Presenting in English for non-native speakers
As a business coach and international management trainer, I have worked with hundreds of current and future leaders who are bright and capable — and who quickly lose their confidence and competence when making business presentations. For those who need to present in English when it isn’t their native language — the challenge and the stress can feel even higher. Meanwhile, the need for leaders to be able to present in English is growing at a rapid pace, because English is required for global collaboration and global work in most companies.

Nevertheless, being compelled to speak in your nonnative language can lead to feelings of frustration, pressure and insecurity. The burden and anxiety of making formal business presentations in front of superiors, decision-makers, and key stakeholders in your nonnative language, is significantly greater.

Some German presenters admit that they are conscious about their strong accent that seemed to get heavier the more nervous they feel. They also share that they feel less capable of spontaneity — and less smart — when they present in English. “When I can’t find the word I need, I grasp the easiest word instead.”

Here are three tips nonnative English speakers can employ to help them feel more confident before, during, and after a presentation:

Spend significantly more time practicing your delivery than perfecting your slides. When we asked our clients to share with us the proportion of time spent planning, designing, and perfecting their PowerPoint slides compared to practicing speaking the presentation aloud, most of them admitted that they spent almost no time doing the latter.  Rehearsal and repetition are especially crucial steps in preparing for a successful presentation. The goal here is “overlearning” your presentation — pushing on with practice even when it seems like you’ve done enough. This will help your presentation to become embedded in your long-term memory and therefore less susceptible to the effects of stress. It will also help you speak spontaneously, if you can trust that your core content is safely stored (and able to be retrieved) from your long-term memory.

Don’t worry about your accent, but do slow your speaking speed. Everyone has an accent of some sort, including native English speakers. Even people who live in different parts of Germany can be identified by their accents. Your accent can be a problem for your listeners, however, if they have difficulty understanding you. An unfamiliar accent is particularly problematic in the first minutes of your presentation when your audience must initially concentrate to understand you. By slowing down your speaking pace, you help your audience to better manage the barriers to really hearing and understanding you. Choose your opening words deliberately and pronounce them carefully, being sure to articulate your words, not just rush through them. As your presentation continues, the problem becomes less acute as the audience will slowly develop an ear for your accent and find it easier to understand what you are saying.

Pause early and often. Pausing in your presentation serves two benefits — first, to help your audience comprehend your message, and second, to give you a break. Understanding accented speech requires listeners to draw on additional cognitive resources, not only to understand and remember what has been said but also to manage other information or tasks while listening to accented speech. When you pause, you give your listeners an opportunity to rest from drawing upon their concentration, and to absorb what you’re saying. But your pause is also an opportunity for you — you get to remember or consider what you want to say next, check your notes, read signals from the audience, or even take a sip of water. You can also use a pause to build rapport with your audience by checking with them about their reaction. Not only will you likely get some immediate positive and supportive feedback from your audience, but you will also be able to take a break, breathe, and gather your thoughts.

For both native and non-native English speakers, perfection is overrated. With some extra attention, effort, and commitment, every non-native English speakers can present with confidence, competence, and cultural comfort.

If you are interested in booking our new training “Presenting in English” don’t hesitate to contact us.

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