Supporting student presentation skills

Natalie Spence was recently awarded a highly commended certificate by student vote for her poster on presentation skills at Macquarie University’s 2015 Learning and Teaching Week.

Presentation skills Poster winner
Natalie Spence receiving Highly Commended Certificate


I asked Natalie to tell me about the project behind her poster.

The Presentation Skills Project

Natalie explained that the Project, titled “Presentations: supporting a key skill”, received quite a generous amount of money through an ISP grant to produce resources to assist both staff and students with presentations that are used for assessment tasks.  The Project aims to develop resources to help students to understand what is a good presentation and the different types of presentations they may be asked to do. It will also examine assessment tasks that use presentations and how these are designed. She said they are also looking at how rubrics and marking sheets can help teachers – convenors and tutors – to get good feedback to students about their presentations.

What was your motivation for this project?

From what Natalie has observed, presentations are often tacked on to the end of group projects. They are not necessarily looked at by the group in any detail. It is the last thing they do and it is put together in a rush. There is not a lot of emphasis given to what goes into a good presentation, how you structure it and how you do the presentation itself.  She said they are concentrating on that part of it – leaving the subject matter to the convenor. They want to look at different types of presentations, starting of with Marketing and Management. Although a lot of what the Project will produce on presentations can be used more widely.

She said they are also really interested in people’s ideas about what they would like, both for their students and for themselves as convenors.  Also, how much could you develop activities for use in tutorials to practice these presentation skills.

Presentations are often not a large part of a student’s mark. Students are not always worried about the small mark but they do want to present well and confidently. This is important both in terms of self-improvement and for their future career prospects.

How do you see this impacting on student engagement?

A small student focus group thought that the initial resource they  created – Presentations for assessment. A guide (pdf) was ‘pretty damn fabulous’ and they really appreciated someone setting out briefly the steps you should be thinking about when you are planning and delivering a presentation.  Natalie said they added a Presentations planning sheet (MSword) at the back of the handbook, as most presentations are group based and this helps with the organisation. (Both these resources are available in iShare and therefore have a permanent URL which can be easily added in iLearn).

Natalie said that developing the guide helped them think about the stages you go through when doing a presentation and the sorts of things you have to keep in mind. From here they will create little vignettes looking at the different sort of skills e.g. gesture, voice, etc. They are hoping to record some actual class presentations with cooperative students and convenors. (Please contact Natalie if you are interested).

Have their been any surprises with this project?

There are two merit scholars on the project. She knew they would be good but they have both brought a lot to it! They are both still pretty keen, even though they are in their last year of study.  One is going to run a workshop for the  Macquarie Undergraduate Research Internship group on how to do a poster presentation, which they will record and include in their presentations skills resource toolkit.  (The MURI students publish resources and posts on supporting undergraduate research, which is worthwhile taking a look at.)

What’s on the horizon with the Presentation Skills project?

Natalie said their aim next year is to have the core resources used more widely and to evaluate their usage. They also want to expand their use beyond Marketing and Management to the rest of the Faculty and to look at other faculties – the different sorts of presentations that they are asked to do. The core things about communication and connecting with the audience she thinks are universal. There are going to be different types of presentations – how do you put together a 3 minute thesis? An engineering presentation will differ from a marketing presentation in quite a few respects. A presentation that you do for medicine is different again.

She says the key to a good presentation is good teamwork. Support for groups and groupwork would be the next project to work on, to help groups manage their work and therefore develop better presentations.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

Natalie said that’s a hard one! She doesn’t have much outside of work to be passionate about because she is doing a PhD.

She said she is probably passionate about sci-fi, Doctor Who and escapism. She loves TV.

She enjoys lots of different things – reading novels, spending time with her family, going to the theatre, travel …

Natalie is an Educational Developer from the Learning and Teaching Centre who supports the Faculty of Business and Economics at Macquarie University.

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