In Company – eLessons

Since 2003 we’ve been sending great resources to support the In Company series straight to your inbox. On the ball, expertly written by Pete Sharma, always relevant and infinitely practical… these are resources that have helped thousands of teachers prepare their classes.

Although we won’t be releasing and new elesson blogs for In Company second edition, you can find all our previous content in our easy-to-search archive, below. You can filter by topic, level, month or year or simply browse the 200 plus e-lessons from the extensive archive!

For 2014 we have launched a new set of elessons and newsletters centred around life skills, with different monthly themes and topics, including some for business English. Make sure you receive yours by signing up for our Macmillan Email Newsletters.


  • December, 2011
  • The Best Presentations Ever …? Revisited Teacher's Notes Answer Keys

    Level - Upper Intermediate

    Users of Prezi pass the five million mark: is this business tool changing the way we deliver presentations?

    Last month, the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies announced its list of 'Top 100 Tools for Learning, 2011'. What made me take notice was that fact that Prezi had risen to number 7. PowerPoint, on the other hand, had slipped down the chart, to number 19.

    What exactly is a Prezi? It's a tool that allows you to deliver a presentation in a 'non-linear’ way. You can zoom in on any piece of information at random, be it a picture or piece of text. I first saw a presenter use Prezi last year, and I was very impressed.

    With PowerPoint, we tend to think in a linear way, one slide after another. With Prezi, the presenter can focus on things as they come up. This means they can respond to the audience, and give a more interactive presentation.

    I've lost count of the number of PowerPoint slides I have seen that are packed full of text, details, dimensions and statistics. I know that the audience will be suffering from 'death by PowerPoint'!

    As the number of Prezi users worldwide soars past the five million mark, it seems like the idea of 'zooming' presentations is becoming much more popular. The original e-lesson ‘The best presentations ever …?’discusses the idea of breaking the rules, just like Prezi is breaking traditional linear rules of presentation.

    However, we are still just talking about presentation tools. Great presenters still need confidence and, above all, charisma. They also aim to be impactful and memorable. Ah well –  it looks like I'm going to have to try out Prezi myself!

    Some questions you may wish to discuss with your students are:

    • Have you ever given a Prezi; if not, would you like to try?
    • Is there a presentation on which has particularly impressed you? If so, why?
    • Think about the last conference you went to. Describe an excellent presentation and a poor one; give reasons for your choices.
  • November, 2011
  • Salaries Revisited Teacher's Notes Worksheet

    Elementary / Pre-intermediate

    Salaries Revisited

    FTSE directors’ earnings rise by nearly 50%

    Once again, directors’ pay is back in the news. A new report from a research company, the IDS (Incomes Data Services), has revealed that last year the earnings of UK directors of the top 100 FTSE companies rose by nearly 50%. The average increase in CEO salaries was 43%. What’s more, directors’ bonuses have reportedly risen by 23%, making the average bonus a staggering £900,000!

    This research has generated a flurry of activity in the blogosphere. On the whole, most contributors are furious. The huge salary rises are described as ‘outrageous’ and ‘obscene’. ‘Boardroom greed’ and ‘fat cats’ are terms which occur in several posts. Many feel that directors’ bonuses are simply not linked to successful performance in the marketplace. It is not surprising that this research has triggered a wave of anger. For most ordinary workers in the United Kingdom, there is no real salary rise this year. The average pay increase is around 3.2% (2.6% in the private sector), with inflation at around 5.2%.

    However, not all the posts condemn the increase in directors’ salaries. Some writers point out that, in the private sector, directors set their own salaries. That’s capitalism. What is more, CEO salaries should be high - these people take the business risks and this is rightly reflected in their pay.

    The original e-lesson, ‘Salaries’, mentioned the ‘pay divide’. This latest research suggests that this gap is widening. The lesson also posed the question: ‘Are bonuses fair?’. Today, such bonuses are just a standard part of many remuneration packages. What seems to be clear is that the salaries for those at the very top are now even further removed from the everyday economic realities of the rest of us.

    Some questions you may wish to discuss with your students are:

    • Are top company directors over-paid?
    • Is there a large salary gap between the lowest and highest earners in your country?
    • Are salaries keeping ahead of inflation in your own company?
  • October, 2011
  • Banking Crisis Revisited Teacher's Notes Worksheet


    IMF warns of threat to global banking system

    The e-lesson ‘Banking Crisis’ went out exactly three years ago, in September 2008. It described how share prices plummeted after the collapse of the US bank Lehman Brothers. Following a summer where we have witnessed similar volatility in the financial markets, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that the ‘global financial system is more vulnerable now than at any time since the 2008 financial crisis’. Once again, it seems the world is facing economic meltdown. Why?

    According to the IMF’s latest ‘stability report’, banks are facing bigger risks. Debt is the main cause of concern and all eyes at the moment are on the Eurozone. The biggest fear is that countries with huge debts are simply unable to repay them. Do banks have enough money to bail out a country which defaults on its debt? No, say investors: banks do not have enough cash in reserve. In some circles, there is even talk of whether the Euro itself will survive.

    We all rely on stability in the economy. In the United Kingdom, an independent commission has suggested that one part of a bank’s operations should be ‘ring fenced’, so that the investment part of the bank could ‘safely be allowed to fail’ without this causing the high street part of the bank to collapse. Critics say this will just make investors gamble even more with our money! This is a good time to have this discussion, since last month Switzerland’s giant UBS suffered a £1.5 billion loss due to a single rogue trading incident. The CEO has just resigned.

    Gloomy days indeed for the economy, gloomy for the individual investor, as well as for the start-up company struggling to get a loan. It seems the same concerns of three years ago, fears of a global financial meltdown, still very much exist today.

    Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

    • What do you feel are the specific causes of the current financial turmoil?
    • What financial predictions can you make for the crisis in the Eurozone?
    • Should the investment part of a bank be ‘ring-fenced’, to reduce risk?
  • September, 2011
  • E-book world revisited Worksheet Teacher's Notes

    Level - Pre-intermediate and above

    E-books with soundtracks hit the UK: will this latest multimedia development kill the joy of reading?

    The original e-lesson e-book world came out in November 2009. One of the blog entries in the lesson reads: ‘The Kindle is too expensive to be anything more than a niche product for business travellers!’ Well, a lot has happened since then. For one thing, in February this year, e-books became the single bestselling 'category' in American publishing for the first time, overtaking the sale of paperbacks. Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos has said that books for the Kindle are now outselling print books.

    At the end of last month, the first 'enhanced e-book' from a company called Booktrack was launched in the UK. This latest development seems logical enough: reading is enhanced by a synchronized soundtrack. As you read, you hear mood music, or sound effects like rain, thunderclaps or breaking glass, and (of course), screams.

    Studies made by Booktrack indicate that the addition of sound can help readers to retain information better. Readers become immersed in the experience. The software recognises the speed of the reader, and (cleverly) paces the soundtrack with the text. Impressive.

    Nevertheless, this latest development in the world of publishing is controversial. Many believe the writer is responsible for creating mood, just as they are responsible for creating images which live in the readers mind. Reading is not cinema.

    This first generation of enhanced e-books is designed to work on tablet computers, such as the iPad, with a version for Android to follow.

    I'm one of those people who will always love books. I also have a tablet pc and an e-book reader. In terms of the market, the sales of e-books will continue to rise, and I suppose they'll co-exist alongside printed books, at least for the foreseeable future.

    As for e-books with soundtracks, I think I'll just go back to my paperback copy of One Day before (maybe) going to see it the cinema.....

    Areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

    • Have you bought an e-book reader? Will you?
    • What do think about Booktrack? Does it enhance or kill the imagination?
    • Consider the world of publishing: make a prediction about e-Book readers and tablet PCs.
  • August, 2011
  • Facebook Revisited Worksheet Teacher's Notes

    Level - Intermediate +

     As Facebook launches its new business site, Google rolls out its own social networking site: Google Plus The e-lesson on Facebook (May 2008) stated that the world's biggest social networking site had over 70 million users. Today, that figure is a staggering 750 million. For many, social networking is an important part of their life. What about social networking in the business world?

    Last week, I was invited to join Google Plus. As I am already on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, I was sceptical about joining yet another social networking site. I investigated, and was quite impressed, especially with 'Circles' (a way of putting people into different mini-networks and sharing information just with them) and 'Hangouts' (the video conference facility).

    The test site, launched at the end of June, has attracted 20 million users, including many entrepreneurs. Google has admitted to having underestimated the strength of interest shown by companies, and plans to provide a full business service soon.

    It's an interesting moment, then, for Facebook to launch its new business site, Facebook for Business. This site provides guidance on how businesses can benefit from Facebook, including placing adverts (of course!).

    So, can social networks help businesses? There are certainly some functions that can be exploited. Social networking sites could enable companies to post targeted adverts, based on user profiles. The 'Like' button (or equivalent) could be great for 'word of mouth' advertising. Indeed, some international companies are collaborating on projects using such sites.

    However, social networking also has its critics. Over half of the companies in the UK have banned employees from using Facebook at work, and a recent scientific report claims Facebook and Twitter are encouraging a new generation of people with shorter attention spans and poorer face-to-face communication skills.

    Oh dear; now I'm not sure whether to join Google Plus or not!

    Areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

    • Which social networks do you belong to?
    • Do you agree that social networking can negatively affect real-life communication?
    • Should companies restrict Facebook at work?
    • Can 'social networking' benefit your own company? How?
  • July, 2011
  • Holistic holidays Worksheet Teacher's Notes


    Branson calls for US firms to be more generous with their holiday policies

    July article of the month from the e-lesson archive: ‘Holistic Holidays’.

    It's summer! As the weather gets warmer, we all start thinking about booking that all-important annual holiday. But how long we get to lie in the sun depends on how generous our holiday allowance is.

    Last month, when straight-talking Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson gave the opening speech at the Society for Human Resource Management Conference in Las Vegas, he criticized US companies for giving their employees a mere two weeks annual leave. Unsurprisingly, he received a huge round of applause from the appreciative audience.

    Two weeks! Two weeks does not seem long enough to 're-energise'. What's more, a lot of workers in the States either do not take their full annual leave, or – can you imagine it? – continue to work remotely whilst on holiday! Blackberrys on the beach…

    Branson went on to say that if it proved too difficult for companies to give longer holidays, they should offer staff the chance to take unpaid leave. He was especially critical of the way that employers in the States are not very flexible in looking at the alternatives to full-time work which are becoming more common in Europe, such as job-sharing or going part time.

    Not that I'm personally heading off for the beach. Last year, I would have laughed at the idea of going on any kind of 'holistic' holiday. Now, having recently taken up yoga, I'd actually love to go on a retreat. In fact, I'm about to book a yoga holiday somewhere in the Himalayas. And you can be sure I won't be taking my computer with me.

    Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

    • What kind of holiday will they take this year? Relaxing, adventurous or 'alternative'?
    • Do they agree with Branson that two weeks annual leave is too short?
    • Have they ever been tempted to work on holiday? Are there any circumstances that would force them to work whilst away?
    • Would they like to take six months unpaid leave? What would they do with it?
    • June, 2011
    • Ash Cloud Revisited Worksheet Teacher's Notes


      Another Icelandic volcano erupts: what lessons have been learnt by the aviation industry?

      June article of the month from the e-lesson archive: ‘Ash cloud’.

      The e-lesson 'Ash Cloud' (April 2010) posed the question: “What happens if there is another eruption?”. Now we know. On Tuesday May 21st, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn erupted, and once again European air traffic was affected.

      In the resulting chaos, around 500 flights were cancelled, mostly in Scotland and Germany. The images of people sleeping at airports were all too familiar. Even the President of the United States was forced to change his travel plans, flying out of the Republic of Ireland and into England early for his appointment with the Queen. Football club Barcelona flew into London earlier than scheduled for their Champions League final at Wembley.

      However, one year after the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the aviation industry seems to have learnt a lot. This time, there was no blanket closure of European airspace, as there was last year, and with different weather conditions, there was far less disruption. Today, there is better monitoring of ash clouds, and improved assessment of the levels of risk for flying passenger planes.

      Nevertheless, disagreement still exists between airlines and the aviation authorities about when it is safe to fly. Therefore, in this age of high-tech business communication, why risk the disruption of flight cancellations and stranded employees? Surely it is more sensible for companies to reduce travel costs and organise more conference calls and virtual meetings. After all, we still cannot predict when a volcano will erupt, or when an earthquake or tornado will strike. We are, as the e-lesson stated, living in the “post volcanic-ash era” of business travel.

      Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

      • How safe do you think it is to fly through volcanic ash?
      • Has your company changed its employee travel policy in any way over the last year?
      • Do you think global companies should increase their use of video-conferencing? Why / why not?
    • May, 2011
    • Olympics Revisited - Any tickets left? Worksheet Teacher's Notes

      Level - Intermediate

      The deadline for buying Olympic tickets has passed; what happens now?

      May article of the month from the e-lesson archive: ‘Olympics 2012: value for money?’

      In 1992, I went to the Olympics in Barcelona. I bought tickets for every event I wanted to see, at reasonable prices. Now, 20 years later, I have applied online for London 2012. I have no idea which tickets I will get. I might get none, or I might get everything I applied for, plus a credit card bill which is far from ‘reasonable’! What's more, around half the tickets for the most popular events will go to corporate customers and VIP guests. What's happened to the spirit of the Olympics?

      I applied for my tickets long before the deadline (23.59pm 26th April) was extended by an hour due to an incredible last-minute surge on the website. Unlike many others, I only applied for the number of tickets I could afford; unlike them, I won't receive a huge credit card bill. Still, I do have to wait until the applications are processed and then, if my chosen events are over-subscribed, hold my breath as the ballot is drawn! It is far more complicated and expensive to get tickets for the Olympics than 20 years ago – if, indeed, I'm successful!

      Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

      • Is anyone intending to go to the Olympics? How easy or difficult has it been to get tickets?
      • Do you think it is right to reserve so many tickets for corporate clients?
      • Do you believe the Olympics have become too commercialised?
      • Can a simple, fair system be devised for selling tickets to major sporting events?

      The Olympics began as an amateur event about sport and the joy of competing. Today's Olympics are arguably more about corporate sponsorship and high-priced tickets. Let's see if I get any tickets ... or if I have to wait until Rio de Janeiro in 2016!

    • April, 2011
    • Electric Cars Revisited Worksheet Teacher's Notes

      Petrol prices continue to soar: will the electric car finally 'take off'?

      Indian car manufacturer Tata has started the production of electric cars in the UK city of Coventry. This is good news for the local economy; it may also be good news for environmentalists. The factory has a production capacity of 1,500 Vista models per year. Each electric car has a range of 120 miles, and costs over £25,000. A government subsidy could save customers £5,000 on the price; will this attract people to place orders?

      The announcement from Tata coincides with EU plans to ban all petrol and diesel cars from city centres by 2050. According to the EU, this controversial measure will reduce carbon emissions by 60%. Not surprisingly, the UK is rejecting these plans. Many people believe that individual motorists should not have to reduce mobility in order to cut pollution.

      Meanwhile, the motorist continues to suffer at the pumps. UK petrol prices have reached an all-time high. It is not surprising that the demand for plug-in electric cars is expected to rise. The cost of battery technology, which makes these cars so expensive, is expected to fall. Many car manufacturers are developing environmentally friendly cars; more and more of them are coming to believe that electric cars will become an integral part of their product range.

      Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

      • What's happening to petrol prices in their country?
      • Would they consider buying an electric car?
      • Do they think petrol and diesel cars should be banned from city centres?

      We do sometimes smile at the thought of electric cars. As oil prices spiral, and with environmental concerns growing, maybe we will see many more of them in the future.

      Pete Sharma

    • March, 2011
    • The iPad: will it change the face of journalism? Worksheet Teacher's Notes

      At the beginning of last month, Apple and Rupert Murdoch’s company News Corporation launched The Daily, the first ever newspaper created exclusively for delivery over the iPad. The cost? Just 99 cents a week! It incorporates clever graphics and video, but the question is: will it, as media mogul Murdoch claims, change the face of journalism?

      Reading a newspaper on a tablet PC can certainly offer a rich, multimedia experience. Since the iPad was launched, sales have been impressive, with just under 15 million devices sold last year. This is the fastest ‘adoption rate’ of any electronics gadget, ever – even faster than for DVD players. However, there is still a long way to go before mass market penetration is reached, perhaps in 2013.

      Potential sales for tablet PCs are so high that they might affect sales of desktop computers and laptops. Competitors have jumped on the bandwagon. The Galaxy Tab from Samsung is certainly providing some stiff competition. ‘App’ has fast become a word on everyone’s lips. There seems to be an app for just about everything!

      The iPad e-lesson posed a key question: will it succeed? We seem to have the answer! Now, the launch of The Daily has started off another round of questions.

      Some areas you may wish to explore with your business English students are:

      • Is the iPad a ‘must-have’ item or a luxury item?
      • Have you bought a tablet PC? If so, which one?
      • Will tablet PCs transform the way we consume news and other media?
      • Have you downloaded any useful business apps? If so, which ones?

      Although it is notoriously difficult to make predictions about technology, we remain fascinated by tablet PCs and the effect they can have on our lives, at home and at work.

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