Presentations and Public Speaking

Presentations and Public Speaking

You are standing in front of a classroom full of eager peers waiting for you to speak. Maybe your hands start to shake and your voice follows. Maybe you subconsciously tap your foot, and when you open your mouth to begin, all that comes out is, “uhhh…”

Take a deep breath. Rest assured, you are not the only one.

Strong presentation and public speaking skills are the hallmark of confident English language skills, but they do not always come easy. Thankfully, these are skills that can be honed with expert guidance and a lot of practice.

You may think that public speaking skills are only necessary for those studying fields such as communications or politics. It might surprise you to learn that you will use public speaking skills consistently throughout your U.S. education—no matter what you study.

Following their English studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Tutorium in Intensive English (TIE), many students transfer to academic programs where their skills are an essential part of daily class curriculum. A unique feature of the American university learning environment is class participation. You will be expected to share your opinions in class, answer questions, give class presentations and participate in group projects. Often times, you will be graded on participation.

Tutorium students work diligently to build confidence, learn presentation techniques and vocabulary, and improve their personal, academic and professional communication through class participation.

One student from Vietnam explains, “When I have just come here, I was very quiet and a little shy. The methods and activities in Tutorium in Intensive English helped me improve my English skills very much. The most important thing is the feeling confident when I speak English.”

High Intermediate and Advanced level Tutorium courses include public speaking in a variety of American cultural contexts. For one project international students choose topics relating to American culture such as reading, music, or technology. They interview people in the Chicago area about the topics and prepare a presentation about their findings.

Jenna Rashel, a Tutorium instructor, explains that the program is designed to focus not only on content but also on organization—developing a strong introduction, body, and conclusion, and delivery—eye contact, body language. All of which are crucial for students’ future academic success.

Students receive feedback about their presentations from their teachers and peers. Instructors also use Flip Video cameras to record students speaking in both formal and impromptu situations. This evaluation technique may seem odd, but these videos allow students to see their mannerisms, like tapping their foot or saying “um.” This and feedback from others helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses, and set goals for improvement.

“This presentation was very crucial for me as practice for future presentations. I knew how to begin my presentation and divide it as introduction, body and conclusion,” said a student upon completing the course.

As a professional in the United States, speaking English as a second language is also essential. New professionals must attend job fairs and interviews. During their career, they must present at meetings and conventions, and conduct negotiations. Medical professionals must present patient history to their colleagues, as well as communicate well with patients and families. No matter the situation, cultivating an accurate vocabulary, pronunciation, and a confident tone will help you be more successful and have a more pleasant experience in the USA.

In the English for International Professionals: Presentations and Public Speaking course at the University of Illinois at Chicago students gain experience in three types of presentations: procedural, descriptive and persuasive. Students work on monitoring and controlling rate, volume, tone and register in order to communicate their main ideas in an appropriate fashion depending on the type of formal presentation. They also practice handling spontaneous situations by giving short speeches on impromptu topics.

In addition to your academic and professional life, your confidence in speaking publically will also help you navigate a new city and country. You may feel overwhelmed at first, but public speaking skills allow you to discover the special characteristics, cultures and people in your new U.S. home.

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Erica Wedes, currently Project Manager for the Business Ventures and Innovation Unit at The University of Chicago, previously Graduate Assistant in Marketing at the Tutorium in Intensive English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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