Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Taking the Dread Out of Oral Presentations

For a significant portion of students, the very idea of speaking in front of a group is nerve racking. Yet oral communication is an integral learning objective in the business communication classroom. Instructors can help students manage their fear and/or dislike of public speaking using a few easy-to-integrate strategies.

Do not assume students know how to present

One of the reasons some students are terrified of oral presentations is that they may not have received adequate instruction in the basics. Therefore, it makes sense to go over aspects that help improve performance, such as making eye contact, not reading from a script, enunciating clearly, using hand gestures, speaking at the right pace, and the like. Of course, the importance of practicing in front of a mirror (or videotaping) should be emphasized.

Prepare students adequately 

Use a variety of methods to prepare students for their presentations:

  • Assign readings that discuss the topic.
  • Sell the importance of oral presenting skills by discussing the part they will play in professional life, explaining the different types of presentations employees may be asked to perform (i.e., speaking at staff meetings or organizations, giving sales pitches, and presenting an oral version of a written report.)
  • Show videos of former students’ presentations (with permission) and ask students what was done well or what needed improving.
  • Make sure the assignment is written clearly and go over it in class, allowing time for questions.
  • Post the assignment in writing on your LMS.
  • Discuss best practices for creating visuals.
  • Emphasize the importance of rehearsal.
  • Grade using a rubric that spells out the assignments’ objectives.

Include low-stakes assignments

One way to help eliminate stress over oral presenting is to begin with ungraded assignments. For example, early in the semester, ask students to prepare a 90-second speech introducing themselves. Have them focus on just a few of the basic oral presenting skills such as not reading, eye contact with the audience, and good posture. At this point, refrain from making suggestions.

As the term progresses, assign another low-stakes oral presentation and ask students to work on other skills, such as varying their tone, using pauses effectively, and enunciating clearly. Do offer feedback at this point, focusing on one or two suggestions (remember to make eye contact, try to avoid ums and ahs) and give points for completing the task.

Time permitting, continue assigning short mini-talks and offering tips for improvement. As students grow more confident in their abilities, ask them to give one another feedback about performances. Give grades, but make the assignments worth only a small percentage of the overall course grade. (If the entire class grade is based on 1,000 points, make these talks worth 25 points, for example.) It may be useful to link each of these low-stakes talks to a long-term project you’ve assigned, such as a report.

Some students may never enjoy giving oral presentations, but they will certainly improve if instructors provide the chance for them to practice in a supportive environment.

Sources:

Dunham, E. (2022, August 17.) Communication: The Importance of Low-stakes Presentations. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com

Sheets, B. and Tillson, L. (2007, January. ) Strategies to improve students’ presentation skills. B>Quest. http://www.westga.e

The Socratic Method Delivers, Even in the BizCom Classroom

 

Using the Socratic method—a cooperative dialog in which the instructor asks questions to draw out students’ ideas and thereby fosters critical thinking—is common in the humanities and legal studies. But can it play a part in the business communication classroom?

Absolutely. Because unless students think critically about the material instructors present, they won’t retain it. The model of “the sage on the stage” just doesn’t cut it with today’s learners. However, when students are included in discussions with the purpose of helping them arrive at answers on their own, they are more likely to internalize the lesson and ultimately deliver improved work. Such questioning, which is the hallmark of the Socratic method, also encourages students to do assigned readings and interact with the text because they know they’ll be held accountable during class discussions.

Taking this on is easier said than done. Many students are reticent to respond to queries, afraid to appear foolish or unprepared. However, applying ground rules before using this age-old pedagogic tool can encourage self-directed learning. Follow these pointers when topics lend themselves to the Socratic method.

  1. Prepare students. Explain what the Socratic method is, why and when it will be used, and how it benefits learning.
  2. Allow reference materials. Encourage students to check their textbooks or notes while questioning them.
  3. Ban hand raising. Calling on students is a critical component of the Socratic method. Do, however, keep track of who has responded on so no student feels singled out.
  4. Walk the room. As questions are posed, circulate throughout the classroom. This helps keep students on task while simultaneously engaging them.
  5. Permit silence. Students may take some time to respond, so don’t immediately go to another if the first is scrambling. Move on only when the student hasn’t found the answer after 20 seconds.
  6. Correct factual inaccuracies. It is not so that “there are no wrong answers.” Students must be told when they have made an untrue statement.

Once these ground rules are established, instructors can examine their curriculum to find the best times to use the Socratic method. For example, the business communication classroom is the perfect platform to discuss ethical matters facing businesses. (Look in the BizComBuzz News You Can Use tab for situations and case studies to discuss business ethics with students.) After the discussion, ask your students to critically analyze the case in a memo or short report.

Another way to integrate the Socratic method into the business communication classroom is to use it when introducing a new unit or writing strategy (i.e., persuasive writing, delivering routine or bad news, etc.) When students arrive at the reasons behind these writing strategies, they will better grasp the new genre. Afterwards ask them to work on an exercise that tests their knowledge about the topic they’ve just discussed.

The beauty of this method is that it can be successfully implemented in person or online. One thing is certain—Socrates was definitely onto something.

Engaging Introverted Students

 

As much as instructors aim to include all students, some are difficult to draw out. Many of these students are introverts, a personality trait shared by a large percentage of the population who prefer a quiet, minimally stimulating environment. Introverts feel drained by busy or fast-paced situations and often require down time after such experiences.

Introverts have certain characteristics that may include the following:

  • being active listeners
  • disliking group work/small talk
  • possessing the ability to hyperfocus
  • preferring reflection/deep thought

Introversion is not the same as shyness. People who are shy feel uncomfortable or awkward in social situations, whereas introverts may avoid or actually enjoy social settings but need quiet time after these types of activities, which they find exhausting.

It’s easy to overlook introverts, especially when their extroverted classmates are the first to raise their hands. Nevertheless, introverts can add a great deal to the business communication classroom. Below are some ways to include introverted students.

Create awareness. Extroversion is considered the default in today’s culture, so it’s helpful to discuss introversion and its characteristics in the classroom. (Instructors may want to suggest that students define which trait they possess by taking a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs.) Once students have self-identified, instructors can bring up the “different but not less than” conversation or drive students to the many TED Talks on the topic.

Rethink participation. Because introverts often need more time than extroverts to think through questions, extroverts often receive better participation marks. To work around this situation, the flipped classroom model works well. By asking students to, say, watch a video before a class session, introverts can be better prepared to participate when the video is discussed later in class.

Create smaller groups. Introverts typically dislike group work—it can make them feel inhibited to share their ideas because they don’t have enough time to think them through. By using groups of no more than three, instructors can ensure that introverts’ ideas won’t be drowned out as they often are in larger group

Encourage brainwriting instead of brainstorming. A simple fix to the traditional brainstorming format, which encourages shouting out ideas, is to ask students to write down all their thoughts and then share them with teammates.

Have teams of two share ideas before larger group discussions. Introverts are often lost amid class-wide discussions. However, if they talk through their ideas with one person, they are more likely to add those insights to a larger discussion.

Despite their best intentions, instructors can fall into the trap of considering introverted students uninterested or disengaged. By using awareness and a few simple tweaks to teaching methods, instructors can encourage these valuable students to join the learning arena.