Jin was asked to give a presentation in front of colleagues and clients on an application he helped develop. He was happy that his hard work and expertise was recognized. The problem was that public speaking — especially presenting in English — had never been easy for him.
The idea of presenting a technical subject, in English, in front of native English speakers, made him afraid that he might not be understood, or that he would make major grammar mistakes. Jin had been speaking English for years, but he knew people still did not always understand his English, especially if they didn’t know him.
Rather than panicking, Jin practiced his presentation in our sessions together. All that practice, along with these tips, made his presentation a great success.
1. Keep your sentences simple
This is good advice for anyone presenting, but it’s particularly true if you’re presenting in a language that is not your native one. Not everyone in the audience will be familiar with your topic. Technical jargon and long, wordy sentences will quickly bore your audience and lose their attention. Add an accent on top of it, and they may stop listening altogether.
To keep them engaged, make yourself easy to understand. Explain complex terms with simple definitions. Ask yourself “who needs to know this information and why do they need to know it?”
2. Pronounce your key points correctly and repeat them often
By answering the who and why of your presentation, you have identified your key points. You want to repeat these often throughout your presentation. Pronounce your key points correctly, or your message will lose impact.
Ask a native English-speaking co-worker or friend to check your pronunciation. Online dictionaries provide audio word pronunciations as well. Repeating the key points will provide context for your audience when your accent is not always clear.
3. Slow down your speaking rate
Nervous presenters tend to speak faster. A fast speaking rate and a heavy accent do not make an effective presentation. Purposely speak slightly slower than you normally would for a face-to-face conversation. It might feel unnatural to you, but it will sound right to your audience. Pause after key points for a bigger impact.
There are several benefits to slowing down your speech. It allows you to pronounce the important sound markers of your words that you may tend to leave off, such as word endings. In addition, a slower speaking rate gives you added time to collect your thoughts and remember what you want to say next. It also gives your audience time to process what you’re saying.
4. Use gestures
Not only do gestures keep people engaged, but if used properly, they clarify your key points. For example, if you talk about three things, hold up three fingers. Spread your hands apart to demonstrate the length or size of something. If you say “integrate”, intertwine your fingers together. Also, don’t forget to smile! It’s a simple gesture, but people respond well to a friendly face. It will help you and your audience relax.
Be careful of distracting nervous ticks, such as absent-mindedly wringing your hands, nodding your head too much or rocking back and forth on your feet. In between purposeful gestures, find a neutral resting place for your hands at your side.
5. Make slides easy to read
It can be tempting to put all the information on your slides that you’re not comfortable saying in English. Your visual aids should be simpler and more concise than your speaking points. The words and images should help the audience follow your presentation, emphasizing key points. Don’t overwhelm your audience with too much to read, and don’t read your slides word-for-word. Audiences can read or they can listen, but it’s hard to do both at the same time.
Check your grammar. Having spelling or grammar mistakes on a slide can take away your credibility as a speaker — it doesn’t look professional. Ask someone to check for errors before your presentation.
6. Speak up
Sometimes when presenters get nervous, they get quiet, especially if they’re self-conscious about how they speak. Speaking too quietly can make you sound unsure of what your presenting, which is not the professional message you want to send. Speak loud enough for the people in the back of the room to hear you. A benefit to speaking louder is that it automatically makes you speak slower.
7. Make eye contact
Connect with your audience by making eye contact. It can be tempting to turn away from them to explain a slide, focus on your notes, or look anywhere but at the people watching you. Take turns looking different audience members in the eyes. This projects confidence and draws them into your speech. It keeps them listening when they might otherwise tune out.
8. Practice, practice, practice
The more you rehearse, the more prepared you will feel. Rehearse your speech out loud and record yourself so you can hear pronunciation mistakes. Have a friend listen, and then ask for feedback on specific things that concern you. How fast did you speak? Were any words difficult to understand? Were there any distracting nervous habits? You may not catch these things on your own. Having a second set of eyes and ears can be invaluable.
Speak with confidence
Follow these tips and you will project confidence. Most people will tell you that presenting is not something they enjoy. Presenting in a non-native language would be unimaginable to many. You’re accomplishing something most people wouldn’t dream of doing. That alone should make you feel proud.
Have you been told that your accent is hard to understand when you present? You may benefit from the expertise of a qualified accent trainer. Having a trainer to coach you on your specific pronunciation and fluency issues can make the difference between dreading presentations and embracing them as the opportunity that they are.