by Alysia Bartley

Reaching Success for the ESL Presenter – What to Do…and What Not to Do…

Television presenter in a green screen studio with television camera out of focus in the foreground.

Many of you have probably been asked to make a presentation on something. It might have been for school or work. It might have been for some activity you are involved in. Maybe you put it off because you didn’t know how to proceed or you chose just to read notes from a report you wrote. Well, this article shares with you some simple steps of how to deliver a presentation by first showing you some things that should be avoided. In other words, what you should not do. The second part of the video shows you what you can do. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to prepare and to think and speak quickly when needed. It will help you replace any worries or fear with confidence and success when giving a presentation to any audience.

I stumbled upon this video and thought is summarized some helpful tips on how someone should prepare for and deliver a presentation that will have more of a chance of being successful. I thought you might like to see it, too. But before you watch the video, I have a few questions to ask:

  • Can you think of some of the presentations you have seen?
  • Can you remember what made one of the presentations “good”? Was it the topic or how the person presented?  What exactly made that presentation stand out?
  • Can you remember one that was “not so good”? What made it that way?

Hopefully some of these strategies will help you with when you are asked to give a presentation or when you volunteer to deliver a presentation. First, take a look at this YouTube video on Presentations – What to Do…and What Not to Do…

These are the MAIN points of the video:

Don’t carry a lot of items.

Don’t wear informal clothes.

Don’t read from the screen.

Don’t stand with your back to the audience.

Don’t present paragraphs. Keep your slides short and clear.

Don’t be interrupted by your phone. Keep it silenced.

Don’t speak in a monotone voice.

Don’t fold your arms. Be aware of body language.

Don’t read directly from your notes. Use eye contact.

Do dress formal and be professional.

Do give out handouts.

Do use clear text and diagrams for slides.

Do have good energy and smile often.

Do use good body language.

So let’s discuss these MAIN points:

Don’t carry a lot of items.

Be organized with your materials. Store them in something easy to carry and display. Watch for cords that can be easily tripped on and for excessive items that are more clutter than helpful. Bring only the necessary items. Set up early. Make sure the lights, electricity, and any technology that is needed is accessible and in working order. Arrange the room how you want with special focus on where the speaker should present and where the audience should sit.

Don’t wear informal clothes.

I know that it sounds “old fashion” but you should dress for success. Special emphasis should be placed on what you wear and that includes your shoes. Wear clothes that are clean, pressed and in style. This is not the time to wear ripped jeans or worn-out tennis shoes or a baseball cap. Make sure your hair is well-groomed. Don’t chew gum.

Don’t read from the screen.

You might have been in an audience some time in your life where the speaker read every slide out loud word for word. How did that presentation go over with the audience? I think you will agree that reading everything for the audience is not the best way to go. Instead, you can summarize the slides or point out important parts. Do not read word for word. That is not why people came to the presentation. That is not an appealing style to your audience, no matter what the topic is about. Select your words carefully to use on the slides. Brush up on your ESL skills to impact positively on your word choice.

Don’t stand with your back to the audience

Although tempting to do, this is distracting. You need to look at your audience and develop a rapport with them through your facial expressions and eye contact. Look at your audience. Sense how they are reacting to what you have to say. If you have allowed them to ask questions along the way, then pause your presentation to answer. Perhaps they need something repeated. Offer that. It is important to gear your presentation style to what the audience needs. If they look confused, you might need to supply another example or repeat something. You might want to solicit feedback from the audience. If your back is turned to the audience you don’t get any of these valuable insights to your presentation. You don’t get the opportunity to adjust it to their level.

Don’t present paragraphs.  Keep slides short and clear

Again, how interesting is it to read long paragraphs? Try to make the slides to the point and written in a way that your audience will understand. Give statistics. Show graphs. Use color. Use images. Add quotes. Use real-life situations. Try to offer something that everyone in the audience will benefit from. Make the presentation rich, engaging, relevant, and meaningful. Be careful about casual language. The language at times can be informal, but it should be language that is both appropriate and understood by all audience members.

Don’t be interrupted by your phone. Keep it silenced.

This tip really goes beyond the phone. Can you predict other distractors in your presentation? Must the audience be told to silence their phones or not to use their phones to take pictures? Are there (for whatever reason) young children who might more easily interrupt the presentation with talking or crying? Do you need to monitor your presentation and have a planned break so people can attend better? Do you need to inform your audience where they can get a drink of water or use a rest room?

Don’t speak in a monotone voice.

Many people agree that a monotone voice just does not enhance any verbal presentation. Practice your presentation so your voice has an acceptable volume and speed. Vary the pitch for interest. Learn to pause and give examples. Add some humor. Show some examples. Invite participation. Try to add excitement in some creative ways. Maybe you give out a prize of some sort? Maybe you ask some people from the audience to come up and demonstrate.  Maybe you can add more visuals or some music? Use descriptive language.  Add in some adjectives and adverbs. Try to think of ways to make your presentation unique.

Don’t fold your arms. Be aware of body language.

You can move about and use your gestures to show genuine interest in your topic. Sense how the audience is receiving your presentation and adapt your presentation if needed. Are some people yawning or talking? Do they (for the most part) look attentive?  Are you moving too quickly and people are scurrying to take notes? Adjust your rate and order of presentation accordingly. Show that you are interested in capturing and maintaining audience interest.

Don’t read directly from your notes. Use eye contact.

Anyone can read from their notes. Practice enough so you can look up for parts of your presentation. You can put a mark on your paper or notecards in places to remind you to look up.  This will help you attend better to your speech and offer a “crutch” to find your spot when you need to look down again. Try to look at your audience and scan the room of faces repeatedly throughout your presentation.

Do dress formal and be professional.

Select your attire for the occasion. Don’t under-dress. Your first impressions are important. And even though people have come to hear your presentation, they will get their first impressions by what you are wearing and how you engage with the audience even before you open your mouth to say the first word.

Do give out handouts.

It is difficult to retain all of the verbal information presented in any type of speech/presentation. It is also difficult to have the audience copy so much down. Although this is often done, many people either miss valuable information to copy or miss what the next part of the presentation is about because they are busy writing down something that was already said. If you can help prevent this, it might be useful for you to prepare a handout(s) of your presentation.

  • Maybe an outline or overview would work out best.
  • Maybe some important points with statistics would be helpful.
  • Include what you feel is most valuable to your audience.
  • You might also want to consider a way they can find out more information on the topic. Maybe you have reference materials in a bibliography to share.
  • Maybe you have a web address or additional contact information for individuals to get ahold of you. Feel free to include that, too.

Also, there is nothing worse to an audience member to not get the necessary handout(s). Be prepared for the numbers of people who might be in attendance and/or have a backup plan to get available handouts. Maybe there is somewhere at the facility where you are giving the presentation who can run off more handouts. Maybe those individuals can add their names to a list that you have started and you will send them a copy. Maybe a copy is available online. It is important that you address this issue so everyone in the audience feels included and valued. You might want to also develop a form to solicit feedback of your presentation. This will help you to better plan any future presentations. Look upon any audience feedback as an avenue to sharpen your English presentation skills and not just on something negative. Constructive criticism has its place in helping you become better.

Do use clear text and diagrams for slides.

Spend the extra time and maybe money or resources on making quality text and slides. Have them visible to the audience no matter where people are sitting. Choose the content, the font and size of the lettering, and the colors and size of any images carefully. Don’t clutter your text and diagrams. Make them understandable. Make them worthwhile. Don’t spell-out the obvious. Ensure that your audience gets inspired, learns something or is persuaded in some way. Use the text and diagrams to your advantage and to match the purpose of your presentation.

Do have good energy and smile often.

When you are around someone who is energetic, it makes you feel good. When you see people genuinely smiling, you feel their happiness and warmth. This is important to convey. If you are not excited about your topic and what you have to share with the audience, they probably will not be too excited about what you have to say. Be positive. Pass on positive things in a positive interesting way. Try an interesting story or add some figurative language and add some more to turn up that energy!

Do [keep] use good body language.

Again, body language is an extension of you. Be embracing and inclusionary, your audience will be more apt to do the same. Then your presentation will be better received and everyone will benefit.

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What now?

Maybe you have other suggestions to add about what to do to make a good presentation and what not to do. Please write to me using the comments section below and share these. You can tell me about the best presentation you ever heard and why it was so great. Or you can share something that was not so great and let me know why, too.

If you need additional ideas of how to make a presentation or if you have any further questions, feel free to check out any books or articles online that might be of help. Or you might consider taking a class or workshop that specializes in making presentations. You could even take an ESL class online and have 1-1 feedback on making a presentation, in general. Or you could have help with making that specific presentation for whatever purpose. Maybe you have to present something for one of your college classes or for work. We at TalktoCanada would be glad to help. We have classes and instructors to meet your individual ESL needs. Just let us know.

And remember, the more opportunities to deliver any form of presentation, the more confidence you will get. And the more confidence you get, the better your presentations will be.  And the better your presentations will be, the more English you will acquire and the more fluent your ESL skills will also become. You will have developed a style that works and engages. You will know just What to Do and What Not to Do. And you will be that “Successful Presenter”. 

About the author:

Alysia is a co-founder of TalktoCanada. Since founding the online English teaching company in 2006, she has gone on to teach over 10,000 hours of online classes and managed large and small English training projects around the world. During her free time you can find her listening to the latest business book, travelling and going to the gym.