Ever feel nervous about delivering a presentation? You’re not alone. Nearly everyone does. Many professionals are called upon to deliver presentations in a second language. I offer eight practical tips that will greatly assist with your preparation. It will ease your nerves and empower you to present your message in a clear, concise and confident manner.
According to a 2012 report by the Harvard Business Review 1 in 4 people around the world speak functional English (CEFR A2-B1) which has led to many international companies adopting English for their common language strategy. However, as one of our trainers recently discovered, while teaching a business English course, out of the 20 students not a single person had studied business English before.
Thus, the reality is that while many are comfortable writing emails or short reports in English, they are often unable to deliver effective presentations in English. This becomes a weak link in the workplace and the knock-on effect is a decrease in productivity. With English being the common language used by many international corporations, some capable professionals feel frustrated that they can’t express themselves clearly. Self-doubt can easily take over and a lack of confidence may well set in. Since many prefer not to speak unless their English is perfect, their experience and contribution to the company may be lost.
More recently, the common language strategy continues to be implemented through videoconference meetings and business presentations. In this article we will focus on the face-to-face scenario, doing presentations in front of a live audience in the same room. The needs of Videoconferencing Presentation Skills and its Etiquette will be explained in separate articles.
While no one can improve their language skills overnight, there are several methods I employ when giving a presentation, and I am happy to share them with you now.
TIP 1: Audience. When preparing your presentation topic, take a step back and think about your audience. What do they already know about your topic? What information would they like to hear? What do they need to know? Answering these three questions will enable you to stimulate your audience’s engagement. Remember, try to leave them with the feeling that they have learned something worthwhile.
If you are unsure of your audience, or are presenting to a wide-ranging group, you can adopt a skill widely used in sales and marketing of preparing a brief ‘persona’ for the types of audience members you feel will mostly likely attend. You can find out more about creating personas here.
TIP 2: Content. List the key points of your presentation in a clear and logical order. Incorporate supplementary information as you move between the key points of your presentation without confusing your audience. Help your audience to look at the topic from a fresh point of view.
TIP 3: Outline. Although you may feel that having a word-for-word script is the best way to avoid missing anything out, it’s actually the fastest way to lose your audience’s attention. Instead, express your thoughts in your own words and speak in a natural, sincere way that conveys how you feel about the topic. Instead of a script, trim down the text to just the key words to form an outline. The key words will act as prompts to guide you through your delivery. Also, don’t be afraid to repeat key points as your presentation progresses as it will help your audience to take your message on board. Also, remember, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!
If a word-perfect script is needed for presentation or handout, you may want to seek the help of professional writers. There are a wide range of writing services that are in popular demand in Asia, and companies such as Poema Language Services can add that extra professional look to your document.
TIP 4: Grammar. Native English speakers rarely use perfect grammar. In fact, grammars may even differ to some extent across different English dialects. So, you don’t have to be overly concerned about strict grammar rules when you give a presentation (while at the same time you would not want to be overly casual about using proper grammar either). Initially focus on simple and easy to understand language. As you get more practise, you will slowly improve. As your grammar improves and your experience grows after speaking in front of several audiences, you can start to look at other areas that will help you to improve, such as confidence and poise.
If you’re unsure of some of your phrasing and grammar then there are a wide range of apps available online, such as grammarly, which can help to give you peace of mind.
TIP 5: Visual Aids. Roughly 65% of people are visual learners. Using visual aids is a powerful method to get your point across and leave a lasting impression. However, use them sparingly. Only use them to emphasize important points of instruction. A correct visual aid should be simple and easy to remember. Also make sure they are proportionate to the size of the auditorium.
You may be familiar with PowerPoint or even Excel when sharing diagrams or stats, however, to captivate today’s emotive audience, try to incorporate a video or infographic into your presentation. For example, Canva.
TIP 6: Body language. Your body also conveys a message to your audience – it speaks! It could be a nervous twitch, swaying from left to right or adjusting your glasses every ten seconds. These mannerisms could be distracting. So, monitor your posture. Use positive body language and facial expressions to express sincerity and friendliness. In turn you will connect more naturally with your audience, and they will be more confident in your message. Also, throughout your presentation, try to alternate the section of the audience you are addressing. If you only look at the same people, the rest may feel isolated and disengaged.
TIP 7: Timing. Less is more. A few well-developed points are better than a multitude of undeveloped points. Many speakers go over time or rush to get through the content. Thus, plan for less. Be sure to recap important points for emphasis. When you practise, allocate enough time to cover the key points – don’t rush them, and linger on non-essential information. Time each section until you get it right.
TIP 8: Practise. Practise. Practise. Once you have decided on your content, set aside time to practise. Ask a friend or trusted colleague to listen to your presentation and pay attention to their constructive feedback. Avoid being overly sensitive when they make suggestions. Some people prefer to practise in front of a mirror whilst others record themselves (audio or even video). Recording a video of yourself, as awkward as it is sounds, enables you to see yourself as others do.
Did you find this article useful? After applying these tips in your next presentation, I’d be interested to hear how it went.
About the author: Timothy McClenahan is the Director of English for Asia, a leading language training specialist in Macao for over 20 years.