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.


Very nice presentation/public speaking videos

February 26th, 2008

Free from Harvard comes this excellent video series on public speaking skills, by Professor Patrick Winston. It has a different focus than many similar resources: instead of the corporate PowerPoint-driven presentation, he discusses the lecture format of universities. But the core principles of how to “give a talk” are  of course the  same. The video is nicely broken up into convenient 2-4 minute chapters.

Hat tip to soulsoup.

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Great post on presentation techniques

February 6th, 2008

A little different take, with a refreshingly informal register. Great advice on what is all too often overlooked: hardcore practice.

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Guy Kawasaki interviews Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen

January 14th, 2008

Nice interview with substantive answers. The answers are a nice length for teaching input and discussion – I’d probably choose a few and break them up and use one to three for a class, or more for higher levels.

Best answer for our BE students:

You should rehearse at least three to four times all the way through and rehearse the first three minutes at least ten times or more. You also need to do a formal dress rehearsal in front of a real audience such as coworkers who can give you constructive criticism.In some ways good presenting is like good writing, you’ve got to pare it down and dump the superfluous and the non-essential. But since we are so close to the material it is hard for us to see what works and what does not, or what is repetitive, etc. This is why you cannot only rehearse alone. You’ve got to rehearse in front of others so that you can experience the nerves, the blank stares, etc.

The more you rehearse the more the fear of the unknown is removed. The more the fear is removed, the more confident you will become. As you become more confident you will feel more relaxed and your confidence will shine through. The thing about confidence is that it’s impossible to fake, but with practice you will indeed become a confident speaker.

Many of our students work in multinationals, and so have limited design choices because they receive a PowerPoint “deck” they have to follow. I wonder at what point the stricter client companies will realize how they squander their intellectual assets by constraining them this way – our students basically just plug the numbers in pre-formatted slides. It’d be great if the culture moved towards allowing more flexibility in presentations.

In my experience, most of the time our students are crunching numbers until the last minute, so a full run-through is often difficult to pull off. What I do is help them develop and practice the introduction and conclusion many times, and group classes are perfect for the “formal dress rehearsal in front of a real audience such as coworkers” that Reynolds recommends. We also make sure the key messages for each section are clearly established, and practice the transitions, intros, and conclusions for each section as well.

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Functional phrases: “If you’ll bear with me for a moment…”

January 8th, 2008


From the wonderful

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Leadership styles and communication: Tactician vs Inspirer

January 8th, 2008

Here’s an interesting post on Found|READ on being a “Tactician” vs being an “Inspirer”, and how that is reflected in the presentation styles of Clinton and Obama respectively, with links to video of both. This could provide some great class discussion, and Obama’s speech is masterful as always.

Also interesting is how Obama focuses his message: it’s about the audience. Rarely do you see a politician decline to talk about himself or herself. In Obama’s message the key word is “you”.

Another comment on Obama’s communication style:

Yet if Clinton’s answers come off as well-intended lectures, Obama is offering soaring sermons and generational opportunity. In 1960, the articulate Adlai Stevenson compared his own oratory unfavorably with John F. Kennedy’s. “Do you remember,” Stevenson said, “that in classical times when Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke,’ but when Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said, ‘Let us march.’ ” At this hour, Obama is the Democrats’ Demosthenes.

Intercultural communication note: the context of these speeches is a political campaign in the US, so naturally there is a fair amount of nationalistic…I guess “fervor” could be the word. This may be off putting to some students, especially in Europe, where the culture of political communication is more emotionally restrained in my experience (and read the comments here.)


Some presentation skills resources

January 7th, 2008

Here’s the personal “Top ten best (and worst) communicators for 2007” of Burt Decker of Decker Communications.

There are links to video examples for many of the presentations cited, including some truly disastrous performances, which would be good “awareness raising” input and tasks in class.

Note: some of the examples won’t be well known to people outside the US or US culture, but many are, such as Al Gore and Steve Jobs.

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10 greatest presentations ever

August 30th, 2006

Once again via Guy Kawasaki, a collection of the “Top 10 Best Presentations Ever” from the folks at KnowHR. There are some classics here, and a nice variety. Delicioius goodness for business English teachers and learners.

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15 presentation tactics, passion, and a student success story

July 28th, 2006

From the inimitable Guy Kawasaki, an analysis of an amazingly powerful presentation. The speaker is Marjora Carter, and is short enough that it’s easy to use in class as a model. Together with the 15 tactics that Guy riffs on, this is some super sweet learning content for more advanced learners.

Most of our business English clients are presenting from the typical corporate 120-slide .ppt deck, and don’t have the flexibility to use many of these techniques the same way that Ms Carter does – the company culture and audience expectations are very different. But with some careful modification, many of these tools can add impact to even the most “choreagraphed-from-HQ” presentation templates. And you could make the argument that the constraints inherent in pre-organized decks are actually liberating – the only way to kick the audience in the butt is to use these types of rhetorical tools.

It’s great to watch the speaker get into her rhythm – she’s quite nervous at the start and reading off her notes, but once she hits stride – watch out. Despite her nerves, she is so real as she presents – so absolutely present – that the sustained standing ovation she recieves is hardly surprising. This connection with the audience should encourage our lower level students to worry less about grammatical accuracy and nerves and more about connecting with the audience as a fellow human in a way that transcends language skill.

Now, the extent that you can help students do that in a presentation about supply chain logistics will depend on the Ss’ passion for the topic and ability to connect it to the big picture. And while that may depend on the company’s mission, unless your student works for, say, big tobacco, everything that improves execution helps deliver value to people, which after all is what it’s all about.

Last year I had a great “helped-the-client-kick-butt” moment with a presentation on, yes, supply chain logistics. She was an ALTE B.1 or so and worked for a pharmaceutical lab. We had a 60-slide deck to work with, and so we focused on the intro and conclusion as the best places for her individuality to stand out. We scripted her introduction to connect with her passion and commitment to her job, and we did it in 20 seconds and without intruding on the deck (her audience was upper management for logistics from HQ and wouldn’t have approved of any deviation). We used three off-deck slides, photos with no text, presented Lessig-style for only 3 seconds each as she spoke. Here’s what we wrote for her intro – slide underlined and speech in italics (name changed):

Title slide

Good morning everyone. My name’s Maria Fernandez and I’m the logistics coordinator here in Venezuela. First off I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to show you the work we’re doing in this challenging economic and regulatory environment.

Before we move to the deck, I’d also like to say one thing. Like everyone is this room, I’m passionate about the details of getting our raw material from Ireland to our plant. But sometimes my focus on these details hides the true reason behind our job, and I want to share with you what I do when that happens…

Black slide

Pause…when I lose sight of the reason we’re doing this I just remind myself that every minute we save, and every dollar we squeeze out of the process, are precious resources that we can send here

Photo of company research headquarters

…so that we can discover and manufacture these…

Photo of company’s breakthrough drug

…so we can save the life of her.

Photo of 2-year-old child in hospital

Pause…so let’s get started and see how we can best do this.

First slide of deck

We pulled the photos off the company website so they were somewhat familiar to the audience, and the little girl was of course a real patient and real case. It took about twenty seconds and it framed the rest of her presentation in way that “made meaning” and connected her with her audience in a way that her peers didn’t – she recieved a tremendous amount of praise for what could have been just another of the 8 presentations that day. It doesn’t always work out this well for our students, but when it does, it’s great.

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Presentation fluency

July 26th, 2006

Here’s a nice post on eliminating fillers (the “uh”‘s and “um”‘s) from your Ss’ presentations. Mother Tongue Annoyances is a new blog for me and looks like it might be interesting, and although personally I get bored with the grammar police, there seems to be a lot of content here that’ll be useful for our clients. Via Visual Being. (BTW Visual Being did you ever retract/correct your silly attack on Kathy Sierra?)

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