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Types of assignment

Speaking assignments for languages modules

OU foreign language modules have speaking assignments as well as written ones. The tasks are very much like those for written assignments, but take the form of a spoken presentation, either recorded or live, to be delivered within a certain time limit. Some general tips would be

  • Find a happy balance between accuracy and fluency. Accuracy is the use of correct grammatical forms and vocabulary. Fluency is communicating spontaneously and with ease.
  • Check your fluency and accent and whether your words and phrases need to be adjusted.
  • Avoid using foreign proper names for places or people unless the listener will know who or what you are talking about. A mispronunciation could lead to a whole sentence becoming nonsensical. Instead stick to descriptive phrases, like 'a small town by the sea'.
  • Try recording and listening to yourself. It will help you memorise the important vocabulary and get an idea of the timing.

When you're writing your script put up or down arrows above some parts of a sentence to indicate where your voice should rise and fall - the intonation pattern. Underline or highlight parts of words or phrases where the stress or emphasis falls, for example:

  • in English - emphasis, pattern
  • in French - 'touristes', 'table

Prepare brief notes about what you want to say, glancing at them from time to time to refresh your memory. Try using mind maps or flow charts to guide you through the delivery of your presentation. Draw forward and backward arrows to indicate positive and negative statements, opinions or contrasts.

Recorded presentations

Make sure you practice recording your voice before the assignment to help you gain confidence. Your tutor will generally give you guidance and support by recording comments at the end of your work.

  • Try using an external microphone rather than the internal one on your recording device as it often gives a clearer sound.
  • Make sure that you have the time and a quiet place to record, with no-one listening.
  • Practise recording with different volumes to find out which works best and how far from the microphone you need to be.
  • Remember to state your name, course, your Personal Identification number and the time length of the presentation.
  • Always check afterwards that the whole of your presentation has been recorded properly.

When giving a presentation

  • Deliver what you have to say within the time limit - it is usually between one and six minutes, depending on the module.
  • Speak clearly, remembering that intonation and stress are important.
  • Speak in a natural way. Spoken language is structured quite differently from written work and, if you are reading from a written script, you should write in a way that suits your natural speech patterns.
  • Spoken presentations can be more formal than everyday speech, so consider your audience and the subject.
  • Have some useful phrases ready, such as 'first of all', 'secondly', 'by contrast', 'to conclude'.

Listen to an experienced presenter and mentor of postgraduate students, Trevor, give his advice about what you should consider before, during and after giving a presentation.

Trevor's advice on giving a presentation

Click here to listen 551

Trevor: I've got some experience of working with students here and one of the things that comes up is fear. People are always very anxious about giving presentations. Fear's a perfectly natural thing. The nervousness that we experience is kind of important. It stops us from making an idiot of ourselves. Those fears when it comes to presentations are really key and it's the one thing you never want to lose. You always want to try and remember to be nervous because the day that you forget your nerves, you'll make an idiot of yourself.

So, in terms of fears, I guess, the things that people are anxious of is making a fool of themselves - which is important - and you want to try and use that energy to make you do some preparation. There is fear that your content isn't good enough, so what you're going to talk about, and there's lots of stuff in terms of preparation you can do to avoid that. And there's also fear of the audience, that people are going ridicule you, or not enjoy your presentation, or think less of you. But actually, in most cases, that also can be avoided with some preparations. There's things around that kind of fear. So the fears that you have are important.

The best way to build on that is to start off your preparation by thinking about the purpose of the presentation, so why you're giving it, what's important for you. And so, for example, if you're doing a presentation in order to get some grant funding, you want to impress the funders, you want to show your experience and your expertise. If you want to do it as part of a job interview, again you want to show your expertise but you also want to show other skills like open mindedness and thoughtfulness.

The success criteria for a presentation comes right down to the purpose of them. So you've got to start by thinking of the purpose for you on that presentation. And the other thing to mention is the audience, trying to know who the audience are and where they're from, what they're interested in, why are they attending the presentation that you're currently giving. So why is it important? By thinking of those things, thinking about the purpose and the audience, you can start to make preparations that'll avoid a lot of the fears that people have, and they can sort of counteract those fears, so that when the day comes, you're able to perform the presentation really well.

Everyone's frightened, everybody's nervous, but those nerves are really important. The day that you lose your nerves, you'll be a wreck. It'll just be a disaster.

So if you've thought about the purpose and the audience that you're presenting to, the next thing then is the preparation itself. And that is the whole key to doing a good presentation is just to be well prepared. It's not that some people have got an innate ability to give good presentations, or a personality that suits presentations, it's just not the case. Everybody can do a good presentation. It comes down to just being prepared for it and that's all it is.

In preparation you can break it down into different stages. There's the planning of it, what you're going to say and why it is important to say, so that you can sort of think about a take-home message. There's the practising it, so that's really rehearsal. So going over a presentation and doing it, ideally with an audience. You know, if you can get your friends to listen to you and just talk a presentation through, it gives you a really clear idea about how long it will take to present the material that you've prepared. And that's the biggest thing for solving a lot of fear, fear of running over time, or not having enough to say. If you've already rehearsed it, if you've talked through it, you'll know exactly how long it will take, so it avoids a lot of anxiety.

And so as well as practising, the third thing then is the on the day, the performance, and if you approach it as a performance, think about it, it's a bit like having stage direction, you know. You've got equipment and things in the room and you need to use those things as best you can, so if you're going to need water, make sure you take a bottle of water with you. If you're going be using any computer equipment, make sure the computer equipment's set up and the position's correct and the lights are okay. And if you're going to use a microphone make sure all that equipment's functional and working, ideally before you start the presentation. So all of those things are really important to do the performance on the day. So if you've planned well, if you've practised it and if you give a good performance, those are things that'll get you a good presentation.

For any given presentation, you really want to say a very explicit message, a very clear take-home message that people can remember. So that's all about the planning and the defining what the material should be. Once you've got that and you've got a set of presentation slides or other materials, then you can practise it, and that's just rehearsal. Going through the material a number of times, so that you know exactly what you're going to say, when you're going to say it, and how long it takes you to say that.

So the timing of it is really key, especially for academic presentations or even work-based presentations. The amount of time is fairly fixed, so you really do want to make your presentation fill the time available, but not go over time and you get that information through practising, through rehearsal. And if there are things that you could do differently, that you could do better, you want try and make sure that you remember those, so that next time you give a better performance.

Sometimes people ask about, you know, those people that seem really natural, they just get up and give a clear presentation and are really good. Actually, through talking to people that seem to give very coherent presentations, it's often the case that those people are very well rehearsed, it's rarely the case that people just naturally get up and do it. And, in fact, sometimes when people do just think on their feet, they actually start to blur the message, so rather than staying to the clear take home message of the planned presentation, they can dilute it with extra discussion. So as long as you've done the planning and preparation, there's no reason why it can't go well, and it should go well because you know exactly what you're doing.

The last thing then to think about would be your post mortem. So just go back over the thing and think about what went well, what could have gone better and think about if there's things that, if you're doing another presentation in the future, what you'd do differently. Now to make those decisions you really need to get an objective opinion about how it went. The best way to do that is to get people from the audience to give you feedback. So actively go out and ask your friends to listen to your presentations, and tell you what went well. If you can get people to write down the questions and tell you afterwards the kind of answers that you gave, you can start to reflect on how well it actually went, with an objective point of view. And that way you can alter, hopefully, how you'll do the presentations in the future. So it'll get to a stage where you're not only able to prepare and present the information, but you're also able to improve on your performance each time.

In terms of techniques for doing good presentations, some people use scripts, some people use cards. There's lots of different methods and one of the things about preparing and planning a presentation is to find out what works for you. So, typically, if you've got a script it needs to be written as a script, rather than a written document. So the purpose of the script is for it to come to life and, to make a script work well, you need to get eye contact. You need to shape it as a spoken form, rather than a written form. So scripts can be good, but they need to be written well and they need to be well prepared and well rehearsed.

A lot of people use notes because they're much more flexible in that regard. You can have your main points and you can talk around those points. So that's another technique and it's not that one's better than the other, it's just one's more useful in certain contexts or for some people they find one more natural than the other. So, for example, if you're giving a very short presentation, especially if it's for broadcast medium and you've only got a minute or two, that's a context where it's really useful to have a script, because it's a very fixed amount of time and you can't afford to run over. So you need a written script that'll hold you to it. Whereas if it's a more fluid discussion environment, sometimes bullet points are better, just a card of notes that you can discuss with people and engage with the audience better. But in each case, it's a case of trying to think through and rehearse it, that it is an engaging experience. It's a dialog with the audience, not a monotone from a written page.

A lot of people are now using PowerPoint or other presentation software and they're using it as a crutch, as a support rather than taking control of the presentation themselves. So sometimes you get an example where people will read off a presentation slide and literally repeat what's on a slide - sometimes referred to as 'death by PowerPoint'. So you're using the PowerPoint instead of giving a clear presentation. Which is again easy to avoid by a little bit of preparation and planning. You don't need to repeat the message. You can use your visual aid, but use it as an aid in a visual way. If you can use graphics or other forms of explanation that support your oral presentation, that's really often a lot more effective.

When we think about presentations, it's often important to think about the reason of why we give them, and why it's an important part of doing academic work or other work. And it's all down to communication. So how we can explain our ideas and, through explaining our ideas, we can influence other people. And that's part of the goal. So presentations are important in all kinds of different situations.

The other thing to say about presentations is the benefits that they give to you. It gives you a better clarity about your work, so you've got a very clear idea about what the presentation is about because you've written it, and the other benefit of doing them is the feedback that it gives you on your work. So, if you've done some research the whole goal is to try and find how that research can inform other people, and you do that through giving presentations.

Last updated 1 month ago