Mike Ko Personal Portfolio

 

Home-School Education
2001-2012
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
2014-2017
United Kingdom

University of Sussex

Master of Arts
2017-2018
United Kingdom



Writing - Original

Why do many University Students Fear and Hate Giving Presentations?

 

                                      

 

                        Imagine the following scenario. An anxious university student stands before his fellow students in the classroom. For his oral presentation, he had prepared notes and PowerPoint slides and practiced for hours. He turns to the professor, who gestures for the student to start. Yet throughout the presentation, the student seemed quite uncomfortable, and spoke in a small voice that was barely audible to those farther back. His eyes were mainly locked on his notes, rarely looking up at anyone else. He often struggled to find the right words to use, and presented in a halting manner. The student only managed to mutter out his notes and slides word by word, with nothing much beyond them.

                        When he was finished, the professor remained silent for a while before commenting, “The PowerPoints were quite nice.” It was not a satisfactory presentation. The professor proceeded to point out the lack of logical structure and arguments behind the presented information. He concluded by urging his students to improve their presentation skills and confidence through constant practice. Clearly the professor expected that university students should be able to do better. Yet the student, although disappointed and dejected, did make a valiant effort.

                        While this is purely a hypothetical situation, many students around the world do face difficulty in giving presentations. Are the students the ones to be blamed? What ultimately caused the failed communications like the one done by our imaginary student mentioned above? Let us look back to students’ secondary school education.

The Causes of Difficulty in Communicating

                        Under the conventional education systems, students often concentrate on giving the right answers to exam questions. They are keen on learning practical exam techniques or strategies, familiarizing themselves with model answers, or even memorizing them outright. In obtaining academic information, they mainly rely on passive reading and listening. In contrast, students have very few opportunities to develop their ability to communicate their knowledge openly– through speaking and writing.

                        Not all students have the chance to give oral presentations in a school year. Even for those who can, it may perhaps amount to less than half an hour in total. Schools evidently do not focus on this area of development, and students thus suffer a lack of practice in giving oral presentations. While the situation may seem better for writing, students are often engaged in producing short answers for exams questions, rather than organized essays with comprehensive viewpoints or arguments. Generally, students are rarely encouraged to convert their thoughts and ideas into writings. Consequently, many students find it difficult to effectively present concepts or ideas through speech or text.

                        In addition, students often have only a rudimentary comprehension about what they learned. They mostly pick out bits and pieces of information that are useful for answering test or exam questions. This also hinders their ability to communicate their thoughts. In learning, one must thoroughly understand the concepts and insights behind obtained data in order to transform them into interconnected knowledge. With good comprehension, one can then easily convey them in a logical manner.

                        In short, a lack of practice and understanding are why many are ill-equipped in giving written or oral presentations. Yet as individuals in a wider community, we frequently have to communicate with others. If nobody clearly understands what you are saying or writing, confusion and frustration is bound to follow. Late former US President Gerald Ford had once commented that if he could study at university again, he would definitely focus on improving his writing and oral presentation skills. The implications from one’s presentation skills (or lack thereof) are not just limited to education. In a recent newspaper article, many employers complained of their employees’ low communication abilities.

A Few Suggestions

                        So what should be done to help students develop their presentation skills? For sure, there is no single answer to this question, but perhaps we can start with a few obvious points. Notably, schools must really recognize the importance of communication, rather than purely concentrate on helping (or even pushing) students to get good exam scores. With this mindset in place, they should give their students ample time to simply observe how other people communicate their thoughts.

                        For writing, this means a lot of reading, whether from books, newspapers, magazines, or the internet. For oral presentations, allow students to attend seminars or lectures to see how others present information and ideas. The next step would be to let them practice expressing themselves without pressure. This must be done constantly, not just a sprinkling of ten-minute periods each year. If these basic steps can be taken, then all students can eventually communicate effectively, if not exactly become Obama’s or Clinton’s.

                        Whether the mentioned methods can be fitted into conventional education systems is uncertain. Personally, my ten years of home school education placed great emphasis on communicating knowledge. With cohesive practice, I am progressing well in expressing myself accurately, confidently and effectively. It is high time for conventional schools to stop neglecting this critical aspect of their students’ personal development.


                                                                                                                                                                  Mike Ko
                                                                                                                                                                  ( 826 words )


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