Student Presentations in the Business French Classroom: Content, Techniques, and Assessment

In her essay “Using Assessment to Improve Instruction,” Trudy W. Banta writes that “the involvement of faculty in assessment-related research operates as a process to improve student learning” [1]. This is all the more true for language instruction, in which assessment plays a central role, including assessment of in-class activities [2]. Second language acquisition and communication professionals produce a large amount of materials designed for evaluation of student presentations by students or instructors, and a number of these materials and tools are discussed in the literature [3]. However, results of assessment in this area are rarely discussed, especially in Business French. This is what this essay intends to address. Its main goals are to assess the relevance and efficiency of oral presentations for business language instruction, and in the process give students a voice, through their answers to a questionnaire given after the fifth presentation of the semester. This will be accomplished through a review of the six (6) different presentations made during fall 2007 by a set of fifteen Business French students. This review will analyze the students’ assessment of these assignments. Analysis will focus on issues such as articulation between learned material and learning objectives; and students’ choices, communicative abilities, and reactions to the material.

The course, Advanced Business French, presents an overview of French commerce, communications, various social milieus, and the workplace. The focus of the first part of the Advanced French Business sequence is on companies in France (typology, entrepreneurship, organization, marketing) and basic practical tasks such as job hunting and communicating including by phone, email or letter. The textbook used is R.-J. Berg’s Parlons affaires! Initiation au français économique et commercial. A dossier specific to each chapter was added and included articles, exercises, about 100 internet links and other materials; part of it was placed on the course management system in use. Training included practicing business vocabulary in context, performing role plays, giving presentations, and analyzing films and documents, including those from the Internet, as well as participating in case studies, discussions, and other activities. Most of the class work was done in groups of 2 to 4 students. This course is intended to help students develop five 5 essential skills in French according to ACTFL’s advanced level [4]: speaking, listening, reading, writing, while getting acquainted with French basic business culture today. Particular emphasis is placed on formal French and the ability to present material orally in French. The French business sequence also prepares for the French diplomas DFA 1 and DFA 2 [5]. Last but not least, a student should be able to fulfill her/his own goals for this course. The course included fifteen students from various proficiency levels and backgrounds [6].

Presentations lasted three minutes and were made with visual aids such as PowerPoint, except for the job interview and initial presentation. Topics included the following: presenting a French region, city, or community; discussing intercultural issues; presenting a French company; discussing the success of a particular business person in France; discussing the difficulties a French company has faced, or is facing, and the ways it has solved them; creating a company in France; and advertising for a product. This type of presentation was especially intended for students who were interested in going for their semester or year abroad to French post-secondary schools such as Science Po Paris, where the curriculum emphasizes oral presentations. Presentations of final projects in groups were made on advertising. Questions on the presentations addressed reasons for selecting topics, comments on the performances given, and the relevance of presentations to the material studied. All presentations including final projects have been archived on the course management system in use.

The first presentation on 1) a French region/city/community and aspects of its economic situation/potential, or 2) an article on intercultural issues, was not graded as it was intended as a training exercise. Most of the presentations were on French regions: Aquitaine, PACA, Côte d’Azur, Dordogne, Lorraine, Oise, Poitou-Charentes, Bretagne, Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse (Toulouse was then the site of a summer abroad program). Three students presented on intercultural issues discussed in Pascal Baudry’s book, Français et Américains: L'autre rive, first published online in open source before becoming a best-seller: French and American differences on the concept of time; differences between French and American Education (including French parenting specificities); and French and American differences on the notion of action. This presentation did not corresponded to any material in Berg’s textbook but was part of a preparatory sequence on France’s economy and intercultural issues. Retrospectively, as students assessed this first performance at the end of the semester, comments included the following: “good to get started looking at business and production;” “I think I presented the region well with a good mix of geography, history, and aspects of business in the region;” “Talked about community’s economic status and its concentration on tourism;” “It made me think more about the economic potential of the department particularly its connections with Paris” [l’Oise]. It appears that choices of topics were often (more than 50% of the time) linked to students’ prior knowledge of a particular area. This presentation was also for the instructor an opportunity to perform a preliminary assessment of language skills, cultural knowledge, and presentation skills of the students.

The second presentation (mock job interview in front of the class) included the most training. Material in Berg’s textbook was supplemented by a lengthy dossier including mock cover letters, situations, model interviews, advice, and exercises. A practice session preceded the interviews which were held in front of the entire class. Classmates were given sets of questions (some from the textbook, some from other sources including professional publications), and each group of students (two or three people) had to prepare and ask at least four questions (including two questions of their own, over at least two rounds). Students also had the CV and letter of the interviewee (copies were made by him/her). Over three weeks, students had to write a real (or imaginary) job ad, write a CV and a cover letter (corrected twice by the instructor). As recommended, students used their actual CV. This presentation corresponded to the third unit of the textbook. For this presentation, jobs selected by students included only jobs they would be interested in pursuing, which gave the instructor precious information for the teaching of this content-specific class.

Four students selected a job at a NGO, "Action contre la faim" [Action Against Hunger]; the job ad was chosen by them as a group and reviewed in class; these students had indicated their interest for this kind of job in the non-profit sector, and emphasized work abroad opportunities in this sector. Other jobs included the following: meteorologist at Météo-France; tutor of French (for an Advanced Mid student); system analyst; engineer at the Agence Spatiale Européenne [European Spatial Agency], and NASA; international contract lawyer; licensed architect; assistant in governmental agency; real estate consultant; and State Department Officer abroad (for a bilingual student fluent in Spanish). Assessment shows that all students thought that this exercise was extremely relevant and useful for their future job search: “I learned how to write a CV and to respond to French interviews questions;” “It helped improve my CV”. Most students emphasized their level of preparation; they did well and indeed the grade distribution showed good results. One student writes:

I selected this topic because it is my field of interest and hopefully would model job interviews I would have in the future; interviews are difficult but I prepared the questions well and answered them; extremely relevant to the class material, reinforced class material in Berg.

Less positive notes included the following: “need better vocabulary for a French interview”; “I was very nervous and despite practice and preparation stumbled over many words;” “J’étais assez nerveuse, et je n’ai pas performé [sic] au niveau que [sic] j’aurais aimé” [I was rather nervous, and did not perform at the level I wanted to]; comment se préparer pour un entretien ?” [how could one prepare for an interview?]; “Interviews are always difficult because they are spontaneous;” “good with some vocabulary & grammar errors;” “I repeated too many words;” “too much franglais” (for one of the most technical jobs). For five students (out of fifteen, of which twelve fully completed the evaluations), it was their favorite presentation, for the following reasons: “necessary for everyone to know;” “it was the most engaging;” “learned to talk about my education and work experience;” “not much preparation was involved , which really made you use the French you know;” “it was the most useful.” Three students thought it was the one they liked the least, for the following reasons: “Je sais que les entretiens étaient importants, mais j’ai eu du mal à répondre aux questions des élèves” [I know that the interviews were important but I had difficulties answering students’ questions]; “I was very nervous. And it was at the beginning of the semester when I was not really used to speaking in front of the class.” “I liked the interview least because I have a hard time speaking in front of others.” Speaking in front of an audience was an essential part of the course.

Three more content-specific questions were devoted to the job interview in the end-of-semester assessment questionnaire. The format of the job interview presentation (a student being interviewed by groups of classmates) was considered very effective by all but two students (out of 12 respondents): the first would have preferred individual one-on-one interviews, while the second one thought that the whole process took too long (close to four class sessions). All of the students except one agreed that a great amount of preparatory work for the job interview helped. The preparatory work included, as seen above, writing a CV and a job application letter (with 2 drafts), and working in groups on vocabulary, case studies, and potential questions for the interview. Among students’ responses were the following: “working with others in the class helped me get a better idea of how to go further.” “it made me think about my qualifications and experiences;” “I learned a lot of new words about interview and resumes;” “I feel much more comfortable in an interview setting;” “it gives an idea of what to expect.” The challenges of the job interview exercise for students were as follows: as one student notes, summarizing an idea expressed by many classmates, “anticipating the question and preparing the answer were not easy.” One student emphasizes how challenging it can be to answer difficult questions before the whole class. Another noted that “understanding thick accents” was a problem. Challenges also included preparing for all possible questions, including specific questions about the company or job, staying calm, trying to explain one’s ideas or formulating adequate responses in French. Three students mentioned difficulties with vocabulary.

The third presentation was on a French company selected by the presenters. This presentation corresponded to the textbook’s fourth unit, ‘Typologie des entreprises’ [typology of corporations]. The following companies were selected by students: Accor, AGF, Air France, Airbus (2 students), Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Carrefour, Crédit Agricole, Cartier, EDF (2 students), Ingenico, Peugeot-Citroën, Sanofi-Aventis, Société Générale. Selections were made for various reasons. All these companies are well-known except perhaps for Ingenico. The student in computer science who selected Ingenico pointed to the “lack of interesting companies in this sector in France” (sic): according to this European student (one of three in the class), who looked at the company’s website and customer reviews on other sites, “there are very few interesting strictly French high-tech companies;” Airbus was selected by two students for the following reasons: “it has a big presence in Toulouse and I was interested in it because of that;” “Airbus is in Toulouse and I have visited the factory there.” EDF was selected for two very different reasons: “My group selected this topic to explore more of a state owned company;” “EDF is a company with which I have personal experience” (when asked, the student said that while in France she received an erroneous invoice from EDF—9000 instead of 90 euros—and had difficulties in having them correct the mistake, which they finally did). AGF was selected because of the amount of detailed and well-presented information (including images) available on the Internet.

Peugeot-Citroën was selected for its visibility and the fact that it is one of the largest French companies. Crédit Agricole and Société Générale were also selected because of their visibility, especially in Europe, and for the following additional reasons: Crédit Agricole is a “big, well-known bank in France that started out as one for agriculteurs [farmers]”; Société Générale is “my dad’s company”. Sanofi-Aventis was selected for similar reasons: a student had a friend employed there. Les Ateliers Jean Nouvel were selected because “it’s one of the premier architecture firms in France and in the world;” this is the presentation this particular student liked the most, because it allowed her to “talk about architecture.” On the other hand, another student liked this presentation the least because it was “too technical.” Accor was selected because “it's a [company] I liked and had experience with.” Students generally thought these presentations were better prepared, more focused, and contained fewer errors in grammar or vocabulary than the initial ones. Relevance of topic of presentation is at 8/10 on average, when indicated, and this is corroborated by comments: “I thought this was very relevant to what we studied in class;” “I learned how to use the words we learned when describing a company;” “Je peux comprendre comment les sociétés françaises travaillent” [I am now able to understand how French companies work;” “I believe it was relevant since it made us look at the forms of business we’ve been studying;” [we looked at] “la structure d’une entreprise” [a company’s structure], “different sectors of industries,” and “what makes a good company.”

The fourth presentation was on the launching of a company by the student(s) or on issues a company has faced / is facing and ways to solve them. This presentation corresponded to the textbook’s fifth unit, “Création, croissance et déclin de l’entreprise” [creation, growth, and decline of corporations]. Fictional companies presented included “Cafébébé” (“a company that serves coffee and provides play time for children in order to cater to stay-at-home mothers”); “Forte” (a music tutoring business for teenagers); “Un livre de livres” [a book of books] (a publisher of children’s literature); “Anglicisme” (a company to sell popular American products to American students in France, including junk food); “Jeux de Bulles” [Bubble Games] (a video game company); “Les Papiers de S.” [S’ papers] (a stationary company for girls); “Adopte une maman” [Adopt a mother] (a company taking care of students’ food, laundry needs, etc.). Final assessment by the students proved very positive: “Je trouvais ça plus intéressant d’imaginer une nouvelle entreprise et de voir comment ça fonctionnait” [I found it more interesting to imagine a new company and to see how it worked]; “I wanted something that could appeal to college students; I thought I had an original idea and tried to be different.” Students also thought it was relevant and closely linked to material in Berg on types of companies and what goes into launching a business, including marketing. This was one of the more popular presentations, liked by all students, and also very much appreciated by the audience in the class; some of the reasons for this enthusiasm, according to the students were: “Parce qu’il y avait plus de possibilité pour être créative” [Because there were more opportunities to be creative;” “I enjoyed coming up with a company because it is something that could become a possibility in the future.”

Presentations on companies with difficulties included well-known corporations such as Airbus, BNP Paribas, Eurotunnel, Renault, and smaller companies such as Charles Jourdan, Moulinex, and Smoby. Issues dealt with were diverse, as the following examples illustrate. Students all acknowledged the relevance of the presentation to issues studied in Berg (companies with difficulties and ways to deal with these difficulties including specific procedures). “I believe it was relevant since it gave examples of judicial solutions to financial problems.” Regarding Smoby, another presenter said: “Smoby is currently suffering from two large issues: bankruptcy and fraud by the CEO; I presented the biography of [the CEO] and then the current problems facing the company; [this presentation] deals with some of common problems a business could face.” Regarding the recent suicides at Renault, a group of presenters wrote: “this is a major issue in France and it reflects on French work styles; we didn’t study this specifically but it is a reason companies don’t succeed; it was another side to problems that companies have rather than just economic ones, […] problems big companies face.” This was the favorite presentation of two students who gave the following reasons for their choice: “It was interesting researching problems that were really shocking, like the suicides;” “because we were to analyze the issues.” But four students selected this topic as the less engaging: “I liked this presentation least because it was most difficult to find a topic for a company having difficulties;” “[…] because it was restrictive”; “The business problem because it seemed less related;” “for the struggling company, I had to choose one that was relevant and as a result not the one I was particularly interested in.”

The fifth presentation was on a successful French business person (CEO or other). In their presentations, students were asked to analyze why this person had been successful. This presentation corresponded to the textbook’s sixth unit, “L’organisation de l’entreprise” [organization of a company]. Students were asked to read—among other materials—an interview with François Dalle, former CEO of L’Oréal, on the characteristics of French CEOs and their usual background. The presentations included the following personalities: Jean-Paul Agon (L’Oréal) , Bernard Arnault (LVMH), Olivier Cadic (Cinébook), Henri de Castries (AXA), Michel Ducros (Fauchon), Christophe de Margerie (Total), Françoise Montenay (Chanel), Gérard Mulliez (Auchan), Jean-Charles Naouri (Casino), Denis Olivennes (FNAC), Didier Pineau-Valenciennes (Schneider), Franck Riboud (Danone), Henri Proglio (Veolia), André Rousselet (Canal Plus), Jean-Cyril Spinetta (Air France). Why were these individuals chosen? No indications were given by the instructor beforehand. Some were selected because of the national and/or international notoriety of their company, such as Jean-Paul Agon, Henri de Castries, Michel Ducros, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, Denis Olivennes; in the same manner, Françoise Montenay was selected because the student “[liked] fashion and Chanel is so timeless [she] wanted to see who was behind the company;” Gérard Mulliez was chosen because the student “was familiar with the Auchan brand and Atac stores;” The choice of Christophe de Margerie is explained by the previous reasons, and the fact that Total is the largest company in France. Franck Riboud was selected specifically because of the notoriety of the products its company sells (“I like their yogurt, franchement! [frankly]”), and Michel-Edouard Leclerc was selected in an excellent presentation for similar reasons: “I shop at Leclerc in France and wanted to write about its CEO.” Bernard Arnault was selected as the richest man in France, the CEO of companies the students in the group were interested in, and also, in this well-prepared presentation, as a model for a career in business: “pour comprendre comment agir pour travailler et [avoir du] succès dans le monde des affaires” [to understand how to act to work and succeed in the business world]. Jean-Charles Naouri also is selected as a model: “I selected the PDG of Casino because he has been extremely successful; I presented JCN and his successes; [it] reinforced class material from Berg.” The same goes for Henri Proglio (Veolia):

I found him to be very successful on a list online of French businessmen and chose him because his company works with the environment and resources; this presentation went well and I conveyed the information very well; one reason for his success was the takeover of another company and working to decrease debt, two things we studied in class.

André Rousselet (Canal Plus) was selected because of his work at Canal Plus and his political ties. Olivier Cadic was chosen as an example of young and successful entrepreneur. The reasons for the remaining choices are the following: Curiously enough, Didier Pineau-Valenciennes “sounded interesting, as he ended his career in scandal.” Jean-Cyril Spinetta was selected because the student had already presented on Air France. Students focused on what made these individuals successful and also quoted them as needed: “I had lots of quotes from Montenay.” They also were interested in what made companies successful: “je voulais savoir comment une entreprise de produits de luxe [Fauchon] peut avoir du succès” [I wanted to know how a company specialized in luxury goods can be successful]. Only one student selected this presentation as his favorite, “because it was interesting to see a career path, learn about schools successful business people France attend; also it was good to use the new vocabulary”. For four students, it was the presentation they liked the least, for various reasons: “I did not like the presentation about a successful person. I felt like I was just repeating word for word from my research;” “it was difficult to find information;” “I did not know any [French CEO] at all beforehand.”

The sixth presentation or final project (in groups only) was on advertising. The sixth presentation included advertising for the following fictional companies, some of them already created in the fourth presentation, with the following media tools used on top of PowerPoint: “Adopte une maman” [Adopt a mom] (TV commercial), “Anglicisme” (TV commercial, Internet), “C’est la pluie” [‘It’s the rain’, company selling raincoats] (Press Book, TV commercial), “Hôtel de la Loire” (Brochure, Internet), “Jeux Vidéos” (video game, internet), “Echanges” [exchanges] (Brochures, TV & Radio Commercials). This presentation corresponded to the textbook’s seventh unit, ‘La mercatique’ [marketing]. Requirements for this presentation included an emphasis on multi-media tools (video, internet, etc.). Some final presentations were made available on the Internet, and specifically on Facebook and YouTube. While these presentations were assessed in class by students according to six criteria, they were not subjected to a retrospective comprehensive assessment, as they occurred in the last two sessions of the course.

This last section of the paper aims at presenting remarks valid for all presentations and generated by the assessment. Asked whether they were more confident to speak in French in front of an audience and to rate this confidence on a scale of zero to ten, all but two (out of 14) answered positively, with 10 students at 8 or more. Samples of answers include: “I am much more confident now than at the beginning of the semester;” “Yes, before I would rate myself 4/10 and now 7/10 or 8/10.” Asked whether the presentations contributed to the improvement of their spoken and/or formal French, 13 out of 14 agreed. Samples of answers are as follows: “the presentations forced me to think more in French and develop my French skills;” “it contributed to the improvement of my spoken French using new vocabulary;” “yes, I definitely learned a lot of vocabulary that improved my formal French;” “yes, especially formal French. Although I believe I speak French well. I speak very informally.”

Methods of presenting changed for most students (except 3 out of 14 answers), often as a result of their response to another’s presentation or to their own, and included reading less from the PowerPoint slides, focusing more on key ideas, and relying more on visual aids. The pattern in the content/methods of presentations included conducting an overview (background information, basics, time line, main points), then presenting details, and finally a conclusion. Asked how long time they spent on their presentations, students answered that they spent between 20 minutes and 3 hours, or 1.5 hours on average; their focus was on research, writing of the presentation, preparation, and practice [7]. The student who took the most time wrote: “Three hours, because after preparing them, I would practice giving them.”

Asked whether they could give an example of something they contributed to the group through their presentations, students mentioned professionalism, enthusiasm, information on French companies and business in France [8]. One student was glad to have been able to do the following with the fifth presentation: “I informed the class about a less known but important company.” A student wrote: “As the only architecture major in the group, I think showing off some of Jean Nouvel’ work was pretty interesting.” All answers were positive. Asked to give an example of something they learned from others presenting, students agreed (12/12) that “the presentations were a pretty good exposure to French (business) culture,” French companies, their CEOs and people, their structure and problems they have faced. They also emphasized that they learned “better presentation skills,” including “being able to explain the topic rather than just give details” and were more comfortable “to creatively answer questions.” They also learned “ways to improve [their] presentations and things not to do.” One student wrote: “Do not just go up there and read.” Another one added that while he learned a lot of vocabulary, “[he] also noticed strong presentations and tried to emulate them.” This emulation can be considered as one of the learning strategies used in this class.

Regarding assessment of the relevance and efficiency of oral presentations for business language instruction, results for the sample studied indicate that after the fifth presentation most students were more confident to speak in French in front of an audience, and agreed that the presentations contributed to the improvement of their spoken and/or formal French. Articulation between presentations, learned material and learning objectives is recognized; students’ communicative abilities increased. Progress in preparation and skills is measurable from the first presentation to the later ones, as reflected in the questionnaire and in the evaluation process (including grading). Starting with the preparation-intensive job interview, and as students began to know themselves better as a group and work with others, students began focusing more on the relevance between the material studied and their presentations. In this (second) presentation, which marks the beginning of an awareness of what works and what does not, nervousness persists; it will decrease significantly in subsequent presentations. Presentation 3, 4 and to a lesser extent presentation 5 contributed to the learning and practice of the material from a creative point of view, as did the final project. Because the presentation material was personalized, the material was better appropriated by the student. In many cases (and increasingly over the semester), the presentation, beyond being simply an artificial exercise, was also an opportunity for the student to make choices, present an issue that was dear to him or her, and/or find his or her voice on several issues. In this sense, this exercise may be very relevant in business situations and generally in the student’s future professional life. And because the presentation is made before the whole class, the student has to find strategies that would make his presentation more attractive to others, and internalizes rules of public speaking that are not only relevant in the language class but to other disciplines as well.


[1] “Using Assessment to Improve Instruction,” in Robert Menges and MaryEllen Weimer, eds, Teaching on Solid Ground: Using Scholarship to Improve Practice, 381.

[2] Cf. on this topic L’Evaluation by Christine Tagliante.

[3] See for instance Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Classrooms Assessment Techniques. A Handbook for College Teachers.

[4] ACTFL stands for “American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Language.”

[5] DFA stands for “Diplôme de Français des Affaires” (Business French Diploma).

[6] End-of-semester ACTFL-level assessment in spoken French showed the following distribution: Superior level: 1, Advanced High: 1, Advanced Mid: 4, Advanced Low: 2, Intermediate High: 1, Intermediate Mid: 6. Students had various majors, from engineering to architecture, computer science and meteorology, the major the most represented being International Affairs and Foreign Languages.

[7] Using the lower number given, results are as follows (out of 14): 20 min. (1), 40 min. (1), 1 hr. (3), 1.5 hrs. (2), 2 hrs. (6), 3 hrs. (1), with longer times for specific presentations such as the interview and the final project.

[8] Preferred presentations were the job interview (5 students), presentation 4a on the creation of company (3), presentation 4b on difficulties for a company (2), presentation 3 on a French company (2), the less popular being presentation 5 (1) on a successful French business person. These results were confirmed by the responses given to the question of which presentation students liked least: presentation 5 (4 students) on a successful French business person, presentation 2 on the interview (3), presentation 3 on a French company (1); 3 students did not answer. Topics students would have liked to see but which were not used included the following: presenting a French product, and presenting on advertisements for products such as Orangina or Perrier (advertisement was a topic used in the final project but only for fictional companies). After the individual spoken French evaluation with instructor, a student suggested a presentation on the educational system in France; this presentation was incorporated into the course. Topics that were not directly discussed were often indirectly presented: such was the case of globalization, discussed for instance in the context of a presentation on open source issues; globalization was the subject of a course to be taught the following semester.


ANGELO, Thomas A., and CROSS, K. Patricia. Classrooms Assessment Techniques. A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition, San Francisco, Jossey-Bash Publishers, 1993, 427 pp.

BAUDRY, Pascal. Français et Américains: L’autre rive, Paris, Village Mondial-Pearson, Third Edition, 2007, 224 pp.

BERG, R.-J. Parlons affaires. Initiation au français économique et commercial, Second Edition, Boston, Thomson Heinle, 2006, 231 pp.

MENGES, Robert; WEIMER, MaryEllen, ed. Teaching on Solid Ground: Using Scholarship to Improve Practice, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996, 406 pp.

TAGLIANTE, Christine. L’Evaluation, Paris, CLE International, 1991, 141 pp.