We all dread student presentations. Quite often I find myself sitting there, staring into nothingness, imagining all of the other more productive things I could be doing with my time. Then when it comes to “class discussion” it’s not only boring, it’s also painful to watch because no one ever says anything. It’s pretty sad that a student can talk for a solid 30 minutes and still no one has anything to say about what they were talking about. It’s awkward and blatantly says that none of us were paying attention.
I have gone through four years of hating student presentations; however, it was not until I took my fourth-year seminar courses that I realized how interesting it is to hear other people’s opinions and interpretations of different ideas and issues. Here are some tips to make student presentations/seminars less painful to watch and listen to, and instead intellectually stimulating:
1. Pay attention.
I know this can be really hard to do, especially if the person isn’t great at presenting, but please remember how difficult it is to stand up in front of a class and present information that (most of the time) you are not very interested in. This is particularly the case for lower year courses because most students are just assigned a topic. As students, we all know when people aren’t paying attention and are instead on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., so please be mindful of this because it’s really distracting.
2. Put yourself in the presenter’s shoes.
Imagine putting hours of work into a presentation that no one pays attention to—it sucks. It also makes the presenter feel as though no one gives a shit, which sucks even more. Please be kind and respectful, even if the information isn’t very intriguing.
3. Try to form your own opinion based on the information given to you.
When you pay attention, you might be surprised to find that you completely disagree (or agree) with the presenter. Don’t interrupt the presentation to tell them your thoughts; save this for the end. But the point of a presentation is to create discussion, and even if you disagree with what is being said, it can strike up some interesting dialogue (which will make the presentation all the more intriguing, and who knows, you may inspire others to put their two cents in).
4. Answer discussion questions even if you only have a partial response.
Believe me when I say the presenter will be thankful to hear someone else’s voice other than their own. Not to mention a portion of a presentation’s grade almost always depends on stimulating good conversation. Even if you only have a partial response that isn’t fully coherent, you leave the option for other students to chip in and express their own thoughts. I don’t know about you, but in my own experience, I have learned that the more students speak, the more pressure there is to contribute to the conversation.
5. Remember, professors know when you’re trying to make an effort.
Not only will the presenter appreciate your input, so will the prof. Sometimes I think professors hate presentations as much as we do because often they’re stuck leading the conversation at the end. You may not receive actual marks for your participation, but you will generate a better relationship with your professor, which doesn’t always hurt when it comes to needing an extension or requesting missed notes.
6. Take notes! Some information may be on the exam.
Almost as a punishment, professors like to put information from presentations on exams, but the more engaged you are with the content, the better your response can be for an exam question. Taking notes will not only make you focus and pay attention to the information, but it may also help you earn some extra marks on a test, midterm or final.
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