This month I am pleased to share advice on preparing and delivering business presentations as a non-native English speaker from Nancy Vason of Speechworks. Nancy coaches business leaders on how to connect with their audiences. She also teaches at Georgia Tech University where most of her students are non-native English speakers. For those of you who struggle with presentations given in a second language, I think you will appreciate Nancy’s insights. This is the first of a two-part interview series.
The International Entrepreneur (TIE): When you must deliver a business presentation in a language other than your own, why is this especially difficult?
Nancy: The primary reason and challenge when you’re presenting in another language is that quite often you are thinking in two languages at once. Not only are you formulating the ideas you want to convey, but you are also mindful of expressing them in English, having correct grammar and choosing the right words to express your meaning. Often, your mind is racing and you can not speak in your non-native language fast enough to keep your mind and mouth aligned. Unfortunately, many non-native speakers fill those split second delays with filler words. However, instead of trying to fill the time, you should simply pause.
TIE: Are there any universal communication fundamentals that can help speakers of any language better prepare?
Nancy: The first step is to craft a clear, concise message. For non-native speakers, less is more! Decide on the core ideas you want to convey, preview them for your listeners, explain them in more detail with stories and supporting data, then summarize. Repeating your key ideas and stating them the same way each time helps your listeners understand your message even if they miss a few words in your delivery.
Second, if you use slides, keep the content brief and simple. Use visuals that are interesting, and minimize the number of words on each slide. Including all your notes on your slides is a terrible idea! Not only does it distract your listener from looking at you, it also tempts you to read your slides which will cause you to lose eye contact with your audience. Instead, use the slides to reinforce your core messages.
The last fundamental is practice, practice, practice! Rehearse your presentation out loud, multiple times. Those rehearsals create muscle memory and give you confidence.
TIE: How can international entrepreneurs best translate their passion into their communication?
Nancy: Always be yourself, but be the most animated version of yourself. Imagine that you are having an intense conversation with a friend at the dinner table. Your eyes, your face, your gestures, and your voice would all reflect your enthusiasm and passion. That’s the level of engagement and intensity that helps you connect with your audience no matter what language you are speaking.
TIE: What is the most important step non-native speakers must do to truly be prepared for a presentation?
Nancy: Rehearsing the presentation out loud is the most important step. You should not memorize your presentation because one mistake may cause you to go blank and panic. Work from an outline and rehearse enough so that you are comfortable with the information and can perform well, even with distractions. When you practice, focus first on content, then on your speaking style. Remember to speak with energy and passion!
The other key step is to plan and prepare for the Q&A. You can be a great presenter and still lose credibility if you can’t answer the questions well. Q&A is more difficult for the non-native speaker because you worry about having to “think on your feet”. But in reality, you can predict about 80% of the questions you’ll be asked. If you take time to write down those questions, think through your answers and practice them out loud in advance, you’ll be more confident and effective.
About Nancy Vason
Nancy Vason is an executive coach at Speechworks, an Atlanta-based communication skills coaching firm that helps business leaders connect with audiences and get results. Through global clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Novelis and Jabil, Nancy helps executives from many different cultures become confident communicators. She also teaches Business Communication in the Georgia Tech MBA program, where most of her international students are non-native speakers. For more information, please visit www.speechworks.net.