What do tutors say about teaching presentation skills? How important are intonation, pausing and discourse markers? What techniques do they use in class to help students to learn?


 “Tell them to put their fingers in their ears [when practicing] so they can hear themselves better, maybe I have picked that up from Berlitz?”

“Involve the audience so they feel as if it is their presentation as well as the speaker’s”


What words and phrases to teachers use to describe the good and the bad of students’ use of intonation when making a presentation?

Positive terms
  • like a native speaker
  • appropriate rising and falling tones at right places
  • keeps listener’s attention
  • smooth delivery
  • intonation appears native
  • voice falling at right points
  • voice goes up on key point
  • natural sounding
Negative connotations

Of course we cannot always be positive about students’ use of intonation. What terms and phrases do teachers use when describing these aspects?

  • very jerky
  • not enough variety in tone
  • monotonous tone
  • start from a higher pitch
  • quite flat
  • didn’t have rises at key points
  • strange intonation
  • a bit boring nothing to spark your attention
  • just adding interest, more of a dialogue


Most teachers comment on the pausing in the students speech while delivering a presentation, and seem to think that pausing and intonation go together.

Positive terms
  • appropriate gaps between segments of information
  • even tiny split second of pause can be crucial
  • good natural pauses
Negative comments
  • not enough pausing at key places which is linked to intonation
  • just running on from one aspect to another without pausing
  • all blended into one
  • difficult to link to visuals
  • breaks indicate lack of fluency

Discourse Markers

Discourse markers are small words and phrases that act to serve as signals to the audience to guide them through the presentation and to show them the structure and organization. Words such as ‘so’, ‘first’, ‘next’, ‘well’ are considered to be discourse markers (DMs) but there are many more.

Students can sometimes use discourse markers excessively and make mistakes with them. In one case, the student used the marker ‘thirdly’ but had not used ‘firstly’ or ‘secondly’ prior to this

She does use some discourse markers, ‘thirdly’, but I don’t know where ‘first’ and ‘second’ were!

Positive comments
  • a pause is like a DM
  • ‘okay’ can be seen as DM
  • uses little DMs ‘so’ ‘well’ correctly
  • for DMs it is easier because you can give them examples
  • provide spoken texts and scratch out the discourse markers

Class Techniques

What classroom techniques and tips do teachers have in order to help students make better oral presentations?

Other day did mini presentation practice, got them to say one paragraph, some speaking too quickly, fairly monotonous tone, so would start with pausing, slowing it down a bit, focus on first word of each sentence where pitch should be, maybe even drilling, show with hand or board with arrows where tone is, learners need to recognize it before producing, can they hear it?

With Chinese learners we established that Chinese has a different tonal system, so they are aware of tone but in a different way

Helpful to have a transcript of native speaker as model, someone who can illustrate smooth delivery, not reading from script, not rushing, understands need for pauses

Tell them to stress on key words, even if intonation is not great at least they are highlighting key words

Tell them to put their fingers in their ears so they can hear themselves better, maybe I have picked that up from Berlitz?

‘Should be a dialogue’ – yeh just so they don’t see it as a memorized narration of the topic, they are discussing trying to use rhetoric to get audience to stop and think, I tell them to ask the audience questions and then give them the answer rather than just, use function language, involve the audience so the audience feel as if it their presentation as well as the speaker’s

Here are some sample learning and research notes

Tutor Voices (PDF Document)

Phonological paragraphs (PDF Document)

Upspeak (PDF Document) (sample MP3)

Use of Scripts and Notes (Research Notes – PDF file)

Nerves (PDF Documentt)

Walking the audience round the slide (PDF Document)