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The Dreaded Presentation

At every stage of your life, you will have to complete some form of an assessment. Whether that’s an exam on molecular biology, or a group project report, or even a performance evaluation – we are always being assessed on our ability or knowledge of what we have been taught!

However the form of assessment that creates the most overwhelming amount of anxiety is of course the dreaded oral presentations. Over 75% of the population feel anxious when presenting their work to others, with 86% of individuals with dyslexia feeling the same.

It will then come as a surprise to know that despite having creative learning techniques designed to boost literacy skills, there is little support for the specific skill set required to deliver a successful presentation.

Presentations are notoriously difficult because of the diverse range of skills required all at the one time. Try to picture the last time you had to present a PowerPoint presentation in front of an audience.

  • Whilst you wait to present, you’ll be running through the presentation in your head, perhaps reminding yourself of the key points you have to cover...

  • Some may feel an adrenaline rush, fumbling with your hands as your heartbeat spikes...

  • You may have notes with you, or spent the entire night memorising your script by heart...

  • You remember to engage with your audience during the presentation, keeping your eyes from travelling to the ground or the back wall, whilst hitting the keyboard to advance your PowerPoint slides on and managing the amount of time you have left... 

  • Suddenly, your mind goes blank and you realise you’ve missed a key point, or you lose your place on your presentation notes and become flustered as you try to keep your mind on track but feel the pressure from that momentary slip...

What a nightmare, am I right?

Now, imagine all of the above, except this time you are facing the audience in the mind of an individual with dyslexia.

  • With a challenged short-term memory, you might struggle to memorise the entire script the night before, and so would often rely on presentation notes... 

  • During the presentation, perhaps with weakened literacy skills it becomes even more challenging to read from a sheet of text especially under pressure which results in an overloaded working memory and increased anxiety...

  • Maybe by utilising a creative learning technique, an image could replace the text and ease the pressure, but now the lack of safety net of having the text right in front you increases your anxiety even more! Since the presentation is timed, you could even run the risk of talking for longer than you anticipated... 

And so on…

You can tell from the two scenarios that in a situation that is already pretty stressful for the majority of the population, oral presentations seem to particularly accentuate the skills and areas that individuals with dyslexia already struggle with the most.  

Why are Presentations Such an Important Problem? 

The importance of presentations is apparent in university where they can count towards a student’s final grade or performance. But if a student with a learning difference is expected to present their work, what accommodations can be made for them to allow for a fair assessment? Some faculties may suggest the student to submit a recorded video of the presentation to present to their peers in class, but surely the solution should lie in creating equal access to education and opportunities rather than highlighting the fact that the student has a learning difference to begin with.

This applies beyond university, where most students will intend to enter the world of work. Developed skills in public speaking and the ability to present your work to others effectively can be crucial, and so it is important for these skills to be enhanced during the student’s time at university whilst they learn every other aspect of their career area.

Whilst huge leaps are being made to equal the access to education for people of all abilities in the form of funding, resources, assistive technology and tools – there still seems to be a prevailing gap in the support of important skills that can define how an individual communicates with the people around them, enhancing their presentation delivery and ultimately equipping them for the rest of their life.

 


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