Suggestion 5. Recommend to all graduate students that they plan to deliver at least 1 presentation during their time as a student (more for doctoral students).

Graduate degrees—both master’s and doctoral—prepare students for leadership roles in the professional community.  Leadership can take many forms:  although management positions in workplaces and chairmanships in academe represent one form, other types of leadership exist, including leadership based on intellectual expertise in an area.

One of the expectations that arises, regardless of role—manager, chair, expert or some similar leadership role—is that the leader regularly shares expertise with the rest of the organization through formal presentations.

That’s an uncomfortable role for many because delivering a public presentation is a terrifying experience for many; it regularly has a top spot on lists of fears people have.

For many, practice in delivering presentations builds comfort with the responsibility.  So most faculty members incorporate presentations into their courses.  But the real challenge becomes transferring the comfort of presenting in a “safe” classroom with known classmates and sympathetic instructors to the more realistic situation of presenting in the real world.

Presenting at conferences and meetings of professional organizations provide opportunities to transfer the skills of presenting to real-world situations.

Furthermore, most real-world presentations come with strict time limits and, in some cases, other requirements (for example, presentations at the ASTD International Conference and Exposition require that participants actively engage participants in their sessions) that ultimately lead to stronger presentations.

Different types of students have different needs for presenting, based on the goals of their graduate education.  Consider the suggestions in Table 1 when recommending types of presentations to deliver to your students.

Also consider the type of presentation recommended to students.  Although some students might feel comfortable delivering a workshop on their own for their first public presentation, more likely, students need to take steps towards that.  Cracker barrel (roundtable) presentations provide a safe environment for a first presentation, because of the small audience size (just the people at the table—maybe 10 people at most), the brief length (between 10 and 30 minutes) and the conversational approach.

Other students might feel comfortable with more formal research presentations and workshops, but as a co-presenter.  In such cases, give students their own sections to present.

Furthermore, the number of presentations to encourage students to deliver over the course of their studies varies, depending on the degree and their long-term goal:

  • Master’s students should present at least once.  The experience provides a great developmental opportunity and looks good on their resumes.
  • Doctoral students should present at least once a year on average, with increasing numbers of presentations towards the end of the degree.  Furthermore, doctoral students should present workshops at major conferences, partly for the visibility and partly for the resume credit.  Prospective academic employers look at these credits—not just that they presented but where, as this provides an indication of the likelihood that a candidate might achieve tenure.

Table 1:  Potential Speaking Opportunities for Students

Workplace-oriented students Pre-Doctoral and Doctoral Students
  • At your workplace
  • Local chapters of professional organizations
  • University conferences
  • Professionally-oriented conferences
  • Your suggestions
  • Academic conferences
  • On-campus symposia
  • Your suggestions
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