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October 2023 - Year 25 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Developing Presentation Skills: The Simulated Conference

Anilla R. Scott-Monkhouse teaches English (general, EAP/ESP) at Parma University (Italy). She holds a DELTA and a CertPT teaching qualification, and is a Cambridge Assessment English examiner. She is actively engaged in CPD and has been involved in teacher training in Italy and abroad. She is interested in the student as an individual, and focuses on NLP, suggestopedia and Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences applied to language teaching. She has published several papers on teaching and assessing ESP/EAP, and on the role of emotions in teaching and learning. She is the winner of the 2024 IATEFL ESPSIG Mark Krzanowski scholarship.




The idea for this activity came out when the 2019-’20 edition of the course of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for PhD students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) had to be completely restyled for remote delivery during the total lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2020). In each lesson a section was devoted to a few students (Ss) delivering their presentations to a group of peers in parallel Zoom break-out rooms where screen sharing was enabled. It can be used in face-to-face classes too, but simultaneous presentations would be impossible to carry out, as only one student at a time (or a team of Ss) would be able to deliver their presentation while the rest of the class act as audience.

The connecting thread in the course was the idea of simulating an authentic conference in order to get Ss prepare a presentation and write the necessary accompanying texts (i.e. biodata, abstract, slides).  All the material produced was uploaded to a shared folder in a cloud storage so that non-presenting Ss could read it in preparation for the talk and think about possible questions to ask (flipped classroom approach) (IVE 2018).

The preparation of the presentations was based on a structured course which had been uploaded on the LMS, with material ranging from language functions (such as beginning the talk, signalling transition, referring to visuals, etc.) to dealing with questions, being an attendee, overcoming anxiety/stage fright, and so on. It involved a great deal of autonomous work, starting from the choice of topic from a list of web links provided; the topic had to be unrelated to the Ss’ studies so as to force them to really prepare a new informative presentation and prevent them becoming too technical or using obscure jargon. This choice also aimed to encourage critical thinking of a topic, without the Ss becoming too narrowly focused on their field of research (Bosch 2018).

The Ss had to research the topic, plan the talk, design the slides, rehearse, self-assess and anticipate the questions which their audience might ask them (Scott-Monkhouse et al. 2021). They also had to prepare a discussion question to pose to their audience, so as to engage the group in a speaking activity should the attendees not be able to come up with a question and to avoid attendees not paying attention to the presentation. The Q&A session therefore entailed an authentic element of improvisation as neither the presenter nor the audience knew what question(s) would be asked. After the presentation each presenter was expected to reflect on their performance and complete a journal entry in which they focused on what they felt had gone well and what needed improving, and why.

Over the course each S had multiple roles: presenter and discussion leader during their talk, assessor of their peers’ talk, and active member of the audience, as recommended by CEFR-CV (2018: 57 and 69) in the descriptors for listening and for spoken production at B2 and C1 levels. The course led to the development of soft or life skills such as critical thinking through collaboration (Gokhale 1995), self-assessment and self-reflection, autonomy and accountability (Aris 2020), leadership and team work, effective communication and mutual respect.

The activity is aimed at (young) adult students (Ss) at B2/ C1 level of English, but it can be adapted to different levels and ages.


The objectives are to:

- encourage collaborative learning

- develop the 4Cs (21st century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity)

- reinforce autonomy and accountability

- discuss and agree on shared criteria (team work, negotiation)

- reflect on assessment of presentations

- encourage self-assessment and self-improvement

- develop speaking skills when discussing a topic

- encourage active participation in a presentation by asking questions

- develop writing skills when giving written feedback (precision and clarity)

- develop attention and sensitivity to the presenter

- prepare for prospective professional situations, when Ss might have to deliver/attend presentations


Lesson Plan


  • Projector and PC to present slides
  • Feedback form with assessment criteria
  • Feedback form for selfreflection
  • (Presentation roster)
  • (Cloud storage facility)


This idea can be used over a whole course, and indeed this is actually recommended if it is to yield long-term positive results. It needs to follow work on presentation skills, and on the preparation of written material which they would expect to find at a conference (e.g. abstract/summary of the presentation, CV/personal profile/biodata of the presenter, etc.).

The activity adopts a roleplay approach as in each session the Ss choose their roles (presenter, assessor, attendee). This is to empower the Ss and enhance their accountability. The post-presentation feedback form (see Appendix 3) is very detailed and can be adapted/changed. The reason for the breakdown is on the one hand to raise the Ss’ awareness of the many components which contribute to an effective presentation, and on the other to make the assessment as objective as possible. In addition, it prevents Ss from being ‘too nice’ to each other, which might lead to the peer reviewing activity missing its whole purpose.  

The teacher (T) needs to pay attention to the instructions-giving stage and check that instructions are fully understood.


Part 1: Suggestion of topics and Description of expectations (15 min)

The T explains that over the course the Ss are to deliver a [10-minute] presentation on a topic they have been assigned or have chosen (e.g. from a list of topics/websites provided) and that they will each make a presentation on a scheduled date. The presentation must comply with requirements set by the T (e.g. length, references slide).They must research their topic, plan the talk, design the slides, rehearse, self-assess and anticipate the questions which their audience might ask them. They must also prepare a discussion question to pose to their audience. In addition to this, before each presentation they must upload to the shared folder the accompanying written materials (slides, abstract, biodata, etc.) which the rest of the class will have to read in preparation for the presentation.

The T also explains that over the course each S will in turn play the part of presenter, assessor and attendee, so they will constantly be an active presence. As an assessor, they will have to become familiar with the feedback form so as to be able to fill it in correctly. As an attendee, they will have to pay attention to the presentation and think of possible questions to tactfully ask the presenter, without trying to deliberately trip them up, and be ready to contribute to the discussion triggered by the presenter’s question to the audience.

This is a student-driven stage, where each time Ss are responsible for designating the assessors; the T monitors the work by discreetly ‘floating’ into and out of the groups/rooms, and provides feedback at the end.

An Excel spreadsheet is a useful tool to schedule presentations and roles so the T can keep track of the roles and make sure Ss are covering all the roles they are expected to (see Appendix 1 for an example).


Part 2: Describing assessment criteria and agreeing on their scope (20 mins)

The T outlines the criteria to be referred to when assessing the presentations and clarifies any doubts. The class discusses and agrees on the descriptors. It is useful if the T shares the same criteria s/he adopts when grading the Ss’ work, so as to help them understand the rationale, self-assess and improve their own production/performance.

The feedback form includes a section for practical suggestions to the presenter and a take-home point for the reviewer. The T should stress the importance of this learning point, and explain that it can be anything, from a grammar point (e.g. a verb pattern) to something they have learned from the presentation itself (e.g. use of animations, a piece of information, etc.), or from carrying out the reviewing (e.g. paying more attention to their own use of visuals in presentations).

Part 3: Delivery of presentations and Assignment of roles (15 mins)

On the scheduled date the presenters deliver their presentations.

The audience should include two assessors who are to provide written feedback on the presentation and upload it to the shared folder.

Part 4: Post-presentation group discussion  (15 mins)

The audience ask the presenter their questions, and the presenter answers.

If the audience cannot think of a question, the presenter involves the audience in a discussion on the topic based on the question s/he has thought of when preparing the presentation.

The T monitors.

Part 5: Reviewing stage in terms of Self-assessment and Peer-Review (20 mins)

After the presentation, each presenter reflects on their performance and fills in a journal entry to be uploaded to the shared folder where they highlight what they have learned, what they feel needs improving and what they are proud of (in terms of self-feedback rather than self-evaluation) (see Appendix 2 for an example).

In their review the assessors refer to the criteria agreed on. The Ss come to realise how many components contribute to the success of a presentation, how complex assessment is (e.g. how many features are to be taken into account), and how a reviewer needs to consider different elements when carrying out any kind of assessment to ensure that the review is as objective as possible (see Appendix 3 for an example). They also refine their own self-assessment skills.


Appendix 1

Here is an example of a spreadsheet to schedule and keep track of presentations and roles.



Presentation topic

Presentation date

Assessor date

Attendee date




















Appendix 2

Here is an example of Pre-presentation Reflection tips and a Post-presentation Reflection form to be discussed with the Ss.

Before your Presentation

Look at the Post-Presentation Feedback form. When you are rehearsing, ask someone to listen to your presentation and fill in the form. You can write your own if you wish. Alternatively, you can record yourself and fill the form in yourself while watching yourself deliver the presentation.

This will help you identify the points which you need to improve, and give you confidence about what you are already doing well.

Post- Presentation Reflection

When your presentation is over, think about the whole experience and how you feel about your presentation and performance.


What section/feature/etc.?





(e.g. Q&A session)











Appendix 3

Here is an example of a Presentation Feedback form to be discussed with the Ss.

The T can share the criteria s/he uses to assess their Ss’ production so they can interpret the grades they receive and improve their own work and performance.


Presentation feedback form

Use the form to take notes while you are attending your fellow-student’s presentation. When the presentation is over, complete your notes so that your feedback is clear to the presenter and upload it to the shared folder. Don’t forget to add your own personal learning point.

Presenter:       ___________________________

Assessor:        ___________________________


Points to consider




Was there an overview of what the talk was going to be about?


Was it helpful?






Were the objectives of the presentation clear?

(e.g. to inform, to persuade, to train, to report, to promote, to inspire, etc.)





Did the speaker speak from notes rather than read?




Did the speaker maintain good eye contact with the participants?




Was the structure/organization of the talk clear (beginning, middle, end)?

  • Introduction (clear topic and speaker’s intentions)
  • main part
  • summary
  • conclusion




Were the parts well linked together?





Was the content relevant and interesting?




Did the speaker keep to the timing?




Was there any time when you did not understand the speaker

or lost the thread of their argument?


  1. If yes, what do you think caused the breakdown in comprehension?






Was there a strong ending?




Was the pace/speed of delivery appropriate? (e.g. too slow, too fast)




Did the speaker speak clearly?

Did the speaker speak loud enough? (e.g. too quiet, too loud)






Was the language appropriate? (register, style, sentence length)




Was the language clear enough?

Did the speaker explain any new or unfamiliar words?





Were the sentences easy to follow? (e.g. use of repetition, reformulation, linkers, etc.)




Did the speaker make an effective use of pauses?




Did the speaker sound interesting and interested?

(e.g. intonation, expressiveness, pitch, rhetorical questions, emphasizing, etc.)




Did the speaker use body language?


Please comment briefly on:


  1. Posture and stance


  1. Hands – position


  1. Hands – gestures


  1. Facial expressions


  1. Movement


  1. Other





Did the speaker appear confident?




Were the visuals clear and well designed?


Please comment briefly on:


  1. design and layout


  1. consistency


  1. amount of information per slide


  1. font


  1. colours of font and background


  1. graphs, tables and charts


  1. photos


  1. headings


  1. bullet points


  1. colour coding


  1. errors (grammar, spelling)


Were the visuals relevant and did they support the message?


Did the speaker use the visuals well (i.e. describe, comment, refer to them)?




Was the number of visuals suitable?




Did the speaker use the equipment well?




Did the speaker deal with questions at the end well?




What was your overall impression?





  1. Mention any particular strengths in the presentation.
  2. Do you have any advice for the speaker for future talks?
  3. What have you learned from attending / assessing this presentation (your personal ‘take-home’ point)?



Aris, N.A., (2020) ‘Panicgogy’ effect during COVID-19 pandemic on student empowerment. FACT periodicals.  (accessed 6 November 2022)

Bosch, G., (2018) Train PhD students to be thinkers not just specialists. Nature 544. p. 277

Council of Europe. 2018. CEFR-CV - Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching, assessment Companion Volume with new descriptors. Council of Europe, Strasbourg (accessed 13 September 2023)

Gokhale, A. A., (1995) Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of technology education 7(1)

IVE (Innovating Vocational Education), (2018) Flipped Classroom in Practice. FlipIT! Flipped Classroom in the European Vocational Education Erasmus+ Project. (accessed 23 October 2022)

Scott-Monkhouse, A. R., Tal, M., and Yelenevskaya, M., (2021) International Teleconferences in EGAP courses: preparing students for prospective professional situations. In C. Argondizzo and G. Mansfield (eds.), Language Learning in Higher Education 11(1), De Gruyter, pp. 15-32, Berlin/Boston


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