I’ve been lucky to have worked with hundreds of Spaniards, Catalans, French, Polish, Russians and Swedes over the past 20 years, helping them to present and pitch to international audiences in English. All of them have had enough English to do exactly what they needed to do, but all of them wanted help to do it better.
They tend to need a confidence boost rather than better English, but they tend to believe that it’s all about the words. So if you’re a speaker who regularly talks to international audiences, whether you’re a native English speaker or not, here are 8 things I’ve learned on what worries people about presenting well to international audiences, though the focus is for people for whom English isn’t their first language-
- tend to worry about their ‘limited’ vocabulary- when they had enough to do what great presenters in any language do, share a message simply, clearly and without the option for complex words and grammar that a larger vocabulary gives a speaker.
- think that their accents will make them less effective- when their accent makes them interesting, it’s their articulation (particularly the end consonants in words, the T’s, P’s, F’s, etc.) that makes the difference between being understood and not.
- assume that native English speakers are better understood by default- when most are worse, because their language is more complex and their articulation tends to be terrible.
- ignore their culture and language- when their words, their stories and their culture make a subject fascinating, if used deliberately and explained where necessary.
- think that native English speakers will think badly of them for their ‘poor English’- when most will admire them for having a second language.
- make the mistake of throwing their whole script ‘SPLAT’ up onto the slides, hoping that will help the audience to understand- when all it does is confuse the audience and make the presenters seem much less important and interesting.
- They worry that they speak too quickly- when it’s really their articulation (point 2 again). If you articulate clearly then a) you tend to be understood, and b) it slows you down a little too so a double positive result.
- They tend to express themselves less physically when they’re nervous and there’s lots of credible and recent research to show that exagggerated, physical expression helps people be understood much more, particularly by international audiences.
Here’s a post on other presentation best practice based on what works not what presentation coaches tell you, and an interesting post from Leon Potgieter on speaking as a native English speaker to international audiences from Olivia Mitchell’s excellent Speaking About Presenting blog.