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Watch this 2-min clip. What feedback would you give the presenter? (I hope you like the joke at the very end by the way [I wish I could take credit for it, but in fact I have pinched it from J. J. Wilson…  🙂 ]).

Interestingly enough, researcher N. Ambady has conducted research showing that one could predict what kind of rating a lecturer would get during the student evaluations at the end of a course by having a group of student rate a silent video of the same lecturer giving a talk before the course started.

Then Ambady wondered how short that clip would have to be for the assessment to still be an accurate predictor of the final evaluation.The answer was incredible: it was 5 seconds! (Ambady, N & Rosenthal, R. 1993) When I read about this I reflected on how right Ambady was. I cannot say I am an expert on the subject but I have given quite a few presentations myself and I have attended many more. Alas, very often almost as soon as a talk starts one finds oneself thinking ‘Ooops… This is going to be painful…’ 🙂

So I thought I would come up with a list of DOs and DON’Ts for presenters – and I have asked colleagues to contribute ideas as well. The list turned out to be a longish one, and I am sure that even old hands could find a few ideas here that perhaps they hadn’t thought of (e.g. 2, 5, 15, 21, 27, 29). Enjoy.


  1. …check the seating arrangements. Is it easy for people to get in and out? Can people interact? Can they see the screen?
  2. …remove the back seats! You do not want five empty rows at the front. If there are no seats, people have no choice. You can add chairs as more people come in.
  3. …find out about your audience. Why are they there? What do they want? Will they be able to follow you? Are they keen to participate?
  4. …go through your checklist to make sure everything is ok. (What do you mean you haven’t got one?)
  5. …have someone introduce you – and sing your praises. Research shows this is much better than you saying a few things about yourself.
  6. …start with something attention-catching (a joke – something weird – a story); you only have a few seconds.
  7. …give an outline of your main points at the beginning. It makes it easier for people to follow you.
  8. …segment your talk, and regularly let people know which part of the talk you are in.
  9. …include pictures in your slides. Pictures facilitate the processing of textual information.
  10. …say interesting things. Content matters. (Ask yourself: would someone still find your talk interesting if they were not an EL teacher?)
  11. …use stories and anecdotes to make your talk more interesting. Stories are our mother tongue.
  12. …use stories to convey information; stories are far more memorable than giving studies or numerical information.
  13. …move from the concrete to the general. It is easier for people to understand a principle if you have given them a concrete example first.
  14. …include some practical elements. People need to be able to answer a question like ‘What did you get out of this?’ afterwards – regardless of how brilliant the talk was.
  15. …add value to your talk through ‘social currency’. Include interesting little tit-bits of info that people can share with others (‘A glass ball will bounce higher than one made of rubber’).
  16. …add some variety in your talk (an ad / a funny video / an animation / sound effects). Variety is the spice of life. Do not show this point to your partner.
  17. …include ‘peak’ moments in your talk (a striking example; a paraprosdokian; a motivational quote etc.). This is what people will remember later (cf ‘The Peak – End Effect’).
  18. …use your body, your arms and your facial expressions to liven up your presentation.
  19. …colour your voice; you may never become Kenneth Williams but pitch fluctuations, stress and the strategic use of pausing help immensely.
  20. …talk with confidence and assurance. This means two things: i) you have to know your stuff and  ii) you need to have faith in what you are saying.
  21. …use incongruity. Weird things like the sudden appearance of a dinosaur on the slide can help wake people up.
  22. …use the power of association. Make that dinosaur a cute baby or a kitten. Advertisers have used kittens to advertise pizza. They know what they are doing.
  23. …use emotions (uplifting soundtracks, moving poems, anger-provoking pictures, etc.) Emotions help print your message in people’s memory.
  24. …interact with the audience (e.g. by eliciting information, by asking them questions, by using simple discrimination tasks, or asking them to predict something).
  25. …engage the audience somehow (e.g. by giving them an activity to try out or something to discuss with a partner). Interactive elements boost information retention.
  26. …demonstrate activities. No matter how well you explain, unless people see how something works, chances are they will get it wrong.
  27. …find your volunteers in advance. Most people are relunctant to step up and help with a demo, so find your people and rope them in early.
  28. …use the power of modelling. Whether it is responding to elicitation, or asking questions, use some ‘plants’ to get the ball rolling. See the previous point.
  29. …play with the language. Neuro your message. Participants may want to passive; active them. Bombshell your audience.
  30. …circulate among the audience (esp during the ‘interactive’ parts). This way you make the experience more immediate and you get to see how engaged people are.
  31. …summarise just before the end. Perhaps elicit some of your key points from the audience. It gives people a sense of completion.


  1. …stand behind the podium or talk while sitting down. If possible, move about and take your message to the audience – perhaps by moving among them.
  2. …read off a text or your notes / …overload your slides / …read off the slides.
  3. …choose titles like ‘The situated construction of divergent modalities in the quest for a fundamental positionality’.
  4. …use long, complicated sentences. Forget you are an academic for the duration of the talk (…better still: ‘Forget you are an academic’).
  5. …skip slides. It looks like you this is a shortened version of an older talk and you did not bother to remove the extra material.
  6. …be surprised by your slides. It suggests you did not rehearse enough.
  7. …stumble over your words. People assume you are playing by ear, filling things in as you go along.
  8. …try to force people to do things. If people are reluctant to ‘interact’ during the interactive part, just move on.
  9. …let the talk sag; make sure you maintain a brisk pace. Monitor activities and cut them short if people are losing interest.
  10. …go over time; even the best attendees start getting restless if you do (plus it is unfair to the organisers and the next speaker).
  11. …fade out; end with a bang (a quote – a joke, etc.) – and clearly signal to the audience where they are supposed to applaud. This helps round off the experience (see 2:00 – 2:12 in the clip above).

There is one more tip I would like to offer here: be what your audience expect. If you are a famous speaker already (someone like Jeremy Harmer, Luke Prodromou or Ken Wilson in our field) you may even ignore the tips given above if you so wish.

If you are not a celebrity, make sure you tick as many of the ‘right’ boxes as possible (in our field this basically means being male, white and a native speaker). To see just how important expectations are in shaping perceptions, just watch the short film below. Then read all about the fascinating experiment involving the amazing Dr Myron Fox…  🙂



Ambady, N & Rosenthal, R. (1993) “Half a Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behaviour and Physical Attractiveness”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 431-441.