Every year, we run a poster day in the School of MACE where third year engineering students display posters and present the results of their individual projects. There is usually some apprehension as the time approaches. Last year, we organised sessions to help prepare the students. These were led by an expert presenter – Tony Walsh, a Manchester based performance poet. We ran three sessions and allowed up to 15 students to ‘sign up’ for each.
From the start, the sessions were quite different to the usual presentation skills course. Tony took inspiration from Maya Angelou’s quote ‘ they may forget what you said, but they never forget how you made them feel…’
Tony is a very skilled facilitator and helped the students to deal with their unconscious fears about presentations. Some warm up exercises focused on speaking in public, initially using tongue twisters. I guess this was to overcome our fears of saying something silly and being laughed at. We all laughed at each other and survived, even enjoyed the experience.
The next point was tackling the fear of being judged by our audience. Anxiety about presenting makes us imagine an audience of ogres ready and waiting to shoot down our well-rehearsed presentation. Tony emphasised that the audience wants to enjoy the presentation and we are on the same side. The students realised that lecturers are actually happy when students show their enthusiasm and knowledge in their subject area.
After some warm up exercises, Tony asked the students to write some notes about what really inspired them about their projects. The question was ‘why do you care about your project?’ And then ‘why should anyone else care?’ The session ended with each student giving a short presentation (3 minutes) about their projects. I was astounded at Tony’s ability to engage and inspire the students. At first, the students were reticent about speaking about their projects. However, with the encouragement and support of the group everyone participated and there were some amazing transformations.
I enjoyed seeing the students growing in confidence as they explained their projects. It was inspirational to realise the range of projects going on in the school, from concrete foundations for buildings to micro-satellites in space. All engineering life was there. All the students seemed relaxed and seemed to enjoy the sessions, just look at the photo!
On the poster day itself, I met several of the students and their obvious confidence shone through. Two of them won prizes on poster day. One for the best poster presentation and the other for the best engagement with social media. Students realised that staff were under time pressure on poster day but not unfriendly. They seemed more inclined to be creative and experiment with their presentations. The session will definitely be repeated. Who knew – presenting can be fun!