My Personal Theme Song

Music has long been recognized for its therapeutic value. It is a well-known fact that music reduces stress and causes comfort. Music is said to soothe one’s soul. Personally, I associate music with events, people, and places. Music can affect the way I feel – it makes me smile when I’m down, and it can make me cry if it triggers some sad or moving memories. But most importantly, music gives me a way to express my deepest emotions.
I have many favourite songs. So why have I chosen this one? Because when I listen to it, something inexplicable happens deep inside my heart. It may be the optimistic melody that moves me and touches my heart. I may well be moved by the lyric, which expresses something I feel to the core of my being – that there’s no mountain high enough – that there are no obstacles I can’t overcome. I also like the allusion to friendship and a strong bond between people who can rely on each other regardless of the distance (… although we are miles apart… if you ever need a helping hand… I’ll be there on the double… as fast as I can). When I think about it, this is something I strongly associate with my family, friends, colleagues at work, PLN and the communities I participate in (mainly the #30GoalsEdu group).
As I always see the world through teacher-tinted glasses, I tend to see potential classroom activities everywhere I go. This is a song that can never make me feel depressed. On the contrary, it always gives me a little heads up when I hear it. That is why it is ideal as a warm-up or a lesson filler after a long, tiring day at school (I have the last Friday lessons in mind). It is suitable as a lead-in to speaking activities related to various topics, such as friendship, community, charity, volunteering, etc. In addition, students’ creativity can generally be fostered with lyrics of any kind – they can look at the lines and explore the rhyming pattern, and later make their own lyric or poem related to the topic. On a more bottom-up note, there are a few language features worth attention:
  • (not) + adjective + enough
  • the colloquial expression ‘ain’t’ + no, cause (because), ya (you), babe (baby)
  • many frequent collocations (high mountain, low valley, wide river, no matter, in a hurry, count on me, make a vow, miles apart, on the double

So, stop and listen if you feel sad and blue. And if you’re happy, have a listen anyway.

Listen Baby

Ain’t no mountain high.
Ain’t no valley low.
Ain’t no river wide enough baby.

If you need me, call me
No matter where you are
No matter how far,

don’t worry baby

Just call my name
I’ll be there in a hurry
You don’t have to worry

cause baby,
There aint no mountain high enough
aint no valley low enough
aint no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, babe

Remember the day
I set you free
I told you you could always count on me darling
From that day on, I made a vow
I’ll be there when you want me
Someway, somehow

cause baby,
Ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you, babe

oh no darling
No wind, no rain
Nor winter storm
can’t stop me baby
no no baby
Cause you are my goal
If you’re ever in trouble
I’ll be there on the double
just send for me
oh baby!

My love is alive
way down in my heart
Although we are miles apart
If you ever need a helping hand
I’ll be there on the double
Just as fast as I can

Don’t you know that there
ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe

Don’t ya know that there
Ain`t no mountain high enough
Ain`t no valley low enough
Ain`t no river wide enough
To keep me from gettin to you babe.

*Goal 3/ Cycle 4 Pick a Personal Theme Song 

One for all, all for one – collaborative games in ELT

How much have my students learned?

Have they learned at all?
Have they learned what I wanted them to learn?
Have I included meaningful activities?
Have I done enough to keep the students motivated and interested?
Has everybody been involved adequately and equally?
Have my students collaborated to achieve their goals?

These are some of the burning questions I ask myself every day after the lesson. Of course, I feel happiest when all my students are interested, motivated and engaged. I like to see that they have learned and collaborated. I’d like to share two activities that have proved useful, especially in regard to the last four questions above; they are motivatingmeaningful, they help to keep all the students engaged, and they promote collaboration. I should stress that their magic lies more in perfect classroom management than in the content itself.

1) One of my most favourite activities that I have piloted with students of all levels of proficiency is the ‘describe and guess’ type activity. It is very popular in its spoken form, but I sometimes include its written alternative too.

  • Each student thinks of a word to describe (you can use any vocabulary set you want to focus on). S/he writes the description/definition at the top of an A4 piece of paper. You can decide how long the description should be. I suggest that it be a longer stretch of text (5-10 sentences, depending on the level) so that Ss get more practice in writing cohesive texts.
  • Each description is passed on to the next student, who tries to guess the word and writes the guess at the very bottom of the paper.
  • After having written the guess down, the student folds the bottom of the paper back so that the next student can’t see his or her guess. The description with the guess is sent on again.
  • This chain activity goes on until all the descriptions get to their original authors, who can look at the guesses (it’s good to consider the system of passing the descriptions in advance to avoid chaos; my Ss usually sit in a horseshoe or in a circle, which makes the game go smoothly).
  • The original authors then give the correct answers (if it is necessary or if there is some disagreement).
  • Time for feedback. Those descriptions with a set of identical guesses were probably clear and elaborate.

2) This game is very popular with my students. It’s useful for practising or revising vocabulary, but it’s also a very effective speaking activity.

  • Each student writes 10 English words on a piece of paper (depending on what your Ss need to practise)
  • Each student gets another blank piece of paper where they are going to take down their points = scores.
  • Two Ss (‘blue’ and ‘red’) sit opposite each other in a circle or horseshoe seating arrangement. See the picture below.
  • Start the game. A ‘red’ student (RS) describes one of the words on the list. When his or her partner, the ‘blue’ student (BS), guesses the word, RS gets a point, which s/he records on the blank piece of paper. Then it’s the BS’s turn. They take turns until the teacher gives a signal to stop.
  • Time to migrate. Before all the RSs sitting in the inner circle move to the next seat (as described in the picture below), the RS and BS swap their vocabulary lists. So all Ss repeat the activity with a new set of words and a new partner (this is the meaningful aspect of the game).
  • The game can go for as long as you wish, preferably till any red student has talked to all blue students. The student with the best score in the class is the ultimate winner (this is the motivating aspect of the game).

In both activities, each student is doing something meaningful at each point (this is the engaging aspect of the game). Everybody must work efficiently not to hinder somebody’s success or waste somebody’s time during the activity. All the students play as individuals, but they are also dependent on their peers. This adds a new, collaborative, dimension to the games … one for all, all for one.

Extend the Conversation

I’m always happy to talk to my students in the lessons and hear what they have to say. I love all the opportunities to talk to them outside school hours too. Some time ago one of my students created a temporary Facebook group so that we could participate in an amazing project We’re on the Air created by Theodora Papapanagiotou. This proved really useful because it gave us more space and time to discuss the stuff related to the project. After having completed the project, we didn’t remove the group, though. On the contrary, we decided to keep it so that we could share things related to our English classes.

Most of my colleagues don’t have a Facebook account and those that do are somewhat reluctant to accept the idea of having their students as their FB friends. I’ve heard words of warning, such as that my students may abuse the information I share on Facebook, or that they’ll tend to be too friendly to me, or that they will behave differently in the classes. First of all, I never share publicly anything that I might be ashamed of. I rarely share personal information anyway. The aim of my participation in social media is the attempt to build my personal learning network. I’m convinced that my PLN is 100% ‘safe’; it consists of people with the same interests – passionate educators who love teaching and sharing useful information, so they could hardly ‘spoil my reputation’ or discredit me in any way. This means that all my students can see on my Facebook page is tons of comments in English related to ELT and education (if they care what I’m doing at all). I dare say these comments are always positive, polite, and decent, so I believe there is nothing my students could ever abuse. On the contrary, they may well come across something useful to learn. Secondly, I’ve never felt uncomfortable in the class just because there were people who I had added as friends on Facebook. My students are intelligent and they know where the limit is; they know they must treat their teachers with respect ( I respect them as well after all). And yes, my students behave differently in my classes; they feel more relaxed and more open to share their experiences with someone who is their ally.

From time to time, I also comment in Czech on something my students have shared, which is not related to English or school. The other day I commented on a post on vegetarianism. It was a video showing how cruel people are to animals in some parts of the world. I’m not a vegetarian but I truly respect those who are, and so I felt the urge to express my opinion. From the moment I entered the conversation, more and more young people joined in and the discussion heated up. I soon withdrew because I felt there was nothing else to add, but it was interesting for me to follow the comments and observe the way those kids communicated their ideas to influence others. Some of them left rude comments, but overall, the kids expressed very intelligent opinions.

I believe that if we extend the conversation outside school hours we get to know our students more. The conversation becomes more authentic since we become real partners in the process of communication. We can then use the information we learn about the kids to make formal instruction more meaningful and to create a real-life learning environment. In addition, I think it’s fair to give our students an opportunity to get to know us from a different perspective too. As teachers, we ask our learners loads of questions on a daily basis and we expect these questions to be answered. In ELT particularly, these questions are often very personal and intimate. But do we allow our students to peek into our lives as well? Well, this is a rhetorical question to which I already know the answer but you may extend the conversation and leave a comment if you wish 🙂

*Goal 8/ Cycle 4

Practising grammar via creative writing

I’d like to share an activity that has worked very well with a group of my 15-year-old students. These kids become amazingly creative if their interest is incited. At this age they enjoy playing various PC games (Warcraft, Dota 2, Minecraft, etc.) and reading fantasy books with lots of superheroes and supernatural powers and abilities. So I thought I could turn this to my advantage. In the previous lesson we had focused on past tenses and I wanted my students to get more practice.

As a warm-up activity, I asked each student to take down 5 verbs, 5 nouns, 3 characters (superheroes, people, animals), and 3 places. Then I put the students in groups of four, so each group ended up with 20 verbs, 20 nouns, 12, characters, and 12 places. Now their task was to agree on 5,5,3,3 by the process of elimination. They weren’t allowed to speak Czech at this stage. At this point I revealed that they were going to write a story using these words. I didn’t want to tell them in advance because it would have influenced the choice of the words dramatically. Each group then got a large piece of paper. They immediately started whispering and sharing ideas related to their story when I stopped them and got the groups to swap their lists of words. So each group had to write a story using somebody else’s words. Although this makes the task more challenging for the students, I believe it also makes it more interesting; the group that has provided the words will be more interested in reading the story the other group has invented because they will be curious to see what their peers have done with their cues. And that is one of the objectives: students should be encouraged to read each other’s stories and give feedback. Finally, I collected the stories since the main grammatical focus was the past simple vs. past continuous contrast and I wanted to make sure that they could use the tenses correctly.

An example story:

verbs: go, jump, want, steal, run
nouns: radio, hamster, spider, skirt, book
characters: Hulk, Dr. Penguin, Questioner
places: school, toilet, swimming pool

One day, Hulk was walking down the rooftops. He saw a man stealing a radio. He jumped down to protect the car. He wanted to stop the robbery. The man started running away. Suddenly a strange man appeared. He had a hamster in his pocket. He was probably Scottish because he was wearing a skirt. He was holding a book. “Hello, my name is Questioner. The man who has stolen the radio was Dr. Penguin. He is hiding in a building next to the school. The function of the school is most natural for penguins, you should know right now”. Then the man disappeared. Hulk became crazy. He turned all green and ran to the swimming pool…… 🙂

As it is challenging to create a story and our students are not professional writers, we need to provide them with a lot of help and scaffolding. I should stress that this particular activity was inspired by ideas and tips Gareth Davies shares in his creative writing workshops and on his blog. He believes that before writing a story, it’s good to have a few things in mind, such as the characters and the scene. This makes the writing process easier because the writer has something concrete to elaborate on.

The power of a second chance

Every teacher has unique techniques and methods of passing knowledge on to the students. We approach our students in different ways. This is relative to our beliefs about teaching and our views in general. It is also related to our personality traits. One of the most prominent features of my character is empathy. I hate to see my students frustrated or desperate, and I hate to see them fail. It breaks my heart to give bad grades. Not that I never fail my students; I sometimes have to, but then I give them a second chance because I believe it is my responsibility and their prerogative.

From my experience, most students appreciate it when we make it possible for them to try again. It has a drawback though; it is time-consuming and it makes me busier because I have more tests to correct. But it is worth the extra effort since the kids feel I care and they ‘pay me back’ in many ways. First, they use the opportunity to improve their results and they learn. And that’s one of our goals – to make our students learn. I don’t force them though; they are free to keep their poor marks. Believe it or not, they rarely want to. Second, they feel motivated and they feel more relaxed about tests because they know that they will get a chance to do better if they fail. Some might object that students won’t try hard enough, but honestly, nobody wants to sit two exams or write two tests voluntarily and everybody wishes to succeed in the first one. Third, as my students know that I care, they care too. I know this because I get a lot of positive feedback, especially from the youngest ones, who are open and not afraid to express their feelings.

I believe that if students are treated with empathy, they will become better learners. Some might abuse our generosity but that’s life. We must be patient and tolerant. No matter if the students use the opportunity or miss it, by giving them a second chance we will show them that all we wish is their success – we’ll show them that we are their allies, not enemies, as they sometimes think.

Adapting to new surroundings

The demographic situation in the Czech Republic has recently become rather worrying. The resulting equation is simple; there are more qualified teachers than jobs. It is not so dramatic in rural regions, of course, but things are changing everywhere. School administrators do everything in their power to save the day but what they do is not always the best – neither for the teachers, nor the students. In order to tighten the budget, for example, they often need to take unpopular, risky steps. One of these dicey decisions is an attempt to save money by not dividing classes into smaller groups for English lessons, which is a common practice here. The thing is that once the class drops down to a number of 22 students, the administrator may decide to hire one English teacher instead of two. As an EFL teacher working in the state sector I normally teach a class of up to 16 students (lucky me), so over time, I have adjusted all my techniques to the given situation; I teach in a room with a horseshoe seating arrangement which can accommodate up to 16 students, I have collected flashcard sets for 16 students, I have a corresponding number of dictionaries, etc. To put it simply, I have psychologically adjusted to this magic number. So when I learnt the other day that next academic year I will teach two large classes, my heart sank for a while. In addition, probably in order to show sympathy and concern, my colleague pointed out innocently – “Oh dear! You will have to correct 22 essays instead of 16 – times two.” Nevertheless, this remark got me thinking and I started creating an action plan….

One of the strategies which, I believe, may help me prevent grey hair is the one of peer correction. The activity I’d like to share here was primarily born out of necessity. It occurred to me when I felt overloaded with essays and tests waiting for my feedback and I just couldn’t afford to collect another handful of written assignments.

What was I supposed to do? I needed my students to practise a grammar structure we had learned (used to live vs. be used to living) in a meaningful way – in a cohesive and coherent text. In freer practice one really learns if students are able to use what we’ve taught them because when producing a longer piece of text learners are distracted by various things they have to take into consideration. Although it is practice that makes perfect, learners also need to get feedback which draws attention to their errors.

I handed out A5 pieces of paper and gave my students ten minutes to write a short essay (60 -70 words) on what their life used to be like in the past. When they finished, I asked them to send their work to the person on the right (Student 1), who read the text and added a short comment at the very bottom of the page (see picture 1). Then s/he folded the bottom of the paper back so that the next person (Student 2) could not see what S1 has written (see picture 2). Thus each comment was unique and it wasn’t influenced by other people in the class. Student 2 then did the same and handed the essay over to Student 3. This went on until everybody had read and commented on everybody’s work (there were only twelve Ss in the class so this was feasible, but with larger classes one essay can be read by a limited amount of Ss). Finally the author of the original essay could unfold the paper and see all the comments. At the end of the lesson I posed a few questions:

  1. Why do you think we did this activity?
  2. Do you think it was helpful? Why/not?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. Do you think it would make a difference if I corrected your work?
  5. Why is it important to be able to give feedback?

The most interesting finding for me was the fact that the students enjoyed writing comments more than producing the essay or reading the feedback. At the beginning of the activity they were a bit reluctant and not very confident. ‘We don’t know what to write’, some of them said. However, in the end they appreciated the opportunity to provide constructive criticism and help their peers to learn. They also admitted that they had learned from other people’s mistakes.

I realize this method is just one life saving straw and I hope I’ll discover more effective strategies which will help me successfully cope with this challenging situation I’ll find myself in next year. So if anyone reading this has experienced teaching large classes, I’d love to hear what they think and how they handled it.

Make the difficult choice

Technology is cool
but I prefer it when my five-year-old son
 flips through a hard copy of a book.

I have nothing against the fact that technology, like other tools used in the classroom (and life in general), plays an important role in the process of learning. However, I sometimes get the feeling that technology is seen as a substitute for teachers or even worse, as a substitute for parents. Being an educator and a mother of three sons myself, I believe and hope that it will never be possible to replace well-trained teachers and caring parents with computers.

I love watching my five-year-old son flipping through his books and leporellos each night. And honestly, however old-fashioned I may sound, I wouldn’t like to see him in bed with a laptop or a Kindle. Also, I know that one can make amazing things such as gifts, posters or collages via technology, but I still prefer when I get a paper birthday card, photo or a drawing from my little one.

On the other hand, I realize that the importance of technology will keep increasing; that’s why we cannot teach our children in the same manner in which we were taught in the past. I’m amazed whenever I see my baby nephew walk around the living room pointing the remote control at the TV set hoping that he’ll make things happen. I’m astonished when I observe him with a mobile phone at his ear pretending he’s telephoning (mind you, he doesn’t even speak yet). I can’t believe my eyes when he grabs my hand and tries to tap the PC keyboard with it – something his dad does every day. The baby probably knows already that every action has a reaction, so he hopes that by pressing the keys we’ll change things.

So although I’m an old-fashioned lady with all her routines of behaviour and sets of beliefs, I’ve made the difficult choice – I’ve accepted the idea that technology, if used intelligently, sensibly and carefully, can contribute to human well-being and happiness. By having access to valuable information and by sharing all the vast knowledge of human race we can make each other more educated and thus happier. Without technology it would be virtually impossible nowadays. So once my little son sends me a birthday e-card, I’ll know that he’s entered a new period of life – a new dimension – and I dare say it will happen very soon. And I know this is something I can’t stop, no matter what I believe in and what my preferences are.

In retrospect

I’ve turned 41 today. It’s a weird number and when looking at the two digits, I can’t believe they have something to do with me. But I’d better face the truth: I’m no longer a young lady. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m slowly entering the category called ‘middle-aged women’ – a period beyond one’s adulthood, around the third quarter of the average life span of human beings. However vague this age category may seem, the one thing I’m sure of is that as a middle-aged woman I already know something about life. And I know a lot about teaching. So I think it’s high time to look back at my career and ponder a little about my future as an educator.

I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years now and I would define myself as an experienced teacher. I rarely feel nervous when I enter the classroom, and I face no difficulties when planning the activities or managing the class. Twenty years ago, when I started teaching, I was strongly influenced by CLT in its purest form; I was convinced that all my students needed was to learn to speak the target language fluently. I didn’t care about errors very much at that time and I didn’t interrupt my students while they were speaking. I didn’t find it necessary to provide error feedback because I believed that all learners ultimately master the language if they are exposed to plenty of meaningful input. I didn’t crave for accuracy and precision in my students’ production skills; the only thing that really mattered to me was that the kids had fun and enjoyed the lessons. I remember that one of my specialities was trying to squeeze too much into one lesson, which sometimes resulted in mere chaos. But I was a talented teacher; my colleagues and administrators said so and I could feel it myself – I knew I was on the right track. In other words, teaching was a calling for me and I just needed to work on a few things to become really good.

I’ve changed a lot since then. I still believe that the ultimate goal and outcome of ELT should be fluent speakers, or rather fluent users of the language. What has changed, though, is my view on the way of achieving this goal. I believe in the enormous power of error feedback if it is provided wisely and at the right time (especially in homogenous classes, where all the learners come from the same L1 background). I believe in the benefits of decontextualization of language items, i.e. if we want our students to learn things, they must notice them first. I believe that learning English in chunks is a must, but we sometimes have to analyze chunks to help learners understand things. I believe that L2 learners need a lot of meaningful input but also a lot of meaningful output in order to become proficient users of the language. In other words, practice makes perfect. Of course, I still love when my lessons are interesting and fun but not at all costs. What has changed dramatically is my approach to lesson planning; my lesson plans are not as detailed as they once were. The reason why I’ve ditched thorough lesson planning is that, from my experience, the best lessons are those containing elements of spontaneity. Although I always keep in mind what my objectives are, I believe in creativity, improvisation and the power of the present moment.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me. What I know for sure is that I’d like to keep learning and sharing what I’ve learned. I’d like to keep moving further away from my comfort zone. Inspired by #30GoalsEdu I started writing this blog – something I had never dreamt of before. Since then I’ve met a lot of wonderful, supportive people in social media and I’m slowly extending my PLN. Thanks to my PLN I’ve come across various amazing articles and blog posts. I’ve attended interesting conferences, webinars and workshops. And all this, I believe, is an effective way of making my plans come true …. Cheers!

My biggest wow moments in teaching

There are moments when I think: Wow, it’s great to be a teacher. I drive home on a Friday afternoon, after a long, demanding day at school, feeling full of beans and invigorated. I say to myself: ‘Well done! You did a good job!’ But how do I actually know?

Teaching is one of the professions where you never know for sure – there is no concrete evidence to support your assumptions about your success or failure. Well, yes, there are test scores, grades, and the like, but sometimes one feels good regardless of bad test results and despite low scores. So what are the ways of measuring instructional effectiveness?

From my experience, most teachers have a kind of ‘barometer’ of teaching effectiveness. They have this intuition that tells them whether their lesson went well or badly. This subjective tool becomes more and more powerful in the course of time. In other words, our barometer becomes more precise as we become more experienced. It helps us ‘feel’ things; for example, we can feel whether there is a good atmosphere in the class, whether our activities are enjoyable, whether our students are interested and tuned in to what other people are saying. Sometimes we can feel that we lost our students’ attention at a certain point of the lesson, that we made a mistake in classroom management or in our lesson plan. But very often something unidentifiable happens and the glow of satisfaction never comes. On the contrary, a feeling of imbalance prevails and we desperately want to regain harmony. So we reflect, analyze and ponder, weak and weary. If we are lucky, we have colleagues or our PLN who listen to us. And each time they do so our barometers reset.

It happens that I feel neutral after a lesson. I just leave the classroom without any particular emotions. My barometer reads zero. A few minutes later I come back to collect something I forgot on the desk and I find a scribble on the board. At first I’m a bit disappointed that the kids haven’t cleaned the board but when I look closely I can read the following sign: ‘We enjoy learning English‘. And at that moment a feeling of happiness floods in and the position of the indicator hand of my barometer changes rapidly; the pressure goes up and my energy level is high again. I think: ‘Wow, it’s great to be a teacher!’

How can teachers prepare to give a talk at a conference? #ELTchat

It’s 10 pm and I’m impatiently waiting for another #eltchat. What’s the topic tonight? Did my choice win this time? With my fingers on the keyboard, I’m waiting for the sound of the starting pistol. Here comes Shaun Wilden and announces the topic of the 6/11 evening #eltchat – How can teachers prepare to give a talk at a conference? Not my top choice but I’ll adjust. Paul Gallantry is still deciding whether to use iPad or PC for this chat, because they are not equally responsive. Naomi Epstein is having serious problems with her Internet connection, for which she apologizes in advance.

Sue Annan and I have never given a talk at a conference, so we’re both willing to learn what we can. Marisa Constantinides mentions that Paul is getting ready for a talk so she’s happy to have some experienced speakers in our crowd this evening. James Taylor is just starting to present, so he’s looking forward to hearing some advice from the more experienced participants. I’ve personally seen James present at the #RSCON conference and I believe he will have a lot to say about presenting.

Here comes Paul with his first piece of advice: the first thing to consider is the focus of what you want to talk about – what do you really want to say? Sue Lyon-Jones adds that it’s important that you talk about what you know, what you believe in, and what you feel passionate about. She finds this crucial, along with planning and preparation. Shaun argues that you should make sure you’re clear on what you want to say and you shouldn’t try and say too much.

Paul believes that it’s good to break down the preps into parts. He thinks a good presenter needs 1. focus 2. simplicity 3. clarity 4. empathy. While Marisa and Paul maintain that the key to success is rehearsal, Shaun isn’t keen on rehearsing too much because it makes the whole thing too scripted. However, he admits that when he first started, he did rehearse. While Paul believes that you should always prepare your presentation with plenty of time to spare, Marisa later reveals that she often changes minutes before a talk, especially if she’s seen something relevant.
Now I’d like to know whether it helps to team up with somebody when presenting. Paul tells me that it can. He says he did a presentation with a colleague and it worked very well because they brought different strengths to the presentation. Shaun, on the other hand, finds it more difficult but he enjoys it.

Sue Lyon-Jones and I both believe that the key to success is to involve the audience. Sue elaborates on this a bit when she says that one should also research their audience. Rachel Appleby agrees saying: the more you know them, the better. As far as audience is concerned, Micaela Carey considers the ones who connect with their audience to be the best presenters.

Another principle that the participants decide to discuss, and which Shaun already touched on at the beginning, is the principle of ‘less is more’, i.e. using just a few words and visuals, and as few slides as possible. Paul argues that the presentation should be simple: ‘Don’t stuff it with too many ideas, and give space to delegates to discuss, cogitate and reflect’, he writes. Marisa retweets Csilla Jaray-Benn’s tips for basic slides rules, such as no smaller font than 24, and one slide = one idea. Csilla doesn’t like the fact that some presenters look at their slides, not the audience. Paul agrees with her encouraging presenters to have the confidence to look their audience in the face and suggests that one should not rely on the slides too much. James adds a little humour saying: ‘If I catch any of you reading from your slides, I’ll slap you with a wet fish’. 🙂

Shaun then introduces the concept of  ‘shockers’. To cut it short, shockers and unexpected situations just happen and they are there to make us stronger, to help us learn from our mistakes.

Another interesting idea is introduced by Paul, who believes that presenting to peers may be helpful but also daunting. However, this is where empathy is important – they are here to hear you and have chosen to.

I’ve always wondered if one feels safer when presenting at a webinar than with ‘real’ audience. So I ask the experts. Csilla, for example, argues that real audience is more supportive, but this may depend on presenter’s personality. Marisa is used to both face-to-face and webinars but prefers to be able to see the audience. Shaun replies to my tweet telling me that not being able to see the audience really throws you the first time because you can’t read any body language. Csilla concludes that one of the differences is that you have to be more precise when presenting online.

As a person with no experience in presenting, I want to find out about the secret tips (warm-ups, tongue twisters and various exercises) experienced presenters use before a conference. Marisa suggests breathing exercises. She says they’re good if one feels nervous. However, she admits she’s never tried them herself. She also suggests giving your talk to the wall, which is a good resonator. Csilla prefers practising in front of a mirror. A few participants are puzzled by Csilla’s remark that it helps to eat an apple before you start. She explains that it’s a stage technique used by actors, which helps you sound better.

Towards the end of the chat, Paul comes up with an interesting point that the time of the presentation is also important and adds that a post-lunch gig is always tricky. Sue Lyon-Jones reveals that she sometimes changes talks in response to the furniture, never mind the audience.
Finally, it’s again Sue Lyon-Jones who argues that watching talks by people in other fields (such as TED talks) also helps because good presentation skills are universal, which Sue Annan and Marisa confirm. Csilla then suggests Resonate and Slide:ology, excellent resource books for preparing presentations. Marisa adds that there are lots of videos on YouTube on good presentation skills, such as on recommends one of the activities he did with his business students that taught him a lot about presenting

It’s past eleven and it’s time to say good night. It’s been an interesting chat and I’m happy I’ve got the opportunity to write my first #eltchat summary. I hope I haven’t misinterpreted someone’s ideas. If you feel I have, let me know and forgive me. Practice makes perfect and this is my first trial after all.