How do we Teach Oral Presentations?

Greetings from Geneva!  I’m here attending the 17th Annual Humanitarian Conference, hosted by Webster University on the theme of Refugees and Armed Conflict.  The audience of the conference is about half students, and the presenters range from academics to practitioners, particularly from UNHCR and the ICRC.  Presentation skills also widely range, with many succinct and interesting talks, and others that commit a wide range of sins, from going 20 minutes over the time limit, putting way too much text on powerpoint, including too great a level of detail, or pitching the talk at a level that goes well over the heads of the students.

Afterwards I discussed this with some colleagues, and admitted that I really do not know how to teach students to give a good public presentation.  I’ve had students give presentations before, but how do we teach them to improve their skills?  Giving them chances to practice is not teaching, not by itself, and lecturing to them or showcasing good presentation skills does not satisfy either.  I am also not interested in teaching them to debate–some of the best debaters I know are actually not particularly strong at giving a succinct, informative, and interesting presentation.  Debating is a useful skill, but not my primary interest today.  The problem is compounded by having to fit such skill development into a regular class.  For my usual class size of 25 students, having students give, say, 10 minute presentations, would require 5 full class sessions of 50 minutes each–and that is only for the final presentation, not including practice sessions, lectures, activities, etc.

Today I have no solutions to offer, but instead a request for readers to share their own experiences and ideas on how to teach these valuable skills effectively.  What say you?

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