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 English!
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 a question.
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 yourself.
“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 do well.
“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 actual presentation.
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!
I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Bryan Lynn.
Words in This Story
task - n. a piece of work that has been given to someone; a job for someone to do
retired - adj. not working anymore; having ended your working or professional career
bullet - n. a large dot in a document, book, etc., that brings attention to separate pieces of information in a list
phrase - n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence
verbalize - v. to express something in words
evaluate - v. to judge the value or condition of someone or something in a careful and thoughtful way