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Fifty Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills in English… Without Too Much Effort!

Fifty ways to improve your Presentation Skills in English…without too much effort!

Bob Dignen

Summertown Publishing, 2007

I’m not a businesswo…businessperson I heard myself protest. I’m an English teacher. I don’t need  “Fifty Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills in English”!

In my usual hurried way I had thought I was going to review a book with 50 fun ways to do a good language presentation, PPP, or perhaps even along the lines of Ur, Rinvolucri, Puchta or Medgyes.  But instead to my great disappointment, here I was with a book for people who do business presentations. I had all too hastily read the title when choosing a book to review and had been attracted by the humorous “afterthought” the author had added,  “… without too much effort”.

Well, I do have to occasionally present at English-teaching conferences and I have not really been happy with my performance. Never having read a book on business presentation skills, I had no idea what to expect, except perhaps for something rather cold and board-room-like. So, determined to fight off the inevitable yawns it was with some trepidation that I first opened Bob Dignen’s book.

Well, the type-print was already a pleasant surprise, with key words in a calming blue, I could discard my old yellow highlighter pen as I sat down to read. I was actually between classes at a secondary school where twice a month I am supposed to help the students practise their English. The words ‘flexibility’ and ‘usefulness’ in Bob’s foreword encouraged me to read on.

As I was reading the first section “It’s all about planning” I realized that Bob was talking to me. He was not only talking to me but also asking me to look at my performance and understand what it was that I was, or wasn’t, doing. Moreover since the book was not turning out to be your everyday, straightforward book of theory but one that was interactive, and very user-friendly at that, I felt I had to try out what he was suggesting. This was my chance.

I had, in the first hour, used a guided visualization with that class of teenagers for the first time. The warning bells hadn’t sounded beforehand and something had not quite worked. The teenagers had giggled their way through it. I was going to have to repeat the lesson after the break and was feeling very stressed. Looking at page 3, I began by asking myself how I could have improved my last presentation with TIPS (Target, Information, Process and Style). Right, so I hadn’t been successful. Could I have prepared a handout? Would it have helped to consider my target better and to give them the necessary information? After all, I was trying to “sell” them a new “product”. I did want them to, let’s say, “buy” my guided visualization as a way to use their English. But what had gone wrong? Why had they giggled and forced the teacher to shout at them in the middle of the visualization, that they must be quiet and that this was not a game? Well, reading Bob‘s book it became clear to me that I hadn’t considered my Target. My target was not only the students but their English teacher as well. I had given no Information to either and as for my Process and Style…well.

The wonderful thing about “Fifty Ways…” is that instead of feeling guilty and defensive when you understand your shortcomings, this book actually makes you think you can do it. So without much ado, I set about re-planning the lesson that had gone wrong. I went into the next hour armed with TIPS. I spoke to them the way suggested on page 5 and “sold” my product. What a change! The class was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. At the end everybody was ready to join in the speaking activity and it was very productive. I now know that the next step is to use TIPS with the teacher I work with at the school as well.

My next thought was to see if anything caught my eye in the Contents and there it was in the non-verbal communication section, or “It’s not only words” – “Goodbye to stress”, number 29. ‘Goodbye’ is exactly what I would like to say to stress, so I turned straight to page 82. And yes, it hit the mark. I was expecting too much of myself, why did I expect my presentations- or my lessons for that matter – to be 110%? I was setting myself unrealistic expectations. I read the two pages avidly and by the time I had got to the Hot Tips I really was feeling positive about myself and others and I definitely spread that positivity around me that day at work.

Bob, first names do somehow seem to be in order here, has managed to make a potentially heavy and cold subject something that is extremely user-friendly. You can dip into the different sections of the book to help yourself with a particular problem area and find an answer to your question there. Humour. At last. How long has it been since I have seen humour as an integral part of an English language teaching book? And what a good idea to make it such an important part of a business book for learners of English, with its cartoons sprinkled at regular intervals throughout the book. Bob’s writing style is also humourous so that while you are in the throes of wrestling with your self-assessment, Bob’s non-judgemental acceptance of our weaknesses makes it that much easier to be honest. I can only imagine the relief a business person whose first language is not English will indubitably feel when they leaf through the pages. They will find real help for giving presentations in English. They will find that there really is practical advice, in black and white and blue, from someone who is not a superior-sounding Englishman telling them to be a photocopy of him.

All I can add is that this Friday, in the next training workshop I lead here at International House in Pisa, I will be entrusting the performance assessment “presentation feedback” sheet, from pages x and xi, to one of my colleagues. And as I present the teaching or language issue required, I shall try to be excited, as Bob suggests, and remember his TIPS.

This is one book that will not be gathering dust in my bookcase. I still have another 40-odd tips to read and, yes, thank you Bob, I’ll be even better next time, after this.

Reviewed by Lynne Kahatapitiya, IH Pisa

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