This article presents basic ideas of research based on my experiences of teaching a tertiary level course in English communication skills. The purpose is to outline some down-to-earth steps to address the presentation needs of students with moderate competence and performance.
What is research?
To start with the relatively obvious, research is as simple as trying to find a little more than what removes confusion. It is the attempt to know things to the extent of being able to claim ownership and originality. The teacher can make it a point that presenters must know much more than they present. So, the only basic value to emphasize would be what Booth, Colomb and Williams (2003) postulate about research as the attempt to “free yourselves from ignorance, prejudice, misunderstanding and the half-baked ideas that so many charlatans try to impose on us,” and to “improve not the whole world, but at least your corner of it.” This at least would not sound idealistic given that the tertiary level orients a considerable portion of curriculum to research-based projects, and that the students are already prepared to face a professional work environment ahead.
I propose that the teacher encourage students to work on three main factors in the form of a research activity – knowing the audience, finding and organizing the contents and determining right strategies.
Knowing the audience
Research starts with the care for the audience. A presenter should work with the awareness and recognition of audience in view of their interests, orientation and competence on the subject being presented. Siddons (2008) contends, “Not knowing your audience is lethal. How can you engage people if you don’t have a clue what really interests them?” Knowing the audience requires a process of listener analysis, which according to Careers Skills Library (2004) involves the following considerations:
Ask yourself the following questions: What do my listeners want to know? If you don’t provide information that interests them, you’ll put them to sleep. Find out what they care about and cover this material in your talk. … How much do they already know? They may be experts or they may know almost nothing about your topic. You don’t want to “talk down” to your listeners. But you also don’t want to speak over their heads. Determine what your audience knows and pitch your talk to your audience’s level of understanding. Where do they stand? Your listeners may be likely to agree with what you’re saying, or they may need a lot of convincing. Find out their attitudes; then determine what to say to persuade them of your point of view. [emphasis added]
Search for contents
In addition to the knowledge of the nature and needs of the audience, research entails a thorough search into the content itself. The following three steps would help develop the contents of a presentation.
Somewhere to go:
Research should involve movement, both physical and mental. Even while you are surfing the internet you are moving, or navigating. In addition, you may travel to search for facts and figures, to take samples and to gather data. Going to library from your residence, going to the study from the living room – all comprise the action of going, the bottom-line for research. When you go out, you use your senses to perceive the world outside. You see, hear, touch, smell and probably taste things. Activation of senses helps you get the fuller picture of the phenomena you are exploring. The result is you experience your subject well, and will later present it with great involvement and positive attitude thereby activating your thoughts and polishing language competence.
Someone to talk with:
Research involves interaction with people. The basic purpose of such interaction is to include people’s minds in your venture for finding more knowledge. This can be done both formally and informally. Talking formally refers to interviews or (focused) group discussions. Informally, it is more than structured interaction. What about asking people where a certain place is, whether such and such book is available or even whether there is someone who knows the subject more? And it does take into account the queries to the instructor or anyone she refers to. Even the SMSs, chats and emails may have substances. Meeting and knowing people both opens up the avenues of new resources and offers opportunities for building a professional connections.
Something to read:
Reading sounds simplistic; anyone at the tertiary level does read. But do students read enough in order to build competence in communication and learn new things beyond the curriculum? Most student presenters start in complete ignorance of what to do. A few get ready with very personal subjects like their most favourite (place/celebrities/idols) and the most unforgettable (events/days/experiences) which may not involve further study. But the teacher should set a bottom line. In the beginning, the teacher must solicit the presentation all the way from the choice of a topic to final delivery. Thus reading should be compulsory so that it will involve learning. It should teach new ideas as well as ideas of oral communication.
Reading can include multiple types of texts: guidelines for presentation skills (preparation and delivery), handouts on a topic for students who have already got topics, list of possible topics for those who have not fixed them, interesting texts to get ideas on a possible topic, and even a list of things to do before ending up with an idea – visit library, talk with someone, see samples of earlier presentations, among others. The texts can be of any length and genre: anything that one comes across once the ‘unrest’ and curiosity about a topic starts. It can be a piece of newspaper article, texts on a hoarding board, an advertisement slogan, writings on a new brand T-shirt and so on.
Researching through physical mobility, interaction with people and reading of relevant materials enables presenters to internalize the contents of presentation. But research must involve more work beyond the content. Because it is a tertiary level class and students are already conscious of building professional attributes, they should be asked to develop certain strategies of organization and delivery. What would be the most appropriate beginning given the nature of the content and audience? What would be the degree of formality/informality both in demeanor and language use? What aids (handouts, chart papers, multimedia) are relevant to facilitate the presentation and audience involvement? What jokes, anecdotes and facts would embellish the content as well as trigger the audience’s positive attitude?
Research is inevitable for developing original content, for competence in knowledge and confidence in delivery. It helps build up credibility in the presenters by according them sincerity and diligence.
- Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. 2003. The craft ofresearch. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Careers Skills Library. (2004). Communication skills. 2nd ed. New York: FergusonPublishing Company.
- Siddons, Suzy. (2008). The complete presentation skills handbook. London: Kogan Page Limited.