Here, I revisit the preparation process and final outcome of my LABU2040 Oral Group Presentation (Case 1: West Indies Yacht Club Resort; When Cultures Collide) and reflect upon my group members’ and professor’s feedback.
Practice Presentations + Peer Evaluation
Frequent mock presentations allowed my teammates and I to pinpoint and refine inconsistencies in our draft script and restructure our presentation in a manner that flowed logically. It also let us acquaint ourselves with each others’ nonverbal cues (facilitating smooth transitions between speakers), provide constructive feedback on each other’s body language (e.g. swaying, making overly repetitive gestures) and evaluate each other’s use of voice.
Though we had a few practice run-throughs beforehand, doing a trial run in front of the classroom felt much more daunting. Being able to see how I performed in a “realistic” setting was very helpful as we tend to be harsher on ourselves, and spot flaws often overlooked by others. Key weaknesses that I identified from the above video include:
- POOR COMMAND OF AUDIENCE ATTENTION: By frequently breaking eye contact with the audience, I diverted attention away from the context of my speech whilst exuding a sense of shiftiness and uncertainty.
- NOT ENGAGING: My gestures were robotic, my posture closed off, and my tone monotonous. Indeed, my teammate Gigi pointed out the absence of variety in my gestures. My stiffness and lack of enthusiasm caused my speech to sound more like a lecture than a persuasive pitch/ proposal.
- DIMINISHED CLARITY: Pacing was a little hurried and thus hard to follow. Aside from slowing down, I also needed to take more pauses to draw attention towards key points and indicate changes in topic. I followed Gigi’s recommendation to prioritise improving “pace, pausing, and intonation” when practising for my second oral presentation.
- FAILED TO SHOW TEAM UNITY: I unintentionally spoke over my teammate Adrian to direct a question to our other teammate Gigi, which was disrespectful and made our team appear disorganised during the Q&A segment.
Oral Presentation 1 + Professor’s Feedback
In our actual presentation, I overcame the four aforementioned weaknesses exhibited during our practice presentation. Having memorised my part, I was able to develop rapport with audience members via eye contact and direct more attention to enhancing communication through gestures, facial expressions (eyes and eyebrows due to mask) and tonal variation. Frequent practice reduced my anxiousness, allowing me to speak at a relaxed pace, and led me to develop confident, natural, and varying gestures.
To display confidence in each other’s remarks, we expressed agreement to the preceding speaker, and demonstrated unity via body language. For instance, exchanging eye contact and nodding while smiling. Our mutual endorsement furthered the persuasiveness and perceived credibility of our recommendations. However, although our recommendations were coherent and teamwork evident, this video brought to light many flaws in our performance.
At a group level,
Time allocation/management stands as our greatest area of improvement. As our professor Dr. Siyang (Yolanda) Zhou noted, less time should have been allocated towards recommendation details and more towards a “short and powerful conclusion… and calls for action”. I agree that a more concise explanation followed by a recap would have made for a more memorable and impactful presentation. Our lengthy descriptions likely overwhelmed the audience and drew attention away from our key message (need for and logic behind our proposals), exacerbated by the absence of a conclusion. Yolanda also pointed out that our usage of academic jargon was inappropriate. Indeed, upon re-watching our presentation, it contradicted our conversational tone and may have alienated our target audience, Resort managers who were unlikely well versed in behavioral theory and cultural dimensions.
At an individual level,
I was satisfied with my intonation, hand gestures, and eye contact. However, when trying to remember my lines, I frequently rolled my eyes and took unnatural pauses which was distracting and diminished the credibility of my ‘consulting advice’. Additionally, voicing “I forgot my part” during a memory lapse challenged my professional authority and thus my recommendation. In hindsight, I could have eliminated distracting mannerisms by practicing in front of a mirror, and should have stalled time using a rhetorical question to conceal my blunder.
To further refine my presentation skills, I evaluated my groupmate Adrian’s performance.
I found Adrian’s visual delivery pleasant. His hand movements enhanced his message and did not distract from it. Adrian also gestured to corresponding visual aids, which helped convey the contextual relevance of his words to our proposals. However, this led him to frequently glance at our slides and break eye contact with the audience. Given the importance of eye contact in capturing attention, building trust, and showing respect, I would point in the general direction of the slide while maintaining eye contact instead.
Adrian also employed effectual vocal delivery appropriate for addressing clients. He was well paced and effectively used pausing to highlight key points. Direct address was also used to build rapport with audience members whilst maintaining professional authority via a composed tone and semi-formal language. Further, I appreciated his varied intonation, which engaged and retained audience attention while conveying sincerity.
This evaluation reminded me of the significance physical and vocal delivery has towards the impression made by and interpretation of audience members, despite having zero relation to ideas presented – ineffective communication robs a golden idea of its allure.
Other Sources of Learning
To prevent blanking out again in the second oral presentation, I consulted online resources for advice. I found two tips recommended by Frantically Speaking extremely helpful in my final stages of preparation. In his video, the Youtuber proposed two ways for speakers to stall time for regaining composure:
- Redirection Tools – prepared questions or media to deviate to (e.g. “What is the main challenge we are trying to solve?”)
- Thorough Line – a key, defined idea the speech revolves around that can be repeated for emphasis when our mind goes blank
Inspired, I planned to reiterate the nonexistence of a shortcut to success and consequent importance of a long term, sustainable approach to business if lost my train of thought during the Recommendation 2 Oral Presentation.