Undergrad Adventures: ENG 451 Presentation

Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support.
Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support. (See my very messy white board diagram in the back.)

Last week, I got an email from my capstone mentor asking me if I wanted to give a presentation on my last capstone paper in his Modernism & Postmodernism class.

He is always simultaneously my favorite and least favorite person.
“No pressure at all” yeah okay uh huh

So I took part of the afternoon off of work and went and gave what ended up being a much bigger presentation/discussion. Despite none of this being for class credit, I learned a lot about public speaking and giving a talk.

Reading from a formal essay will not always work for a talk. 

When I did SCCUR, all I had to do was get up there, read my paper and push along PowerPoint slides. I did a pretty good job of explaining Yeezus, and just about everyone there was already interested in the material.

A class of English students who had maybe seen a handful of Community episodes each makes things just a little harder. This paper is all about the Community episode “Critical Film Studies,” which is heavily entrenched in Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre references. The particular publication I’ll be sending this to is online, so it’s easy for people to Google “My Dinner with Andre summary” or “who is Abed Nadir.” But when you’re in a classroom full of people who may not have seen either movie (most people had seen Pulp Fiction, but nobody had seen My Dinner with Andre), you have to reorient yourself a little bit. I started out with small summaries of the episode (which we had just watched) the two movies, and the definition of the postmodern concept — the simulacra — I was working with. I also added some preliminary questions to get people comfortable with what I was about to say. It was an easier way to segue into very dense material that requires prior knowledge, even if you’ve just watched the episode. When you’re writing a paper for a specific purpose, you forget that not everyone will be on the same page. I think I need to be a tad more cognizant of that for next time.

Nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. 

I was originally only supposed to talk and facilitate a discussion for 15-30 minutes. The entire thing, including watching the episode, turned into nearly 1 1/2 hours. The class had SO many questions about the concepts and great things to say, and even started small back-and-forths amongst themselves — I didn’t initially expect any of the scenarios. It was great for me, since I had to think on my feet and got new ideas from their discussions. There are a couple of things they brought up and fleshed out that I hadn’t even thought of that I think will really enhance my paper. I love working with other people like that, because it puts everyone’s creativity in high gear.

You don’t really realize just how important a good room is for teaching until you’re in one that really sucks. 

The classroom that this class is held in is a long and wide room set up to be a computer lab, with four sets of group tables in the middle and computer stations around the perimeter. There was no front table or lectern, and a humongous space between the front tables and the white board. I have a clear and loud voice, so I don’t think I had issues with the people in the back hearing me. But I felt marooned at the front of the room — I had nowhere to put my notebook or my notes, so I felt like an idiot standing up there without an anchor. Plus, I had to write super big on the white board so the quality of my handwriting instantly plummeted. Tl;dr Some rooms are just not good for presentations.


I am a halfway decent public speaker.

I was really nervous at the beginning (partly because the concepts are difficult and partly because my research mentor was sitting. right. there.) But I soon found a cadence, and was able to use my hands and move around the room without bouncing or shaking, something I usually do. I faltered over some words, which I should have rehearsed beforehand. I know from my foray into writing scripts for video that you can’t write anything that’s hard to say, and even though this is originally for print, I should have modified some words to help them glide better.

All that being said, I got a lot of compliments from my fellow classmates and the professor, who said I was a good public speaker. I don’t buy that completely, but we’ll see when I have to give my next speech in April — another undergraduate adventure for another day.

What’s your experience with giving presentations? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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