Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias in the United States. Imagine how much more difficult it is when English is not your first language. Besides breathing exercises, the best tip for overcoming stage fright is to focus on the material being presented and the purpose of the presentation.

For English language learners, it is also helpful to focus on the oral language that will be used during the presentation. This guide should help your students avoid some of the most obvious pitfalls when making presentations to the class.

After setting up the visual component of the presentation and making introductions, the students should

  1. Explain why they are doing that assignment ("our assignment is ...").
  2. Tell the audience what to expect ("you are going to see ..." or "we will show you ...")
  3. Give the audience a task ("see if you can tell ... or "try to find X on Slide 3")

These introductory remarks serve two purposes: to help direct the audience's attention to the material and to show the larger context of the assignment.

To start the actual presentation, I find it helpful for students to think of an essay with a thesis statement. Like an essay, the main idea is stated at the beginning — this main idea, however, is conveyed orally and not written on a slide.

In fact, the spoken language should be a complement to the visual material, not a direct reading of the text. How many teachers have sat through boring presentations where the student presenters read every slide verbatim and mispronounced half the words?

Once the presentation has begun, the students need to draw their audience's attention to a specific image or slide ("let me draw your attention to ..." or "as you can see ..."). Then they connect the audience to the content of the visual presentation ("you'll also notice that ..." or "this image supports my idea of ...").

Their comments should add insight to the visuals and not be too difficult for the audience to understand. If you think of a presentation like an audio-visual essay, this part is the body of the essay, providing reasons that support the central idea and examples or details that support each reason.

Like writing an essay, students need to choose their transition signals deliberately and in advance (first, next, finally, etc.) They should time themselves and practice pronunciation before delivering the presentation just as they would write a rough draft and then make revisions.

To signal the conclusion, presenters need to follow up on any material ("we hope that these images have given you an idea of ...") and to restate the main idea. The final words should leave the audience with something to think about.

Here is a helpful chart:

Sometimes we teachers are so focused on the content of students' presentations that we forget to give them tools for effective delivery. For English language learners, it is essential to focus on how to speak clearly and communicate to the audience. By shifting the focus toward the material, students can begin to relax and enjoy the audience's reaction to their successful presentation.