Professional Presentations: How to Succeed in International Business

November 1999 — Volume 4, Number 2

Professional Presentations: How to Succeed in International Business

Tracy Henninger-Chiang and Judee Reel (1998)
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. ix + 155
ISBN 0-472-08447-X (paper)
US $18.95

This textbook is designed for high intermediate to advanced learners of English who are preparing for professions in international business. The authors designed the book so that it could be adapted for self-study, for classroom use, or for tutoring. Each chapter leads the learner(s) through the steps necessary for crafting an effective presentation.

Substantial emphasis is given to descriptions of diverse cultures’ expectations of effective presentation skills, so that while the language focus is ESL, the textbook has a far more global perspective. This element truly defines the instruction, as each chapter’s topic is discussed from multiple perspectives. One example is the “Handling Questions” unit, which considers the acceptability of saying, “I don’t know,” in response to a question, and whether this is viewed as honesty or ignorance, depending on the culture.

The textbook begins with a needs analysis, giving students the opportunity to assess individual strengths and weaknesses and to focus their learning. The second chapter, “Evaluating Presentations and Giving Feedback,” covers another important feature of the text, continual self- and peer-evaluation. So often peer review is used as a classroom tool without providing adequate guidance in offering effective and useful feedback. The authors’ suggestions for giving and receiving constructive criticism offer students valuable opportunities to learn what makes a good presentation. The criteria for evaluation change with the focus of each chapter so that the giver is able to offer focussed feedback and the receiver is not overwhelmed with advice.

From there the chapters build on each other. Initial chapters cover preparatory elements such as planning, research, and brainstorming. Chapters on design include topics such as choosing the appropriate rhetorical style and organizing the material. The latter half of the text covers key areas of delivery, including using notes and visual aids and preparing for last-minute changes. Many valuable tips are included with examples of “good and bad,” or what to do and what not to do. In short, all of the steps to creating an effective presentation are covered.

Compared to the sophistication displayed in the discussion of culture, the language instruction in this text is rather simplistic. Vocabulary is covered in each chapter’s Word Bank, which consists of lists of vocabulary words which the authors deemed “of use to students when they talk about presenting” (p. v). While such terms as feedback and stage fright may help students find a common platform upon which to discuss the topic of presentations, they do not serve to further their actual presentation vocabulary. Similarly, some vocabulary choices, such as curator and stationery, seemed almost arbitrary. A greater focus on functional phrases, especially as they relate to rhetorical structures, would have proven more useful for students; unfortunately this was covered only briefly in the chapter on organization. [-1-]

Exercises for vocabulary review are limited to conventional tasks such as fill in the blank, give the definition, and match the synonyms. These routine exercises and the occasional crossword puzzles are surprisingly inconsistent with the maturity and expertise required for the final chapter’s presentation topic, a business plan designed for presentation to venture capitalists. While the authors chose these exercises for their “universal nature” (p. vi), more challenging exercises, with an eye to the needs of global executives and the language challenges they face, would be more appropriate.

This textbook’s real strength lies in its cross-cultural perspective and its step-by-step examination of presentation skills. The resources available in the appendices underscore this. Web sites, e-mail discussion lists, and bibliographies on international business and culture supplement the text well and offer the student opportunities for further study.

Andrea Murau Haraway
Thunderbird — The American Graduate School of International Management
<harawaya@t-bird.edu>

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