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My Experience as a First-time Presenter

A post by Emily Downes (Twitter @eap_emily)

In Spring, I took a module for my MA Applied Linguistics called Reflective Practitioner (led by the incredible Tracey Costley). We had a lot of freedom in choosing our assessment topic. I started to analyse my practice over the past few years as an EAP instructor, looking over my materials and at pictures I had taken in the classroom. This is when it dawned on me that, for a long time, I had been using memes as “decorative” or “incidental” visuals (Seburn, 2017) in my presentations. Reading back over correspondence with my students and looking at the variety of memes that had crept into our communication, I realized that memes had not only fostered a stronger sense of rapport, but seemed to hint at underlying literacies. For example, while a little cheeky, one student’s presentation included a meme complaining about the apparent hypocrisy of stressing the importance of essay planning and then requiring students to write a timed final exam (Figure 1). It struck me that, putting aside how tonally appropriate this meme was, it offered a concise and supported summary of this student’s argument.

Figure 1: Thomas the Tank Engine Writing Meme.

What followed was a feverish and passionate bout of research and materials development. The rigidity of academic writing has long bothered me as a teacher. I generally enjoy writing in this style, but I see the frustration of my L2 English students when confronted with seemingly arbitrary rules. These students are impressive people, studying at tertiary level in their second or third language. It pains me to hear them say they are “stupid” or “bad at English” because they used a phrasal verb like think about rather than a more formal term like consider. (Yes, I am aware that the argument here is that academic vocabulary offers more precision. Sometimes it does… but should we be criticising the minutiae of students’ writing when their meaning is clear?) When I discovered the academic literacies movement, I felt like I had found “my people.” Using this framework to explore the possibility of memes in tertiary EAP was one of the highlights of my MA and I completed Reflective Practitioner raring to find out more and to connect with like-minded people. Having seen Jess Poole’s inspiring presentation about using comics with learners, I thought NATESOL might be a good place to share my ideas. I applied to present at their May conference on the spur of the moment.

I felt incredibly supported by NATESOL throughout the process

I was thrilled when NATESOL accepted my abstract (Building academic literacies and fostering rapport through use of memes in the tertiary EAP classroom) and invited me to present at their 2021 conference. This would be my first conference presentation, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I felt incredibly supported by NATESOL throughout the process. So much so, in fact, that when I was invited to write a blog about the event, I specifically asked if I could focus on why NATESOL is great for first-time presenters.


When I got the email confirming that my abstract had been accepted, Siân Etherington (NATESOL Co-Chair) mentioned the option of mentorship for less experienced presenters. I am always keen to learn from others in the field, so I gladly accepted the offer. Shortly thereafter, Mike Beaumont (Founding Chair) got in touch to see how he could help. I was a little nervous when we met on Zoom, but Mike quickly put me at ease. He arrived with an open mind and invited me to share what I wanted to work on, guiding me from there. I really appreciated Mike’s expertise and input. He even emailed straight after the conference to congratulate me, which is a solid example of just how lovely the NATESOL crew are.

Communication and Organization

It can be nerve-wracking trying something new. It always helps me to know what’s going on and what to expect. NATESOL were on this from the beginning (even the seasoned presenters commented on their professionalism!). I had a clear timeline including a deadline to submit my presentation and a tech check the week before the conference (there was even a range of dates for this). Alex Holloway (Co-Chair) was my main contact and couldn’t have been more friendly and encouraging. This meant I always felt comfortable asking questions, which had the knock-on effect of making me as confident as possible ahead of the conference.


Before the conference, Alex and Clare Courtney (Committee Member) suggested I meet with another first-time presenter to do a run-through and exchange feedback. This meeting was really valuable, and we ended up chatting about EAP and TESOL for over an hour. She and I supported each other on the day as well, but support was not in short supply. The NATESOL committee and conference-goers, though entirely professional, just seemed to have a knack for making everything relaxed and fun. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy giving my own presentation, but the whole day was packed with stimulating talks and plenty of opportunity for discussion. For me, this is what CPD should be like- finding people who are as passionate as you and developing collaboratively.

I highly recommend NATESOL for anyone in the field looking to share their ideas

In short, I feel very lucky that this was my first presenting experience. The reaction my presentation received gave me more confidence in my ideas and I was able to connect with creative and inspiring educators. I highly recommend NATESOL for anyone in the field looking to share their ideas. This is an organization I want to be involved in for a long time!


Seburn, T. (2017). Learner-sourced visuals for deeper text engagement and conceptual comprehension. In K. Donaghy and D. Xerri (Eds.), The Image in English Language Teaching (pp. 79-89). ELT Council.

“You Can’t Just Write an Essay Overnight” [Digital image]. (2019) Retrieved from

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