INTRODUCTION: I teach a class on computer tools for presenters (Effective Presentations using PowerPoint). The class meets for a three-hour block once a week. The primary program used is Microsoft PowerPoint, and the course description includes the sentence, “The dual focus is on the practice of development AND delivery of presentation content.” Nonetheless, some students are surprised to learn that they will be required to present to the class.
My discussions with recruiters in industry, the US Labor Secretary’s Report on Necessary Skills (SCANS) report, and studies show that the ability to present information effectively is a critical life skill for potential employees in most industries, especially in information technology careers. Accordingly, a critical outcome measure for the class has students use the computer tools to make several presentations to the class.
On the first night of class, I tell students that they will be expected to do three presentations including a short extemporaneous presentation that same night. The two previous times that the class was offered, approximately 40% of the students did not show up for the second class meeting. In fact, several students never returned after a class break on the first night of class.
PROCESS: In an effort to reduce the attrition in the class, I attempted to create an affirming class environment using, among other things, affirmations as an intervention to reduce the fear of presenting.
I made several changes to the environment of the class to make it more open to interactivity and set the stage for the use of affirmations. In previous semesters, I had arrived at the room just before the class was to begin, dressed in a tie and jacket. Instead, this semester I arrived early the first night dressed casually and met students with informal chatter. My opening remarks were light, humorous and positive. I put off the mundane “housekeeping” until later. Instead, I made sure to answer all questions and concerns. My three lecture/discussions that night were on the importance of presenting in business, the fear of presenting, and the use of affirmations as a fear reduction technique. I typically do the fear lecture later in the course, but we had great discussions on the three topics, and students affirmed the importance of presenting in business settings and admitted their fears about presenting.
I told students that after their break they would do their first class presentation, a brief self-disclosure. They were to tell who they are, why they are taking the class, and something special about themselves. Most important, they were to finish the disclosure with the statement, “I am also a great presenter, especially when I talk about … (options for finishing the statement were their own).”
The class would respond with, “Yes you are!”
The students were amazing! They became cheerleaders for their fellow class members. They affirmed, clapped, congratulated, etc. Occasionally a student would make a negative statement such as, “I am not a great presenter unless I …” and we quickly challenged the comments asking the student to rephrase. Occasionally I would reaffirm by asking the class, “Is s/he a great presenter?” They all responded positively in unison.
OUTCOMES: All students returned after the break to give their first presentation. I took attendance the following week and in a class of 30 only 3 students (10%) dropped and 2 students added. In the 5th week of class, 27 students still remained. The rate of assignment completion at the midpoint of the quarter is 85% and students who are having difficulty with the work or who are critical of the text mention it openly to the class. Affirmations are infectious!
WHAT I LEARNED: Students need a positive and affirming learning environment, and it appears easy to create such an environment. Once created, students will help maintain that environment.
–Jerry Cellilo, Counselor and Faculty, Computers, Foothill College, CA