Using Real-World Standards to Enhance Students' Presentation Skills

By Pittenger, Khushwant K. S.; Miller, Mary C. et al. | Business Communication Quarterly, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Using Real-World Standards to Enhance Students' Presentation Skills


Pittenger, Khushwant K. S., Miller, Mary C., Mott, Joshua, Business Communication Quarterly


IN COUNTLESS SURVEYS, employers, graduate students, academicians, and others continue to list oral and written communication among the most critical skills needed by business students today (Hynes & Bhatia, 1996; Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997; Plutsky, 1996; Wardrope, 2002). The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International (2004) continues to recognize the importance nf communication skills in its latest standards. Not surprisingly, Wardrope (2002) found that a communication course was required at 76% of the institutions surveyed. Now the debate is not about the value of a business communication course but about its effectiveness. It seems critical to decipher how best to teach the necessary communication skills to business students to meet real-world standards (Dorn, 1999; Muir, 1996; Wolff, 1996). This article describes the efforts of a small, Midwest university to enhance the effectiveness of its business communication course by adopting such standards to gauge the oral presentation skill mastery of its students.

A COMPETENCY-BASED CURRICULUM

In the late 1990s, the Dauch College of Business and Economics at Ashland University, in Ohio adopted a competency-based business curriculum as advocated by the American Management Association for many years (Hayes, 1979, 1980). After extensive research, the college adopted a model of 20 competencies, which we divided into college-level competencies, discipline-level competencies, and course-level competencies. We adopted communication as one of the first college-level competencies for its general significance for all business students regardless of their majors. The Planning Task Force, the group directing the implementation of the competency model, required all courses to emphasize written communication skills but targeted the business communication class for concentrated effort in the area of oral communication, perhaps the most important skill in the workplace (Maes et al., 1997). The Planning Task Force also chose to use the training model--teach theory, give opportunity to practice the skill, and provide feedback. In addition, the Task Force decided to use business world standards to assess the students' acquisition of the competency.

The business communication class had been a part of business core requirements for business students for many years. It was a traditional class for sophomores and juniors that covered the basics of business communications: group and individual report writing, letters, memos, employment communication, and interviewing. The students were assessed on the basis of written homework assignments, class participation and presentations, special projects, and exams. This class was in addition to the university's general education requirements of freshman English composition and an introductory speech class. These two classes were prerequisites for the business communication class, which usually had 25 to 30 students in each section.

SETTING THE STANDARD

Our first step in redesigning the course to emphasize oral communication was to hire an executive training firm to provide an objective assessment of student skills. The consultant and instructor jointly designed a formal presentation evaluation form (Appendix A), which combined the consulting firm's checklist and the instructor's previous form. In spring 2001, the instructor videotaped individual student presentations in the classroom and mailed the tapes to the consulting firm for assessment.

The instructor directed the students to give a 5- to 6.5-minute presentation in professional business attire on a topic selected by the student from a supplied list (Appendix B). She reviewed the assessment form with the students and showed them a short video on making presentations. No specific discussion was held on how to make a successful presentation. The presentations took place in the regular classroom. Both the instructor and the consultant assessed student performance; students were given both these assessments and the video of their presentation. …

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