Presentations – like crits and groupwork – will be unfamiliar to many international students, culturally alien to some and disturbing because of the pressures on language that they raise. Presentations will also create high anxiety in many SpLD students, those with mental health issues and those who have difficulties with planning, memory or word finding.


As with groupwork, be clear what importance is assigned to presentation technique as well as its content, organisation and visual strength. Good presentation skills are a valuable asset in the workplace, and for that alone it would be good practice to include sessions and/or links to good online guidance for presentation skills.

Many students may be reassured to know that only 7% of a communication is understood through words – roughly 55% will be through body language and 38% tone of voice (Albert Mehrabian, 1971).

Offer, in the first year at least, the opportunity to create presentations in video form to reduce anxiety.

Avoid interrupting a presentation: for those with poor organisation skills (often the case with dyspraxics, in particular), this can irremediably damage their planning.

To take the sting out of questioning, suggest students welcome questions they cannot yet answer on grounds that they may offer useful lines of creative enquiry. It may help to demonstrate confident responses to such questions – remembering body language. (‘Thank you … that’s a useful/interesting question … I’ll follow that up … can I come back to you on that?’)

See when the presentation room is free so that students can practise their presentations there. And emphasise the value of practice.

If students want advice from friends when they practise, suggest the question: ‘What three things would you change?’ This puts the critic in the comfortable position of knowing exactly what is required; the word ‘change’ is also non-threatening.

As with crits, students may find it useful to join a drama group (there are also good RSC workshops online) and/or a choir. Both have been found to help with anxiety.

© Matthew Tizzard

Further reading

Brown, J. and Brown, L. (2013) ‘The international student sojourn, identity conflict and threats to well-being’ in: British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 41:4, pp.395-413

Cain, S (2012) The Power of Introverts

Carroll, J. and Iles, J. (2006) ‘An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in highereducation’ in: British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76:3, pp.651-662

Slovic, S. (2008) ‘Coping with stress: the perspective of international students’ in Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 6:3, pp.145-158

Van Emden, J. and Becker, L. (2016) Presentation Skills for Students (3rd edn) London: Palgrave

See also Supporting Students through Crits