July 17th, 2019

Less Stress, More Success: The End of Semester Student Presentation

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Student panics when starting presentation at podium

As faculty design their syllabi for the upcoming semester, they consider how to have students demonstrate the vast knowledge they acquire throughout the semester. Enter the end of the semester student presentation! While some students are comfortable with speaking, many are less enthusiastic. How can we make the end of semester student presentation less stressful for our students?

Here are five tips for making end of semester presentations successful:

1.Explain to students that, “This is important for your development as a professional.” It is true and is a critical aspect of creating an understanding of why the class will require an oral presentation. Without explaining why presentations are expected, students may not buy into the experience and their value. Every single career requires the ability to explain, inform, and persuade other people.

To assure buy in, provide specific examples to students as it relates to their future intended careers. For example, if a student aspires to be a nurse, share how their job will require providing oral discharge instructions to groups of people. They may need to demonstrate how to execute a certain medical procedure at a department meeting or present at a conference. In general, convey the message that being a clear communicator whose message is easily understood by varying audiences is important in different career fields.

2. Everyone needs to talk. On the first day of class, get students up and speaking. The key to doing this well is to either have them speak in pairs or groups in front of the classroom. There is “safety in numbers” for students, and it is less scary for students to be in front of the classroom with another person (or two or three) than to be up there alone. Plus, this is a small step towards being in front of the classroom alone, if the plan is to have individual rather than group presentations at the end of the semester. When the initial anxiety of speaking is broken in class early on in the semester, and is set as an expectation, there is a momentum that takes hold. Students are then more likely to continue to engage and develop comfort with their classmates.

3. Provide a structure. If a structure is not provided to students for the end of the semester presentation, it allows students to get off topic easily, which results in impeding the flow of the presentation and causes confusion among listeners. In general, presentations are structured with an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion. For the end of the semester presentation, it may be helpful to ask students to choose three aspects of “X” topic to present to the class, or three ways that “X” applies to “Y” concept. It’s important to keep the presentation at three clear, distinct points, as more than that is too much for an audience to mentally digest.

4. Be clear about delivery expectations. Although much of the end of semester presentation grade is likely to be weighted heavily on discipline-specific content, be clear on the delivery expectations and how much of the grade is associated with it. It should constitute enough of a percentage to motivate students to practice.

It has been my experience that maintaining consistent eye contact with the audience is the most difficult aspect of delivery for students. A presentation requires connection with the audience, which is partially achieved through eye contact. Practice is the easiest way to overcome the eye contact issue. One solution is to require students to practice in front of the instructor before the actual presentation date during office hours or class time. This gives the instructor a chance to provide feedback, have students incorporate and make any changes, and also motivates students to plan, organize, and practice what they plan to say.

5. Finally, provide opportunities. One of the most effective techniques in overcoming speaking anxiety is consistent and frequent exposure to speaking. Consider integrating several no or low stakes assignments throughout the semester that lead up to the final presentation. Here are some ideas for no or low stakes-speaking assignments:

  • Ask one student to prepare to summarize the readings due for a specific day
  • Have students draw how a process occurs, and then explain the process and their visual to the class
  • Assign each student a day to prepare information about a current event to share with the class and connect to course concepts
  • When doing group work during class time, have each student report on a certain aspect of whatever they are working on to the class

As faculty members, we strive to prepare our students for their future careers, including teaching how to communicate clearly and effectively. Sometimes this requires pushing students out of their comfort zone with assignments such as an end of the semester presentation. The semester goes by fast for students and faculty alike. Having students engage in opportunities for communicating with and in front of their classmates will result in less anxiety as the end of the semester presentation approaches.

Dr. Kerri Russo Mercer is a faculty member at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has fifteen years of experience in the field of higher education in faculty, administrative and student affairs roles.