Back from BESIG 2010

November 25th, 2010

This is my first blog post for English 360 since I joined the team in the summer, but I plan to blog pretty regularly from now on.

Last weekend I attended the excellent BESIG conference in Bielefeld, Germany. BESIG, of course, being the Business English Special Interest Group of IATEFL. It’s always a great conference – my favourite of the year – and this year was no exception. The best thing about it, and this goes for all conferences, I suppose, is the networking. I’ve never been a great one for ‘rubbing elbows’ and mingling, but the nice thing about BESIG is that it’s so easy to make friends there. But in fact most of my BESIG friends are people I’ve met through discussion forums, blogging and social networking. (I could add tweeting, but I’m possibly the world’s least active tweeter … which I hope to rectify one day soon).

If you want to get involved (and meet some great people) I strongly recommend BESIG’s Yahoo group, which is always lively and useful. (You don’t need to be a member of BESIG to join, but you’ll need to set up a Yahoo! account, which takes minutes). BESIG also has a group on LinkedIn, which is a great way of building contacts. Finally, there’s also a BESIG Ning group, which is another way to get to know people. None of these will cost you any money – always an important incentive for me.

Anyway, I arrived in Hannover airport on Friday evening and was delighted to find I was sharing a car to Bielefeld with Mark Powell, the plenary speaker at the conference and one of my ELT heroes. I’ve just written the teacher’s notes for his latest book, Dynamic Presentations, so I felt a bit like royalty at the conference (not that anybody else cares about a lowly teacher’s book writer!)

We arrived at the conference just as the opening ceremony was finishing, so we missed the amazing news that English 360 had won the David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ELT. But the room was still buzzing from the news, and my English 360 colleagues were still grinning and a bit shell-shocked, I think.

The meal and networking event on Friday evening was excellent, and a great chance to catch up with old friends, meet some new ones, and even do a bit of business. If only there were such an event on the Saturday evening too – for me, this is what the BESIG conference is all about, but there just wasn’t enough time to chat to everyone I wanted to see.

Saturday morning started with an explosion of energy and good ideas from Mark Powell, who was talking about Lean Language: Streamlining Business English. In his new book, he mentions the importance of steak and sizzlein a presentation. Steak is the meaty part, the stuff that you learn and take away from a presentation. The sizzle is the excitement, the energy, the showmanship of a presentation. Think of the experience of a barbecue, where the smell and sound of the sizzling food is just as important as the food itself. A presentation that’s all steak will be boring. A presentation that’s all sizzle will be fun but ultimately not very satisfying. Needless to say, Mark’s session had plenty of both. The audience was roaring with laughter almost all the time, but there was also plenty of meat to get your teeth into (with aplologies to vegetarian readers). I strongly recommend watching Mark’s plenary here – the video’s not available at the time of writing, but I’m assured it’s coming very soon.

The rest of my day was pretty much mapped out for me – I attended the sessions I had a personal connection with. First I went to Mark’s second session , on presentation skills, which was every bit as brilliant as the first session. I also attended Nick Robinson and Mark Ibbottson’s session “From Marketing to Engineering: effective ESP teaching“, which was excellent. Nick and Mark have both written books for my series, Cambridge English for … (see image below), and they showed how to approach the same topic, high-performance electric cars, from two completely different perspectives, Marketing and Engineering, and how this illustrates some important principles in ESP course design – a particular interest of mine.

Cambrideg English for ...

Afterwards, I went to Cleve Miller’s session on Performance-based Business English: Boosting ROI for both students and HR. This was also very thought-provoking: by focusing on particular performance events (such as an upcoming presentation or business trip), we can make our teaching much more effective. I won’t go into detail here – that’s something I’ll leave for Cleve to expand on in this blog.

My final session of the day was Ros Wright’s session on Nursing English: The Ultimate ESP challenge. (Ros is one of the authors of Good Practice, an excellent medical English course which is available on English 360). This is a field I’ve done a lot of work in recently (as editor and presenter, not, you’ll be pleased to hear, as an actual nurse). The topic was very similar to the things I was talking about at last year’s BESIG conference: the huge challenges facing nurses with low-level English in extreme situations. Ros focused on communication skills such as active listening and use of lay language, which can make all the difference in the work of a nurse. It seems that nursing is every bit as much about communication as a therapeutic skill as it is about medicine.

That was all I managed on the first day. My head was very much full as I tried to find my way back to the hotel. (Despite having a map in my pocket, I still managed to get hopelessly lost). In the evening, we had a nice get-together with the Cambridge University Press team and the English 360 team. It was nice for me to be in both camps: I was there as a Cambridge author, but it was also a good opportunity for me to get to know many of my English 360 colleagues, who I’d only ever met on Skype before. The global village we’re all becoming part of is wonderful, but there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face.

The next day, Sunday, wasn’t very productive for me: I had my presentation in the last slot, 12.05, which meant I spent the whole morning preparing, practising, photocopying and generally getting stressed. I did manage to have some good conversations in the book exhibition, but I’m afraid I didn’t make it to any sessions.

My session seemed to go well. I was talking about Open-Source ESP, i.e. focusing on issues connected with sourcing authentic materials for ESP courses. It was a workshop, so I was delighted that the audience really got into the swing of things and offered plenty of good ideas of their own. I’ll have to write up my presentation in this blog in the coming weeks, so I won’t go into any detail now. But I will show a photo that Valentina took of me in full flow, talking about my diagramming technique for teaching contract-writing skills to lawyers.


Anyway, I’ll leave it there. It was a great conference, in terms of both professional development and networking (or rather, meeting up with friends). I’m really looking forward to next year’s event … in Dubrovnik, Croatia.



  1. Many congratulations to Cleve, Valentina, and all the English360 team for winning the David Riley award! Best wishes from everyone at Business Spotlight.

  2. Thanks Ian! We are very proud and honoured!

  3. [...] Back from BESIG 2010 [...]

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