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 second of a two-part interview series.
The International Entrepreneur (TIE): How do you handle a situation where you can’t think of a particular word in the other language?
Nancy: The best strategy is to pause, and make a light comment if you are so inclined (i.e. my brain is not working in English today). But if the word doesn’t come to you, try to explain the concept a different way. If it’s a group presentation, you might even ask one of your team members for assistance.
Everyone makes mistakes, and your imperfections are easily forgiven by your audience. The key is how you handle the situation. If you appear flustered, that makes your audience uncomfortable. If you remain confident, they will remain confident of you.
TIE: Is humor recommended as a presentation tool? If so, what are the guidelines?
Nancy: Humor is a great tool for a speaker. The problem is that some of us are not very funny!
So approach humor cautiously. I recommend that speakers not start with a joke. If it fails, you are off to a rocky start. If it works, you are expected to entertain the audience throughout the presentation. One way to include humor is in the stories you tell. You can learn to tell a story in a funny way – it just takes practice!
TIE: Many cultures including the American expect to ask questions of the speaker at the end of a presentation. How can you best approach answering questions?
Nancy: I believe the best presentations are interactive. So why wait until the end of the presentation to take questions? Instead, you should train the audience: let them know you welcome questions and encourage them to ask you questions at any time.
Naturally, this is a bit risky for the non-native speaker. You have to be well prepared for the questions so they won’t undermine your confidence and as we discussed previously, you can predict about 80% of the questions you will get during your presentation. You also need to be familiar enough with your presentation to be able to get back on track after taking a question.
With formal presentations in front of very large audiences, you may have to wait until the end to take questions. Once the final question has been asked and answered, remind the audience of your key points and your call to action. You want their last impression of you to be strong and persuasive.
About Nancy Vason: Nancy 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.