Italian and French consultants are increasingly working on multinational, English-language projects – whether it involves relocation or frequent meetings and calls. And given the importance of international media interviews and events for those in leadership roles, confident communication is essential for building your personal profile and company reputation.
The Language Grid provides business English training to consultants from Managers through to Partners. Our students have common challenges around organizing project teams, entertaining and networking, communicating with clients, and presenting in English.
These 5 tips help overcome those challenges. They give you practical ways to improve your skills, helping you use English to deliver a better client service and facilitate career progression.
1. Refine your tone
This is something The Language Grid students often struggle with because tone in English is linguistically and culturally different to French and Italian. But it’s critical to effective communication – because it has a major impact on your ability to manage relationships with clients and colleagues.
French has fewer inflections than English, so French speakers can come across as monotonous. Italians are often more formal than English speakers, which can make their writing and conversation seem stilted. English speakers also tend to be more direct – they get straight to the point in a way that would seem rude in French or Italian.
To strike the right tone in English
- Avoid translating directly from Italian or French because you’ll end up with longer, more formal sentences that confuse your audience. As a general rule – if there are more than 3 commas in a sentence it’s too long!
- Focus on your idea and try to communicate it using as few words as possible
- Don’t be afraid to use first names in letters and emails
- In writing, use bullet points and lists to emphasize key points, and keep paragraphs to a few sentences
- Pay attention to how modal verbs change the nuance – for example, “Could you please email the report to the client?” is a direct instruction to someone, whereas “We should email the report to the client” is open to interpretation as to who should act
- Choose the right prepositions – this is essential for managing timescales and deadlines, because “until March 31st” has a different meaning than “through March 31st” (“until” doesn’t include the day of March 31st, whereas “through” does)
And beware “false friends” – words that sound similar to a word in Italian or French but have different meanings in English. For example, the English word argument would be une dispute in French. But in English, a dispute implies something stronger and much more fraught than an argument.
2. Practice conversational bridges
Conversational bridges are phrases that help you move from one topic to another. They’re crucial to managing meetings and conference calls, staying on message in interviews, and making small talk. When you know a variety of bridges, it’s easy to keep control over conversations.
Sample conversational bridges
- Let’s move on to the next point.
- If you think about the issue this way…
- As you can see…
- That brings me to…
- The key point here is…
- What do you think about…
3. Integrate cultural references
Whether it’s nearby events and current affairs or the newest hit TV show, being able to reference local culture helps build rapport with colleagues and clients. Often, English language meetings and conference calls start with small talk on these subjects – and they’re common topics when you’re entertaining or networking.
4. Adapt your presentation content and style
So many aspects of consulting involve presenting – whether it’s to win new business, update a client, or give lectures. Compelling English language presentations have different conventions than French and Italian ones.
- There’s a major trend towards minimalism in English PowerPoint slides, so don’t overload slides with graphs, words or images
- Focus slide content on the key message you want to communicate and talk around the detail
- If you want people to have something in-depth to take away, make a separate handout version to distribute instead of including everything in the PowerPoint
- Pick your terms and stick to them – it’s easier for your audience if you refer to key subjects in the same way throughout a document, for example it’s confusing to refer to ‘team’ on one slide and ‘group’ on the next
- Your speech can be more conversational than it traditionally would be in French or Italian – depending on who you’re speaking to and the presentation’s purpose, you can ask questions and add humor. Often speakers will start with an interesting story or pose questions that require the audience to engage
- Be prepared for questions – everyone knows this is good practice, but it’s especially important to rehearse answers to likely queries when you’re speaking in a second language because you don’t have the same linguistic dexterity
5. Learn key phrases before meetings and conference calls
Meetings and conference calls often require you to ‘think on your feet’. Preparation is essential for this (and it’s also worth having a business English cheatsheet saved on your phone and desktop to help).
Here are some examples:
- Let's jot down ideas
- What if we look at it this way?
- I’d like to hear what other people think
- How do you think we should approach this?
- Let’s turn to…
For managing difficult situations
- We need to move the deadline back because of….
- I take your point, but if we look at the data, I think we get a different picture
- I understand your concerns, and we’ll look into them
- I’m aware we only have 30 minutes left, so why don’t we move on to…
For dealing with a team
- Good job – there’s great work in here
- The presentation is looking good so far. Can we just change…
- Have you considered…?
- What can we learn from this mistake?
Get business English training specifically for consultants
Having a flexible yet structured way to improve your English makes a big difference career-wise. The Language Grid focuses on the practical skills you – as a consultant – need to communicate more effectively in English.
As one consultant said, “The Language Grid helps improve your communication style, enabling you to evolve it – whether it's pushing you to use your elevator pitch in a conversation, introducing someone else to a contact, or creating conversation bridges. The Language Grid helps you interact more effectively with international contacts.”
Zoe Flaherty, Founding Director of The Language Grid
Image: © Roberto De Riccardis