As the title suggests, the topic of the 13/5-noon #ELTchat was Observation or Presentation nerves – how to avoid them or overcome them. The first question was posed by the moderator, Angelos Bollas: ‘Who is nervous during observation?’ While few participants said they are hardly ever nervous because they take observation as any other lesson (@TheRedFellow), many of us admitted some kind of uneasiness during formal observation (@juliacphang). It is the fear of the unknown – the unpredictable – which may be one of the sources of this anxiety (@juliacphang). However, @Shaunwilden argued that it should be the observer’s job to limit the unknown.
We agreed that although a certain amount of anxiety can be beneficial, and even a good bit of adrenalin (@juliacphang), when there’s too much of it, it can interfere with the observee’s performance (@angelos_bollas). However, once we get going, it’s ok. Students usually soon forget the observer there (@juliacphang).
The next question that emerged at the beginning of the chat was ‘Do you do something special to overcome anxiety?’ One of the tips suggested by @angelos_bollas was to imagine the audience being naked, which, as some of us admitted, never worked, though. What also helps, for example, is 1) a 5-minute walk in fresh air (@BobK99), or 2) having observers very frequently, preferably once a week or more, which helps you stop feeling it’s strange (@GlenysHanson). Also, the more you observe others, the more you relax about being observed yourself (@TheRedFellow). The moderator concluded that it’s a matter of getting used to being observed.
Another part of the discussion revolved around the observer. Who is the observer? Is it a colleague, the administrator, a tutor, the manager, an inspector, or a parent? There seem to be different kinds of anxiety depending on who observes you (@angelos_bollas). For example, some of us said that parents don’t make us feel nervous because they aren’t professional observers, and they are primarily interested to see what their kids can do. Others argued, however, that the parents who come to observe their lessons are psychologists, educators, or teachers (@rmoyano5). Glenys Hanson, for instance, mainly had observers who were colleagues, only interested to see what she was doing. Also, she observed colleagues in order to learn from them. She argued that if the teacher feels the observer is there to judge, it’s bound to be anxiety inducing. Angelos Bollas later maintained that the less formal the context, the less stress one would feel. I added that the aim of the observer is also important; it makes a huge difference if s/he wants to see what the teacher can do or what they can’t do. The moderator concluded that the aims should be known to both parties before observation.
For the rest of the chat, the concept of observation intertwined with the concept of presentation. While class observation can be somewhat unpredictable, presentations are relatively predictable, some argued (@HanaHainsworth). One of the unpredictable elements of formal observations is the students. Generally, they are better behaved when the class is observed, but they may have a tendency to show off, or sometimes they just do things you don’t expect. With a presentation, on the other hand, you know exactly what you’re going to say (@juliacphang). One way or the other, there is a huge difference between being a teacher and a presenter (@Shaunwilden).
Another point related to a rather high degree of unpredictability of observation concerned the fact the observees don’t always know in advance that/when they will be observed. Personally, I believe that we teachers should have the right to choose when we would like to be observed since the opportunity to prepare more thoroughly than usual diminishes the level of anxiety. Others argued, however, that they don’t mind experimenting, getting negative feedback, and learning from their mistakes (@Shaunwilden, @angelos_bollas).
A large bulk of useful tips was shared by the participants on how to prepare for a presentation. Here are some of them: Start solo, then do a presentation in front of small groups, and finally, present to the whole class (@TheRedFellow). ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ seems to work for @MrHoika. Some participants revealed that they like recording their voice and then video themselves before an observation/presentation (@angelos_bollas), while others admitted that they can’t stand listening to recordings of themselves (@TheRedFellow). Shaun Wilden argued, however, that it is a useful way of finding your faults. You can learn a lot from the recordings, and you can change things that need to be changed, such as timing, pausing, intonation, etc. (@angelos_bollas).
Another interesting idea was proposed by the moderator again, who believes that when it comes to professional presentations, what helps is presenting something online first before you do so face-to-face. @HanaHainsworth finds it best to find an audience to do it with because that way you can get feedback. A very practical tip came from @rmoyano5, who summed it up as follows: 1. Good knowledge of the topic 2. Anticipate questions 3. Good nite’s sleep!
Towards the end of the discussion, @teflgeek suggested that feeling positive beforehand may help a great deal because it’s not the presentation that causes nerves – it’s our thinking about the presentation. He argued that there’s a difference between preparation in terms of content, and nerves and anxiety in terms of delivery. We were advised against making the assumption that the presentation will go wrong. Also, there is no difference between pretending to have confidence and actually having confidence itself. So, we shouldn’t anticipate a reaction, we should just experiment by giving the presentation and seeing what reaction we get. Angelos Bollas concluded that perhaps, it’s a mindset difficult to teach, and I tend to agree; one either has it or not. I’d say it’s a question of experience rather than conscious learning.
Here’s the link to the transcript.