One of these areas is oral communication and within this being able to deliver oral presentations. Over the years that the module has been delivered the approach taken to helping the students develop in the delivery of oral presentations has evolved as we have researched how best we can help the students improve in this area. One complication in the development of oral presentation skills concerns the levels of apprehension that students can feel towards such activities. This is of particular concern for those studying accountancy who are often reported as experiencing higher levels of apprehension towards oral communication than students studying other disciplines (see Aly & Islam, 2003; Byrne et al, 2012).

The high levels of apprehension can have a demotivating effect, preventing students from engaging in activities designed to help them learn. There is some evidence (see Hassall, et al, 2013) that a focus on improving students’ self-efficacy will help towards overcoming the high levels of apprehension and at the same time will contribute to towards their personal development in this area. The presentation activities incorporated in the module are designed to take this into account.

When the module was initiated ten years ago the intention was to provide the students with progressively more challenging presentation tasks. In doing so the module incorporates three group presentations beginning with a short simple project in the autumn and ending with a longer high stakes presentation in spring. This approach is designed to help students become accustomed to presenting to an audience, feel a sense of achievement and have time to practice by encouraging them to make appointments with the Business School’s Learning Development Group. The fact that the projects are prepared and delivered as groups is important as it takes advantage of the social element of learning which is key in supporting the most apprehensive and in encouraging groups to practice their presentations.

The presentations are delivered in class with those groups who are not presenting forming part of the audience, providing feedback and conducting a peer assessment for which they gain some credit towards the module. The structure of the feedback and assessment form encourages the students to focus on the presentations thus providing more purpose than if these elements were not included.

In the days that follow the students receive the feedback from both the tutors and the peers. The volume of feedback is considerable, given that it has been provided by up to twenty peers and two tutors.  The students are then encouraged to use this feedback along with their own experiences of presenting when writing reflections that are required after each activity.

All members of the cohort are encouraged to engage in these aspects. However, those who are most apprehensive about presenting are invited for a one-to-one discussion. Those eligible are determined by their score on the well-established Oral Communication questionnaire: the PRCA-24 which was devised by Professor James McCroskey in the 1970s. Given the complex nature of the sources of apprehension, individual discussions allow us to explore specific strategies that each of these apprehensive students might adopt as they progress through the course.

If you are interested in reading more you can access a number of presentations and articles.

Ireland, Chris (2016) Student oral presentations: developing the skills and reducing the apprehension. In: Proceedings of 10th International Technology, Education and Development Conference Valencia, Spain. 7-9 March, 2016. IATED (2016). IATED, Valencia, Spain, pp. 1474-1483. ISBN 978-84-608-5617-7

Posted by Kathrine Jensen, Research Assistant, Teaching and Learning Institute. The Teaching and Learning Institute coordinates, evaluates and disseminates inspiring and innovative teaching and learning. Follow TALI on Twitter

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About talintuoh

Supporting and connecting colleagues to develop inspiring and innovative teaching and learning
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