Delivering your presentation

Speaking in English (not your first language) to an English speaking audience

You’re an experienced presenter in your own language, you have a working vocabulary of over 20,000 words, you can improvise, answer questions, use metaphor, jokes and the vernacular, what do you do when you’re faced with an audience of native English speakers?

That little voice in your head can start you thinking all of those negative things that will undermine you if you let them. Let’s look at three of them for a start-

Thought 1-

“They’ll think I’m stupid with my foreign accent and limited vocabulary…”

It’s most likely that they won’t think you’re stupid because the likelihood is that as native English speakers they won’t speak a foreign language at all. They’ll think you’re rather clever, actually.

Thought 2-

“I’ll sound stupid with my greatly reduced vocabulary.”

You definitely won’t sound stupid using simple words and language. It’s one of the keys to powerful speech. As George Orwell said of great writing- “Never use a long word where a short word will do.” If you lack technical or business vocaublary in English, then that’s easy to work on with a newspaper and a dictionary, but no one will notice if you say “Yes” in answer to a question instead of “in all probability, that will be what we will do going forward”.

Thought 3-

“My accent will stop them from understanding what I’m saying”.

This might be true but is easily put right. Speaking to be understood is a complex mix of language, vocabulary, grammar, accent, diction and articulation, sometimes made more difficult by the subject about which you’re talking. Some people with a strong ‘foreign’ accent are difficult to understand, but only because they tend to talk to quickly.

Why do they talk too quickly? Because they don’t pronounce the consonants at the end of their words and they don’t follow the ‘punctuation’ of the phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of their speech. So, if you want to be understood by the 34 different nationalities in the room say,

”To be, (comma/pause) or not to be? (comma/pause), That is the question. (full stop/pause).

Not “tobeornotobethaisvequesyun”.

It’s just the same for English native speakers trying to be understood in Argentina or Zambia, miss the end consonants and the punctuation and you’ll be hard to understand by people not used to hearing English spoken ‘live’.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
1 Comment

1 Comment


    August 23, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Jim

    I am Deen from Golden Sand, Malaysia. I am not good in English. After read your article I become more confident in English and I hope I can kearn from you to improve my English. I live about 380km from the capital of Kuala Lumpur. I live in rural area and I have own homestay and art gallery at my hometown. Glad to be your friend. See ya soon.


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