|Three Methods to Improve Your
Giving a presentation can be a scary task. It can be even more worrisome
when the presentation is not in your native language. You may forget the
English words for what you want to say. Or, like a lot of people, you
may get nervous.
But, the good news is there are many tools you can use. Learning these
tools can help you become a confident and effective presenter – even in
Anna Uhl Chamot, a retired professor at George Washington University,
developed a way of teaching language learners. Called CALLA, the method
explains how to use learning strategies to understand academic language
and content. Learning strategies are thoughts and actions that help
people learn better, or perform tasks effectively.
CALLA stands for Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach. Think of
these strategies as tools that will make presentations easier and more
enjoyable – for the presenter and the audience.
Many of the CALLA strategies are useful for giving a presentation in
your second language. But Chamot says three are especially useful:
Planning, Monitoring and Self-Evaluation.
Let’s start with planning.
Learning Strategy #1: Planning
Planning involves everything you do to prepare and practice before
giving your presentation.
This includes deciding what your main ideas are and making notes of the
points you want to make. Chamot emphasizes that having a good
understanding of your subject is very important. This understanding
makes it possible to talk about your topic fluidly and confidently
during your presentation.
After deciding on main ideas and notes, some people even like to write
out every word they’re going to say.
“I know a lot of learners, and I mean not just learners of English but
people in general, even native speakers, feel that they want to write
out everything they’re going to say. This gives them some comfort.”
If you do this, Chamot says, once you are satisfied with the wording,
then it’s time to reduce those words to very, very short notes.
During the planning period, you will also prepare your visuals, such as
on PowerPoint, Prezi or some other program.
Chamot recommends that each visual only have a few bullets of your
points and very few words on it. Or, even better is if you have only
images or easy-to-see graphics and no words.
For example, if you are giving a presentation about things to do during
summer in Washington, D.C., your visual might be an image of something
exciting that takes place in that season.
That next step of planning is practice. Chamot says practicing is the
most important step because it will help remind you of the points that
the short phrases on your visuals represent.
Practice saying what you want to say about each visual. The more you
verbalize everything you want to say, the easier it will be to talk
comfortably about the points.
Practicing will also help you avoid doing two things: reading from your
notes or memorizing any part of your presentation.
When you practice, do so in front of another person, or a few people.
Even your electronics can help you, Chamot says.
“Use a friend or a family member as your audience or/and practice in
front of a mirror, looking at yourself, and turn on your smart phone and
record yourself. Then you can listen to what you really sound like.”
And, as you practice, visualize being in front of the real audience.
“Imagine in your head the audience, see all those faces and expressions
and imagine that they’re there right in front of you.”
Chamot also recommends a tactic that can quickly get any audience
interested and helps to decrease the nervous feeling: ask your audience
For example, if your topic is summer activities in Washington, D.C., you
might ask a question like, “How many of you have ever gone to an outdoor
concert in Washington, D.C.?”
Asking a question also makes a presentation more like a two-way
conversation and less like a lecture.
When you spend time preparing and practicing, you gain confidence and
comfort and will feel less worry on presentation day.
Learning Strategy #2: Monitoring
The next strategy is monitoring. Monitoring is watching, listening to,
or checking something for a special purpose over a period of time.
You should monitor yourself at two different points: during your
practice sessions and during the actual presentation.
To monitor during practice, Chamot says make a list of questions to ask
“Some examples are: ‘Did I state my topic and objectives at the
beginning?’ ‘Did I provide some examples and details for each main
idea?’ ‘Did I restate the topic and conclusions at the end?’”
A big part of developing comfort in front of a group, she says, comes
from the effort you put into practicing. If you practice enough, you
will not need to monitor much during the actual presentation.
During the Presentation:
When you’re in front of the real audience, monitoring can help you
quickly observe issues and find solutions.
“One of the most important things to monitor is: ‘Am I nervous?’ ‘What
can I do about it?’ One of the things about monitoring is that, when
you’re monitoring your performance, you notice problems and it allows
you an opportunity to try to solve those problems.”
Chamot says, if you realize you’re feeling nervous, a good learning
strategy to use is Self-Talk: mentally telling yourself you are going to
“Like, ‘I really worked hard on this. I know my PowerPoint looks good.
I’m going to take a deep breath. And I have practiced so much. I know I
can do this.’”
And, if you forget English words during your presentation, you can use
the strategy called Substitution: choosing different words to say what
you want to say.
Other questions to keep in mind while you’re giving your presentation
are: “Am I speaking too fast or too slow?” “Am I looking at my
audience?” “Am I smiling from time to time?”
Learning Strategy #3: Self-Evaluation
That brings us to Self-Evaluation, our third learning strategy.
In Self-Evaluation, you examine how well you did. The main difference
between monitoring and self-evaluation is when it happens.
Self-evaluation takes place after each practice session and after your
Chamot suggests making a list of questions for these two evaluation
periods. For after your practice sessions, include questions such as:
“Did I look at the audience enough?” “How much more do I need to
practice?” and “How well did I do?”
And, for after the actual presentation, ask yourself, “What did I do
well?” and “What do I need to improve?”
The CALLA method says understanding what strategies work well for you is
important. That is especially true when you evaluate a time you did
something well. Those strategies that helped you do well are the ones
you want to use again.
Giving a presentation in your second language can indeed be frightening.
But, if you have a strong understanding of your subject and use these
helpful tools, it will become easier and easier to speak in public!