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Measuring the efficiency of presentation skills in business and educational contexts in Hungary

Challenges and perspectives of a research
Estimer l’efficacité des compétences de présentation dans les contextes professionnels et éducatifs en Hongrie — Caractéristiques et perspectives de recherche
Zita Komár et Veronika Pelle
p. 61-84


Cette étude se fonde sur la conceptualisation des notions de communication et de présentation efficaces et opérantes dans le contexte de l’entreprise. Après un état de l’art concernant les études empiriques et les recherches dans le milieu de l’entreprise, cet article présente tout d’abord la conception complexe de la méthode d’examen ainsi que les caractéristiques et nouvelles perspectives introduites par la recherche. Il évoque aussi le changement de l’évaluation, qui n’a pas la même ampleur suivant qu’elle a lieu dans un contexte éducatif ou professionnel, puisque les attentes d’employeurs et de futurs employés diffèrent, à propos de compétences discursives primordiales, notamment en ce qui concerne la présentation. Le cadre théorique et méthodologique précèdent une étude de cas hongroise réalisée sur des étudiants, avant de passer à un panorama actuel de l’offre en matière de compétences communicationnelles dans l’éducation (supérieure), assorties de remarques conclusives.

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Introduction : Communication skills in business context

1Efficient business communication is the key to planning, leading, organising and controlling the resources of organisations by sending and receiving verbal and non-verbal messages within organisational context (Roebuck, 2001 ; Ober, 2001 ; Murphy, Hildebrand and Thomas, 1997). This process includes both external and internal communications. Therefore, improving business communication skills is critical to career and organisational success on every level (Conrad and Newberry, 2011).

  • 1 Business major graduates refer to students who obtain a university degree in Business Administratio (...)
  • 2 Key employability-related business communication skills are a complex set of competencies including (...)

2The expanse and importance of business communication underscore the need for business communication skills education in order to prepare business major students for the workplace1. Several studies (e.g., Young and Murphy, 2003) reveal that business education should be sensitive to the communication skills needs of business employees. Among these, the so-called soft skills2 should be identified as key issues in business and higher education as well, in order to prepare graduates for performing at job interviews and business meetings successfully. Some surveys (e.g., Lee and Blaszcynski, 1999 ; Siegel, 2000) also indicate that the importance of communication skills to entry-level positions is likely to grow. Moreover, the increasing importance of communication skills is not unique to PR, marketing, media and communication-based degrees and positions. Just on the contrary : it is regardless of specialty that business employers rank communication skills highly.

  • 3 Skills and competencies, together with abilities and capabilities, are close concepts, often being (...)

3In surveys conducted among employers in the past decade, communication skills have been regularly listed among the top generally required skills and competencies3 that employers look for in applicants. One of the most well-known American surveys of this type, the Annual Job Outlook Survey, carried out in the United States by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), yearly report that both oral and written communicative efficiency are considered to be among the most required and valued competencies of employees. According to their latest results (NACE, 2017), written communication skills closely succeeding the problem-solving skills and the ability to work in teams - belong to the top three attributes that employers look for in a candidate’s resume). In addition, verbal communication skills are also listed among the top seven attributes in last year’s results. In Hungary, Kiss (2010) conducted a survey among young career-starter graduates, which yielded similar results : communication skills appeared as one of the most important competences required in the participants’ jobs, and were ranked as fourth in a list of twenty competence areas.

4Despite the general agreement on the importance of the improvement of business communication skills of applicants and employees, very little feedback on these skills gets transferred from the labour market to higher educational institutions. Sapp and Zhang (2009 as cited in Conrad and Newberry, 2011) conducted a survey among 238 industry supervisors over a 5-year-period in the departments of English and communication at a private university in the Northeast. The results of their research pointed out that rarely do university faculties have the chance to incorporate practical pieces of advice and guidance from business partners and industry insiders into their courses, aiming to facilitate students’ transition into full-time employment.

5One of the reasons behind this is the lack of communication as well as the missing bridge and relationship between the institutions and agents of business and those of education. Another is that we have little empirically gained and evidence-based knowledge of what is specifically meant by the often-cited concept of “communication skills.” In other words, it is difficult to define what the precise subskills and elements of so-called business communication skills are, which make a communicator in an organisational setting successful and efficient.

  • 4 The research was supported by the Széchenyi 2020 Human Resource Development Operational Programme ( (...)
  • 5 The members of the research team are researchers and instructors of Corvinus University of Budapest (...)

6Knowing which communication skills are important for new employees is primarily useful for determining the skills that need to be focused on in any school curriculum or college preparation (Christensen and Rees, 2002). Moreover, the identification of inevitable communication skills should help graduates and applicants focus on personal competencies and problem areas in order to target the most expected verbal and non-verbal indicators evaluated by job interviewers or employers. In order to identify these communication skills and be able to create the missing bridge between the agents of business and education, a research4 was launched by our research team5 at Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary). The main aim of the research was to explore employers’ and future employees’ expectations about vital business communication skills, and examine what makes a communicator and a presentation efficient and successful in organisational settings.

Developing a new methodology on measuring communication skills in business contexts

7As touched upon above, operationalising the concept of (business) communication skills have proven to be a rather difficult task for the empirical scientific attempts carried out so far. While there is a good dose of popular books on business management skills available on the market, written for the wider audience of non-academic nature, empirically based scientific literature on this specific question seems to struggle with hiatus. Recently, however, new studies have appeared, which managed to show relationship between message features and objective measures of individual or organisational success. One of these is Kauffeld and Lehmann-Willenbrock’s (2012) research, in which they video-recorded business meetings of 20 medium-sized organisations in Germany. The analysis of their sample resulted in a classification of message types (they distinguished between problem-focused, procedural, socio-emotional and action-oriented statements), from which they developed an instrument for group interaction analysis, their so-called act4teams coding scheme. With this, they were able to show correlations between the frequency of certain types of messages and specific measures of team productivity and organisational success.

8In addition to the analysis of business meetings, Chen, Yao and Kotha’s (2009) research examined another frequent genre and practice of business communication, generally taking place within the context of business meetings, i.e., business presentations. Undertaking a controlled experiment as well as a field study scrutinising business plan presentations, the authors aimed at examining links between given factors of business presentations and their impressions on the audience, and managed to determine attributes of presentations which influence venture capitalists’ decisions on investing. They focused on two characteristics of studied presentations : the presenter’s preparedness (deducted from the verbal characteristics of the presentations) and the presenter’s passion (drawn from the patterns of non-verbal behaviour). Their results proved that the former attributes - i.e., the actual and perceived preparedness of the presenter) influenced the decisions of the participant audience strongly, while the latter examined element - i.e., the actual and perceived passion displayed by the presenter) did not make such a strong impact on the audience. Furthermore, Chen, Yao and Kotha’s (2009) research was the first one to develop valid and reliable quantitative measures for the different aspects of impression-making in terms of business presentations and could connect these to distinctive behavioural responses produced by the audience.

9Due to their methodological novelties, and since business meetings and business presentations provide the main contexts for examining business communication skills, the studies of Kauffeld and Lehmann-Willenbrock as well as Chen, Yao and Kotha inspired us in developing the methodology of our research. We aimed at applying the method of video-analysis to Hungarian business contexts, asking small and medium-size enterprises to video-record business situations from their everyday communication practice. We focused the scope of our sample to business presentations of various kinds, be it more traditional presentations of business plans, presentations of ideas within a meeting or speeches delivered within the business practice of a company.

10Nevertheless, since Chen, Yao and Kotha’s (2009) study focuses on only two specific aspects of the impression made by a presentation - the perceived passion and the preparedness of the presenter), in order to address our research questions which aims to embrace a wide and comprehensive scale of communication skills, competencies and characteristics that determine the overall success of a business presentation, we needed to look for other sources. To the best of our knowledge no measuring instrument or theory with a firm empirical background has been developed to address our specific research question, we turned our attention to the literature on public speaking and decided to build on Osborn, Osborn and Osborn’s (2012) work. Their widely used university textbook on public speaking seems to stand out from the range of volumes lacking empirical evidence from behind their recommendations by offering a clear theoretical framework on the efficiency of presentations.

11Osborn, Osborn and Osborn’s (2012) starting point for operationalising this efficiency is the Aristotelian concept of ethos, which they interpret as the entirety of impressions created by the speaker in the audience, embracing all “those characteristics that make the speaker honest, credible, powerful and appealing” (Osborn, Osborn and Osborn, 2012: 40). The authors conceptualise the concept of ethos based on four components: the speaker’s perceived competence, integrity, goodwill and dynamism. The first component, competence, is used for speakers who make the impression of being intelligent, well informed and well prepared. Speakers demonstrating integrity are considered to be honest, dependable and ethical. Goodwill is a characteristic feature of people who display having the interests of others at heart. Finally, dynamism is an inherent attribute of speakers who are perceived as enthusiastic, confident, energetic and in control of the situation.

  • 6 A more detailed explanation of this process as well as of the whole methodology of the research was (...)

12In order to operationalise the above four components, we conceptualised them as four distinct variables and established a set of directly observable indicators for each. Our indicators were created based on the specific recommendations for each of the four components introduced above. These were provided by Osborn, Osborn and Osborn (2012) in the form of normative statements about how speakers should behave and what they should do in order to create the impression of a given component. These statements and recommendations were then turned into descriptions of the audience’s impressions, which served as indicators of the research.6 After removing all redundancies, a 54-item scale of indicators were created, which we translated into Hungarian. The scale currently exists only in Hungarian and cannot be included here for limitations of space. Nevertheless, Figure 1 below (Kovács, 2018) provides a brief summary of the indicators used for each component. This instrument, designed as a comprehensive evaluation scale for presentations, was planned to be used for examining the correlations between the impression of video-recorded presentations (as perceived by the coder audience) and the personality attributes of its presenters.

Figure 1 : Indicators of the four components of the impression made by a presenter

Figure 1 : Indicators of the four components of the impression made by a presenter

Source : Kovács (2018 : 488), based on Osborn, Osborn and Osborn (2012).

13For exploring the effect of a speaker’s personality in overall impression-making during a presentation and so measuring the personality attributes of the presenters participating in our research, we applied a shortened and translated version of the widely known and freely available International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) (Maples, Guan, Carter and Miller, 2014). This instrument operates with the personality dimensions of one of the leading personality models of psychology, the Big Five model by Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1987 ; 1999), which allows for linking the personal traits and attributes of presenters to their communication competencies. According to this long-standing and well-known model of personality psychology, the core of human personality is determined by five central traits : extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Figure 2 by Kovács (2018) displays the list of these personality traits and some of the adjectives commonly related to them.

Figure 2 : Big Five personality traits with commonly associated adjectives/expressions describing low-scorers and high-scorers in each dimension

Figure 2 : Big Five personality traits with commonly associated adjectives/expressions describing low-scorers and high-scorers in each dimension

Source : Kovács (2018 : 490), based on Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1999).

14Looking at these adjectives as impressions of personality made in the audience of a speaker of a presentation drew our attention to the connections between the personality dimensions of the Big Five model and the four components of ethos and impression-making by Osborn, Osborn and Osborn (2012). Therefore, the examination of these potential correlations was planned to be at the core of our research.

From business to education : Challenges and new perspectives of the research

15The target group of our research was the top managers of companies (SMEs) seated in the Central-Transdanubian area of Hungary, whom we contacted and asked to provide a sample of video recordings of real business presentations. These recordings were then designed to be judged by a panel of assessors, based on the evaluation scale presented above. At the same time, the presenters appearing in the video samples were asked to fill out the Hungarian adaptation of a self-report personality inventory, the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) introduced above. Adapting this tool to the Hungarian-language context proved to be the first challenge of our research due to the major differences between the structure and logic of the two affected languages, English and Hungarian. Maintaining the original semantic contents and avoiding any semantic distortions required extraordinary care from the side of the researchers.

16Reaching and activating our target group turned out to be the next challenge of the research even if we applied professional contact lists and contacted the target companies in numerous rounds, adopting several methods. In exchange of participating in our research, they were offered the opportunity of a personalized communication analysis of the recorded presentations as well as extra counselling free of charge. Thus, any employee becoming a participant of this video-based research instrument could receive valuable personal feedback and knowledge about their own perceived ethos, presentation skills as well as the effect and impression they make on the audience. However, since the interest in participating in our research proved to be rather low for a variety of reasons (including socio-economic factors as well as lack of experience on the business side in benefiting from scientific results), our research methodology needed to be revised.

17This lead us to developing an online survey which aimed at examining managers’ expectations in terms of communication competencies towards their (future) employees. In other words, we aimed at mapping the specific communication skills that the employers of the region consider as highly important in business context. Serving this purpose, we created a questionnaire targeting the decision makers of the SMEs of the region (representing the side of employers) as well as our university students of Communication and Media Science (representing the side of future employees), aiming to collect their opinions about the significance of various communication competencies.

  • 7 These 21 competencies are : appearance ; assertive communication and confrontation ; attention, ref (...)

18For constructing this instrument, our research team compared 28 different taxonomies of communication skills and competencies from the international scientific scene. Based on this analysis, we created a list of 21 competencies7, precisely defining each. For length constraints, we are confined to provide a sole list of these competencies in the following : spoken communication skills, written communication skills, presentation skills, appearance, non-verbal behaviour, attention and reflection, interpersonal communication, negotiation techniques, assertive communication and confrontation, persuasive skills, explanatory skills, intercultural skills, foreign language skills, self-management, group communication skills, use of communication technologies, feedback, self-disclosure, sense of humour, proactivity and emotional control.

19The collection of data has recently started, and we have high hopes for a sample size that allows for a multivariate analysis of variance (multivariate ANOVA), which could yield significant correlations between the attributes and preferences of our respondents, i.e., of the decision makers and leaders of companies of the region (as employers) as well as of (our) students of Communication and Media (as future employees). Although data collection is currently still in progress, the preliminary results based on the responses of 116 Hungarian company CEOs indicate that their preferences regarding their (future) employees’ skills and competencies notably resemble those of the international job surveys. Out of the 21 items (competency) list, communication skills rank among the top skills preferred and required by the Hungarian CEOs as well : speech competence ranking as the very first (with an average of 4,621 on a 5-point-scale), interpersonal communication being the third (with an average of 4,500) and written communication skills ending up as fourth (with an average of 4,345) out of the 21 competencies examined.

20Since the results of this questionnaire cast light on employers’ expectations about the communication skills required from their future employees, the research provides vital feedback to job applicants on the communication skills they should focus on and train. In addition, having an overview of these skills and competencies will not only serve individuals looking for jobs (such as our soon-to-be graduate students of Communication and Media at Corvinus University of Budapest) but it will also provide essential feedback to the agents of education. Based on these data, lecturers, instructors and heads of (higher) educational institutions offering programmes on training students’ communication skills can revise their curricula and rethink whether they do address the improvement of the same communication skills which are required and expected by the key agents of business contexts. Thirdly, examining the expectations of our students of Communication and Media as soon-to-be employees about their perceptions of key communication and presentation skills, and comparing them with the results of our SME questionnaire, can throw light upon potential discrepancies between the expectations of current employers and soon-to-be employees regarding the communication competencies of job applicants.

A case study on examining students’ expectations of communication skills in a university level educational context

21Teaching rhetoric and argumentation has a long tradition and a vast literature in Western societies (for instance, in the United States of America), where not only university but also secondary school education contains rhetoric and public speaking classes. In addition, students are encouraged to join debate clubs, student organisations and other extracurricular activities focusing on preparing participants to enter the workforce with the best possible set of rhetorical and communication skills (Glenn, Lyday and Sharer, 2008).

  • 8 The examined programmes are launched by the following Hungarian institutions of higher education : (...)

22Although, as touched upon above, communicative efficiency is one of the most required and valued competencies of employees, acquiring these skills is barely backed up by formal education in Hungary. Successful communicators often prove to be the ones who possess an inherent sense and talent for communication, which is generally accompanied by certain personality traits. At the same time, less emphasis falls on the improvement of communication skills within Hungarian educational curricula. This is often the case even with university level curricula specified on communication, i.e., training professionals specifically in the field of Communication and Media Science. As the operational curricula and course syllabi of the currently launched university programmes of Communication and Media Science in Hungary8 show, many of these programmes put emphasis on the development of students’ theoretical knowledge in the field but less attention is devoted to the practical training of students’ communication skills. Typically, the development of practical skills and competencies of communication (such as rhetoric, argumentation or presentation skills) appears in the curriculum in a smaller proportion of courses, either as a voluntary or elective subject, or as an additional, side objective of courses focusing on theoretical knowledge. This implies that these practical skills are considered rather as “nice to have” besides the knowledge gained in classes designed to be compulsory.

23The aim of this case study is to identify students’ reflections upon their presentation skills improvement during a university course focusing on practical communication skills development, and to explore their expectations of communication competencies as preferred outcomes of university trainings. This pillar of the research focuses on student perceptions of communication skills in order to provide a closer insight into the expectations of young job applicants and soon-to-be employees, who will be entering the workforce in the next 2 - 4) years.

24In order to examine the perceptions of students as the next generation of employees, we have collected textual, free-writing essays from students attending the one-semester Professional Communications Skills bachelor course launched by Corvinus University of Budapest, Institute of Behavioural Sciences and Communication Theory, Communication and Media Science English-speaking BA programme, which was taken by both international and Hungarian students in the Spring semesters of school years 2016/2017 and 2017/2018. Altogether, we summarised the results of 22 essays written in the spring of 2017 and 32 essays submitted in the same period of 2018. The essays were handed in after finishing the 13-week-long communication skills development course covering the basics of rhetoric, argumentation, presentation techniques and various related in-class exercises. At the end of the semester, the course also included a so-called “speech session.” During the speech sessions, participants were asked to deliver 5-minute-long speeches written on their own and presented by heart in front of the class audience (35 and 30 members). These situations served as simulations of real-life presentations at team meetings or other types of business settings where presentation and persuasion are essential.

25At the beginning of each semester, we are generally interested in students’ expectations about the course. Therefore, in the first lesson, we ask them to answer questions like “What do I expect from this course ?” ; “What skills and competencies would I like to develop ?” ; “What makes a presentation successful ?” etc. Their answers typically consist of rather general ideas, such as “communication skills development,” “presentation techniques” or “self-assessment.” Their answers clearly reflect the goals of the previously received course description and course curricula but lack deeper self-reflection, personal motivation structures or concrete development plans of individual skills. The lack of deeper reflection and consideration from students’ side may also be the result of the fact that this course is compulsory to take, therefore some attendants may not be as highly motivated in completing the course as in the case of a voluntary subject chosen on their own.

26At the end of the semester, not later than seven days after the students have delivered their speeches, we ask them to submit a piece of feedback : an essay entitled “Becoming a Speaker,” giving voice to their unique and formerly unknown experiences by reflecting on the following question sheet :

A. Reflections on the presentation/speech and individual experiences

27Q1 : How did you feel before and after presenting ? Describe your feelings of performing an individual speech/presentation in front of the class.

28Q2 : How did you prepare for the presentation/speech ? (e.g., schedule, problem-solving methods, ideas and selection of topics, milestones of the decision-making and presentation preparation process, etc.).

29Q3 : What were the strengths and weaknesses of your presentation according to your opinion, the course curricula and the received pieces of feedback ? Are you satisfied with your performance ? Why/why not ?

30Q4 : How would you describe your professional development throughout the semester ?

B. Reflections on the communications skills development areas and future goals

31Q5 : Have you learned rhetoric/presentation techniques (at university) before ?

32Q6 : What were your top 3 goals when preparing for the task ?

33Q7 : Which communication competencies do you think you should develop in order to become successful in everyday life situations and at your (future) job ?

34Q8 : What would you recommend to a future presenter/speaker ? What are your pieces of advice ?

35These post-semester pieces of feedback are then compared with students’ pre-semester expectations. We expect that these fresh and authentic experiences help them better articulate their thoughts and expectations towards their future career goals, plans and further educational aims of communication skills development, hopefully meeting the expectations of their future employers.

36From the collected sum of student data, this paper only focuses on and evaluates those questions and answers (i.e., Q1, Q4, Q5, Q7 and Q8) which can add up to the idea of supporting students in becoming professional communicators and presenters within educational and business contexts as well.

37First of all, the essays revealed that all students had been quite afraid of giving speeches or professional presentations (Q1), and it became evident that they had not done individual public speeches/presentations before. Among their answers, various expressions referred to their initial feelings about the task (Q2) : “scared,” “nervous,” “stressed,” “freaked out,” “losing control,” “intimidating,” “very scary,” “uncertain,” “frightened,” “panic,” “anxious,” “unprepared,” “sceptical,” “interested,” “excited,” “empowering and vulnerable at the same time,” etc. In addition, students were sometimes frightened by the speech/presentation itself as well. In other cases, the revealed expectations of their peers or the lecturer’s evaluation put pressure on them. Furthermore, succeeding peer evaluation made them become stressful, too :

“Even though I felt very confident about all the knowledge I had acquired, the fact that I was going to be evaluated made me pressure myself to do a very good performance, with that came the fear of not attending even my own expectations” (Gabriela, Brazil, 2017).

“I quickly realised that I do not possess such skills and charms, so I tried to build the whole speech according to my style and my way of speaking” (Tamás, Hungary, 2017).

“On the speech day, I became super nervous, and I was even thinking of not going to school and find some stupid reason to skip it. But I didn’t, I told myself, nothing can be worse than death, and the speech is nothing compared to it. The worst scenario would be that I forget what to say and get a two. Then I realised that it won’t be graded. So, there’s actually nothing to lose. Therefore, I went to the stage” (Cunyu, China, 2018).

“During this class I became more familiar with public speaking. It is a fact though that it does seem easier as it is in real life. (…) I had to realise that delivering a speech and putting yourself out there is much more : it is about self-branding” (Hanna, Hungary, 2018).

“To be completely honest I wasn’t sure what to expect from this class at the start of the semester. Obviously, the concept was clear, but I wasn’t sure how we can possibly improve ourselves and overcome our fear of public speech in class of more than twenty people” (András, Hungary, 2018).

38Students’ feelings highlight the importance of communication skills development being included in school curricula in order to prepare students for future challenges of (public) presentations. This need is also in consonance with corporate and HR expectations of hiring employees with excellent (or at least good) communication skills, especially for communication, marketing, PR and HR positions or junior leadership programmes.

39The feelings and fears related to public speaking reported above can appear in business situations as well, when employees or leaders have to present their ideas or business plans in front of potential partners or their colleagues. Therefore, it is extremely important to resolve these fears and problems at an early stage by practising and rehearsing. This makes the responsibility of universities and educational institutions even bigger in training students to enter the workforce “well armed” and fully prepared regarding the expectations of companies concerning communication skills. As it was reflected in one of the essays,

“To my surprise after each class when we had a small presenting task I felt more confident and during our presentations in other classes I always felt that I had a little extra boost from what we have learned and practised in professional communication skills class” (Levente, Hungary, 2018).

40The examination of the essays brought another pattern to light : each student feedback highlighted that improving communication skills is among their most important development goals, despite the fact that they had never really learned how to deliver rhetorical speeches and professional presentations before (Q5). This is especially true in the context of the Hungarian education system, where rhetoric and presentation technique classes are typically missing from school curricula not only at primary but at secondary and higher education levels as well. However, students’ feedback show that this situation and experience are not exclusive to Hungary as students from other countries reported about having faced the same problem :

“In Germany (business courses) we never have to do things like this, not even many presentations. But I think it is very important to have these skills, so I am very happy I took this course. (…) All in all this course was quite nice to take, since courses like this are never offered at my home university” (Nina, Germany, 2017).

“That is one of the first things I am not used to in my home university in the Netherlands. (…) because we often do not get the opportunity to evaluate our fellow students, we do not know what to say if we get the opportunity. (…) Giving feedback or mentioning things that can be improved is not common even when we know that you can learn the most from these feedback moments” (Suzan, Netherlands, 2017).

“For most of my classes, if I had to do presentation, I would prepare my slides and my speech for it, but I would read the material from the paper, that is how I used to present” (Shi Shi, China, 2017).

“Before I came to Budapest to do my Erasmus I had never really thought about taking a class in rhetoric, I don’t even know if my home university even provides a course like this” (Dhrun, Belgium, 2018).

  • 9 “The Finnish education system has received attention from all over the world because of the great s (...)

41There was only one student out of 54 who had studied presentation skills at her university before. However, it might be relevant to add that she was from Finland, one of the leading European countries in terms of education, well-known for the high quality of its educational system9. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that they have already recognised the power of communication skills early on and implemented presentation skills courses in their higher education programmes.

“I found every lecture extremely interesting and since I had had a similar course in Finland, it was easy to understand different topics in English too.” (Emma, Finland, 2018).

42Students reflected variously upon the communication competencies presenters should develop in order to become successful in everyday situations and professional tasks as well (Q7). This draws attention to the fact that a successful presentation depends on many kinds of diverse components, and none of them is more important than the other. Just on the contrary, mastering these skills create a strong and complex performance. In sum, it turned out that a persuasive presentation depends on the sum of communication competencies and previous experiences of students :

“During this semester I learned a lot of things. In the first place, I thought a course in which you will be graded by doing a speech … that sounds way too easy. (…) However, right now, I definitely see the added value of the course professional communication skills and I think I have learned even more things I will use in practice (for example in my future job) than I have learned by reading only scientific articles. (…) Moreover I learned how to evaluate other students and how important it is to give feedback or pieces of advice as well. More importantly, I learned how to receive feedback. (…) All in all, this course has really been of added value to my future life” (Suzan, Netherlands, 2017).

“I tried to hold eye contact with the audience. I spoke in a serious way about my very serious topic. Moreover I showed pro and contra arguments, but still had my point of view” (Nina, Germany, 2017).

“I read a lot and gathered my data, always double-checking the numbers with two or three other sources. I believe that the more I read, the more committed I became to speak (…) One of my goals was to sound very professional” (Gabriela, Brazil, 2017).

“When I was practising my speech I was practising in front of the mirror. For my body language, intonation and pronunciation are 70 % of speech. I was really focusing on that. Some people said I had a performance and for me that was an aim, because I consider giving a speech something similar to acting” (Aleksandra, Serbia, 2017).

“It made me realise that the course wasn’t intended for creating public speakers, but rather to better ourselves in situations that real life can present us with” (Noémi, Hungary, 2017).

“In the future, I believe I will have more opportunities to present in front of the audience and continuously improve by implementing the fruitful knowledge and experience I have acquired” (Veronika, Russia, 2018).

“In order to make better speech and become a better speaker, first I need to have a self-confidence, and overcome ‘mistake phobia.’ Second, I will have to control my pace. I tend to speak a bit fast when I am nervous. I should keep that in mind” (Jae, South Korea, 2017).

“I think that being master of speech performances comes only with practice and constant putting of theory into the practice” (Milana, Serbia, 2017).

43It is said that “practice makes perfect” and this seems especially true in the context of communication and presentation skills. This also means that there is no such thing that can add up to the power of the combination of preparedness and self-confidence when it comes to public performance. Moreover, companies start to realise that they can make profit out of the added value employees (or leaders) with excellent communication skills bring to the company on more than one platform (e.g., closing business deals and signing contracts more easily ; more effective and problem-free customer relationship management ; more efficient team meetings ; more powerful communication of the brand with higher impact on the market).

44According to student evaluations, powerful presenters possess the following features (Q8) :

“I love when the speakers are fully aware of what they say and make eye contact with the audience” (Jae, South Korea, 2017).

“The fact that others are listening to you and potentially, in five minutes you can give value to them is an empowering feeling” (Márta, Hungary, 2017).

“It is important for a speaker to make sure that the topic is relevant to him/herself. Definitely the most successful speeches (…) were the ones that people were familiar with and/or passionate about it” (Gabriela, Brazil, 2017).

“I think communication, as it is, is highly important for each and every human being” (Hanna, Hungary, 2018).

“Working in a corporate environment for a year now I thought my personal communication skills are at an average level and I was pretty much OK with that. I wasn’t really seeking improvement (…). The first few classes were eye opening for two reasons : how much can be improved with a few tweaks and how small my knowledge is of the mental aspect of giving a presentation. How strongly preparation and practice are linked to self-confidence” (András, Hungary, 2018).

“This task helped me to open up and that I should not be afraid to speak in public. As I see on the others, nobody is perfect and could make mistakes which is not a weakness” (Bernadett, Hungary, 2018).

45Sometimes students also shared ideas on how not to present, which was as useful for them as the pro-tips and pieces of advice from others :

“when you are underprepared, it is hard to improvise and make up for mistakes, also, in some cases it resulted in students speaking very quickly and with little emotion, trying to hurry up and finish what they had prepared as fast as possible before its forgotten (…)” (Daniel, the USA, 2018).

46In sum, students’ reflections upon their personal development during this course disclosed that young future employees face higher inner and external expectations than we might think, which makes them feel unprepared, stressful and left alone with this problem. On the other hand, students proved to be extremely interested in improving their communication competencies during their university years. Therefore, there is a strong need for communication skills courses and training being fully integrated into all faculty programmes of (higher) educational institutions. Universities ought to improve their own curricula, reducing the gap between the expectations of the market and its corporate employers, on the one hand, and the abilities, skills and competencies of today’s students and tomorrow’s employees, on the other hand, by creating a bridge between the two. For a better understanding and successful communication flow, the three parties should work together, integrating their own experiences and expectations into the course curricula, thus supporting the accomplishment of career goals of their participants in the long run.

New perspectives : Bridges from business to education, from expectations to practise

47Higher education systems are deeply committed to their given institutional standards and often seem to ignore the special development needs and given talents of students. This means that presentation techniques courses (if there are any in the curricula) aim at providing general rules and guidelines (often in the form of theoretical models and frameworks) on how to present and speak in front of a public. Moreover, these courses often offer solely ICT tools and technical knowledge for students to become successful presenters, as if it was the matter of the mere visuals of a slideshow or a pre-given rhetorical structure to convey the impression and persuade others (Komár, 2017).

48Therefore, education needs to be adapted to the expectations of corporate employers and to the needs of the newest generations as well. The course materials of rhetoric and presentation techniques education have to carry the promise of practical knowledge as well, ideally presented with progressive teaching methods in interactive, practice-based and highly involving ways, fulfilling the expectations of students.

49As practice shows, the simplest way to respond to these students’ enquires is often to present course content with ICT-based methods and tools as well as use freely accessible applications promising to partly take over the responsibility, creative planning and individual preparation from the presenter—in both educational and business settings. In spite of the fact that it takes more time and effort to create personal connection between students and the given curriculum, the advantages of a more personalized, practice-based and holistic view of education becomes evident when preparing students to real-life business situations based on participation. “These slowly evolving and challenging processes can be supported through ongoing dialogue and collaboration among teachers from different disciplines with different perspectives as they discuss the importance of knowledge and issues that affect their everyday lives” (Krug & Cohen-Evron, 2000 : 258). Curriculum development will require different ways of conceptualising course curricula by completing traditional and discipline-based approaches with the use of ICT-tools as well as theoretical knowledge with real-life experiences, in order to help students discover their communication skills through direct learning experiences. It is important to emphasise the role of creativity as something immanent to each learning situation which can’t be conceptualised, nor fostered by the mere use of technology and smart devices and applications.

“Over the centuries prior to digital technology, education evolved into a system that used paper technology in a variety of highly sophisticated ways to fulfill its mission to develop and accredit knowledge and skills. Its future must certainly be one in which it extends this capacity to a sophisticated use of digital technology. Like every modern enterprise, education is currently learning and adapting to the opportunities afforded by information and communication technologies, albeit slowly” (Beetham & Sharpe, 2007 : 4).

  • 10 A more detailed examination of the market of supportive ICT platforms and technologies based on vir (...)

50ICT-learning activities relevant to business communication contexts include but are not limited to the use of organising and agenda-setting applications ; synchronous and asynchronous online discussions and games ; presentation management tools ; visual aids and design programs ; virtual meeting rooms and project management applications ; online self-assessment tools and education programs ; virtual field trips, labs and simulations ; problem solving, concept-building and mind-mapping tools ; and many other interactive learning objectives.10 While managers may think that communication competencies are based on - or at least connected to) ICT-skills and service applications, the literature reveals that business communication efficiency depends on a broader scale of competencies, many of them being soft skills, which highlight that a presenter’s success is not just a matter of an ICT-skillset. Although incorporating ICT-based learning methods into the course curriculum as well as everyday business practice has become a vital must, it is necessary but not sufficient to merely rely on these tools when preparing for professional and business presentations. Accomplishing the preferred communication outcomes depends on creativity, personalized content, rhetorical preparedness and techniques of overcoming real-life challenges as well.


51The aim of our research described in this paper was to identify the set of communication skills and competencies as well as related personality traits which shape the notion of the efficient communicator and presenter in business and educational contexts. In this paper, we focused on introducing the rationales behind this research and the complex methodology designed to measuring what makes a successful communicator and efficient presentation in business and educational contexts.

52The presentation of the methodology of this research was preceded by a review of literature on empirical studies on business communication and research conducted with the focus of exploring the importance of communication skills and business contexts. We have also examined research methods which had been applied for measuring business communication efficiency before and which served as the basis of the construction of our own research methodology. In addition, the expectation of employers about their applicants’ communication skills and competencies was also discussed.

53The description of the designed methodology of the research first included the reasoning of the chosen research tools (video-analysis, questionnaire on employers and future employee expectations as well as a self-assessment personality inventory test). Secondly, the applied theoretical frameworks were introduced : the operationalisation of the concept of ethos based on Osborn, Osborn and Osborn (2012) and the Big Five model of Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1987 ; 1999) as well as the self-assessment International Personality Item Pool by Maples, Guan, Carter and Miller (2014). Finally, we reflected upon the various methodological and practical challenges the research team had had to face and overcome during the research process. This latter led the researchers to direct their examination partly to new directions and explore new perspectives of the question at the focus of the research.

54As a result, the scope of examination was broadened and the focus of research has been turned from solely business contexts to business and educational contexts. The aim of this phase of the research has been to compare and contrast the expectations of current employers (leaders and managers of Hungarian SMEs) with those of soon-to-be employees (current university students of Communication and Media Science in Hungary) about the most important communication and presentation skills employees in both of their opinions should possess. Since the quantitative data collection process is currently ongoing (and only some preliminary indicative data are available), the current paper presented an additional smaller scale (n=54) qualitative case study on university students’ expectations about essential communication and presentations skills based on their feedback at the end of a semester-long practical course on improving their professional communication and presentation skills. The examined pieces of student feedback highlighted the basic need for the development of specific communication skills and revealed the importance of highly practical communication and presentation techniques courses and training in education.

55The outcomes of the research suggest that the results of the ongoing research presented in this paper could yield manifold benefits. First, they can help students, graduate students, career starters and candidates of job positions to reflect upon their communication competencies and prepare for their job interviews and future careers more consciously and more profoundly. Secondly, the results will not only help individuals but the (leaders and managers of the) companies on the employing side as well, to articulate their expectations about the communication skills of their future employees both towards the candidates and the educational institutions training these soon-to-be employees. Finally, our results could be of benefit to these (higher) educational institutions targeting the development of communication skills and competencies of their students. Receiving empirical data on the expectations of employers towards future employees (i.e., the students they train) gives these institutions valuable input for revising their curricula and adjusting their educational programmes to real-life claims and expectations of the labour market.

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1 Business major graduates refer to students who obtain a university degree in Business Administration, generally with a major in finance, accounting, general management, marketing or strategy, e.g. students studying at the Faculty of Business Administration of Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary.

2 Key employability-related business communication skills are a complex set of competencies including both hard and soft skills. The terms hard and soft skills have developed through the years “as a way of identifying characteristics and skills needed to be successful in management positions” (Weber, Finley, Crawford and Rivera, 2009 : 354). Hard skills are generally referred to as teachable abilities or skills which can be easily measured and quantified, such as computer programming, use of a software, proficiency in a foreign language, etc. Hard skills are typically related to the job-specific aspects of a job description and are linked to the individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ). As opposed to hard skills, soft skills, often referred to as “interpersonal skills” or “people skills”, are a collection of personal traits, characteristics, attitudes, attributes, communication abilities and other competencies, such as communication, leadership, flexibility, team work or time management. Soft skills empower the employee to act and interact effectively with others and improve their relationships and performance at the job. Soft skills are difficult to measure and quantify, and are mainly associated with the emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) and defined as inter- and intrapersonal, human or behavioural skills, corresponding to human, conceptual and leadership categories which are also essential to have in order to successfully communicate and manage at the workplace (Binsaeed, Unnisa and Rizvi, 2017 ; Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell and Lay, 2002). By synthesising the available literature (McLarty, 1998 ; Tucker et al., 2000 ; Nabi, 2003 ; Elias and Purcell, 2004), Andrews and Higson (2008 : 413) identified the key “transferable” soft skills and competencies integral to graduate employability as follows : professionalism ; reliability ; ability to cope with uncertainty ; ability to work under pressure ; ability to plan and think strategically ; capability to communicate and interact with others (in teams or through networking) ; good written and verbal communication skills ; Information and Communication Technology skills ; creativity and self-confidence ; good self-management and time-management skills ; willingness to learn and accept responsibility. From the competencies listed above, this paper and case study focuses on written and verbal communication skills, creativity and self-confidence, and the willingness to learn and accept responsibility.

3 Skills and competencies, together with abilities and capabilities, are close concepts, often being interchanged or mentioned together with very slight or without any clear distinction made. When looking at the numerous definitions of competency reported in the literature, Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell and Lay (2002) focus on definitions which are most relevant for educational, business and training purposes, with particular reference to assessing the development of students’ skills or competencies in specific areas. They cite the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (1997, as cited in Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell and Lay, 2002 : 8), which defines competency as “the ability of individuals to apply knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to standards of perfection required in specific contexts. Birkett (1993, as cited in Rainsbury, Hodges, Burchell and Lay, 2002 : 8) also views at competency as the concept integrating skills, knowledge, attitudes and personal qualities : ‘competency is related to the manner in which individual attributes, such as knowledge, skills and attitudes, are drawn on in performing tasks in specific work contexts—resulting in overall job performance’.

4 The research was supported by the Széchenyi 2020 Human Resource Development Operational Programme (EFOP-3.6.1-16-2016-00013).

5 The members of the research team are researchers and instructors of Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary), namely : Tamás Bokor PhD, Gábor Kovács PhD, István Dobó, Zita Komár and Veronika Pelle.

6 A more detailed explanation of this process as well as of the whole methodology of the research was published in : KOVÁCS G. (2018), Towards a comprehensive inventory of efficiency in business presentations, Society and Economy, 40 (3), 479-492. DOI : 10.1556/204.2018.40.3.12

7 These 21 competencies are : appearance ; assertive communication and confrontation ; attention, reflection ; confirmation/feedback ; competence in foreign languages ; emotional control ; explanatory skills ; group communication competence ; intercultural competence ; interpersonal communication ; negotiation ; non-verbal communication ; persuasion ; presentations skills ; proactivity ; self-disclosure ; self-management ; sense of humour ; speech competence ; usage of ICT ; written communication skills.

8 The examined programmes are launched by the following Hungarian institutions of higher education : Budapest Business School, Budapest Metropolitan University, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Corvinus University of Budapest, Eötvös Loránd University, Eszterházy Károly University, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, Kodolányi János University, Milton Friedman University, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Szent István University, University of Debrecen, University of Dunaújváros, University of Pannonia, University of Pécs and University of Szeged.

9 “The Finnish education system has received attention from all over the world because of the great success of Finnish 15-year-olds in the OECD’s PISA surveys in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009 (e.g. OECD, 2006 ; 2009 ; 2010). The knowledge and skills of Finns in problem solving, scientific, mathematical and reading literacy are representative of the highest level of international standards. (…) Major reasons for these high-learning outcomes are a purposeful educational policy and the high standards of teachers. According to researchers (Schleicher, 2005 ; Välijärvi, 2004 ; Simola, 2005 ; Laukkanen, 2006 ; Niemi & Jakku-Sihvonen, 2006), the Finnish educational policy has aimed at equity in education and has promoted the common comprehensive school model” (Niemi, 2016 : 23).

10 A more detailed examination of the market of supportive ICT platforms and technologies based on virtual learning environments, e-learning and blended learning strategies can be found in Bokor, Komár and Pelle (2018).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 : Indicators of the four components of the impression made by a presenter
Crédits Source : Kovács (2018 : 488), based on Osborn, Osborn and Osborn (2012).
Fichier image/png, 131k
Titre Figure 2 : Big Five personality traits with commonly associated adjectives/expressions describing low-scorers and high-scorers in each dimension
Crédits Source : Kovács (2018 : 490), based on Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1999).
Fichier image/png, 81k
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Zita Komár

Corvinus University of Budapest, Faculty of Economics, Marketing and Media Institute,

Veronika Pelle

Corvinus University of Budapest, Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations, Institute of Behavioural Sciences and Communication Theory,

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