• Paul Evans

English Presentation Skills for non-native speakers



Whether on Zoom or presenting in front of a live audience, presentations can be tough.

Below are a few practical tips to help you make a great impact.


It's all about preparation (but prep the messages, not precise words).


Generally, the shorter a presentation is, the more work you will have to do in advance.

Keep in mind, you’re not trying to rehearse a speech or lines for a play with a presentation!

In fact I’d say trying to have every little detail laid out word perfectly will only drive up tension and cause panic if/when something goes off plan.

Instead focus on the key messages.

  • What are the few things you want people to take away?

  • Boil those down to short messages.

  • Practice delivering the same message(s) in different ways with different words.

This will help you in-the-moment, if something needs adjusting on-the-fly, brain-freeze sets in or things go differently than initially planned.

Why? How? Because you will already inherently know there a many valid ways to get the message over and your brain will come up with another one.

Create a rough script of key messages - this is to help you plan the flow (not rehearse words)

You should not expect to follow any script word-for-word. Instead, the act of creating a script is to help you identify ahead of time the messages you want to deliver.


Feel the fear - then slow down! :-)


If, or perhaps when, you feel that moment of fear, take in a deep breath, shrug or roll your shoulders (this physical action will release stress).

  • If you feel the fear, then that's a sign it's probably time to slow down.

  • Don't be scared to pause. You're only human and people are fine with you collecting your thoughts.

  • You have a lot more time than you think.

Controlling pace when presenting online or on a conference call, when you can't see or perhaps even hear the audience (if on mute, say), can be especially challenging. The trick is to add additional pauses. Not only do these pauses help you but they help your audience too. Pauses allow the audience time to process the information. This being the case, a great time for a pause is after any key message. Just give it a moment to sink in.


Presenting in another language

Recognise that you may need specific words, phrases or language ahead of time.

  • Practice keys words and phrases, specifically if you're not familiar or confident in pronouncing them.

Additionally, it is worth recognising that some words are tougher to say. For example, in English words such as rural, colonel, thoroughly, squirrel, anemone, the list goes on; are well known to be difficult to pronounce especially for non-native speakers.


Other words can be difficult to understand or have double meanings which may confuse the audience if the context isn’t clear.

  • Choose words that are both easy to say and easy for others to understand.

Avoid jargon, slang, and abbreviations. These can difficult for the audience or in the case of abbreviations have alternate meanings, which can cause confusion. So try to avoid such jargon even for “in-house” presentations.



Slides - key words only

  • Slides do not need to be grammatically correct.

  • To create space and clarity on your slides avoid or remove words like "the", "and" "at", "in", "is" etc

  • Key messages should stand on their own, isolated from other text, in a large clear font.

When designing your slides review by standing back 2 meters from the screen, can you read everything?

Now step back to 5 or 6 meters from your screen. Can you read everything?

If there are words that are too small to read at that distance from your computer screen, then just delete those lines, they won't be seen or read by your audience.

If you believe those lines have key messages, then it's time to redesign the slide.

Use pictures to help your audience visualise and remember your key messages.


Slow down

Have we mentioned that before? Speak at a pace that allows you to clear enunciate your words.


Volume

  • Speak to the back of the room.

  • If online, imagine a point just behind your computer screen, speak to that point in space through the computer.


Repetition

Far from being boring, repetition helps get across key messages.

Yes, it’s true that if you say the same words over and over again, that might come across as monotonous.

  • However, delivering your key messages several times in a presentation using in different words and description will help your audience get the point.


Stories

Consider that for thousands and thousands of years of human history we have passed around key messages in stories.


The precise words of the story may change, but the key messages behind the words stand the test of time.


If you can tell a good story, then your audience can carry those key messages far and wide for you.

Use metaphors and pictures to help your audience remember the key ideas.


Practice

How? Read something aloud and record yourself. It doesn't have to be your presentation (though obviously that’s a good source of material). Get used to speaking aloud. That may sounds daft but presenting aloud is not the same as talking with a group of friends.


Listen to yourself. Of course, this can feel embarrassing initially but close your eyes and listen to what you just read aloud. Are you rushing? Do you need all the words? Did you paint a clear picture. Were there too many filler words? Did you put those pauses in? Especially, pauses for key messages.


Now record the passage again but double or triple the length of the pauses. When you listen back to the recording are the pauses as long as they felt when you were talking? Or are they in fact useful for the listener?


On the day - read the audience

Stand if you can (regardless of whether this is a internet call or not). Sitting easily put us into poor posture, for example leaning on the table will round your shoulders and send your focus downward instead of out toward your audience.


If you can see your audience (understandably, this is not always possible over an internet where perhaps all you can see is your own screen with your slides?)


Look at the audience or find a few different people to look at in different locations.

All the people around them will think you're looking at them. This is making a connection.

It'll also mean you're scanning the audience for feedback cues.


(If on an internet call try to look forward toward the screen and stay reasonably central. You do not need to be static but too much movement or going off-screen can be off putting. Also, you do not need to stare at the camera but do keep your head up and eyes looking forward.)


If the audience looks confused, or not engaged, simply ask “was that clear?”


Audiences often appreciate this kind of interaction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, repeat your last few sentences, (perhaps at a slower pace) and use slightly different language when doing so. This will also give audience members a second change to understand the material and interact with you.


Hope you find that useful

Paul



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