Presenting can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, but there are additional challenges when you’re presenting in English as a non-native speaker. The English presentation approach is different to both Italian and French, and involves different audience expectations and rhetorical styles to communicate clearly.
Here are our top 3 tips for giving effective, English-language presentations – so you can masterfully engage your audience and achieve your goals.
1. Tailor content to your goal and audience
You have a goal for your presentation, and it’s not just to stand up and communicate what you want to say. Is it to secure funding? Get stakeholder buy-in on a proposal? Help people understand project or business performance, so they can make informed decisions?
Think about what that goal is, and then structure the presentation based on what your audience needs to know to achieve that goal. For example, time-poor business leaders might not be interested in the narrative leading up to your conclusion – the focus needs to be on conclusions and the rationale. However, team members might need to know the narrative, because the story has lessons for future projects.
Your goal and audience should dictate the content, style and tone of your presentation, which means you shouldn’t simply reuse slides if the goal/audience were originally different. Your planning should therefore answer questions like:
- What do you want the audience to do after hearing your presentation?
- What information is most important to the audience?
- How large will the audience be?
- How much subject knowledge does the audience have?
- Do you have an existing working relationship with members of the audience?
- How formal does the presentation need to be?
2. Use slides for support only
Slides give your presentation structure and provide your audience with additional information. However, they shouldn’t drive or dominate your presentation. Best-practice presenting in English involves slides that favour imagery and have minimal text. The goal is to reinforce your point, not communicate core content. Otherwise your audience will spend more time reading than listening.
So don’t put all your information on slides, and don’t read them word for word. That’s a fast track to audience boredom and distraction. Instead, follow these slide guidelines:
- Keep slides brief: 1-2 points per slide, keeping the detail spoken, not written
- Focus on the key takeaway from that section of your presentation
- Use imagery to reinforce your point
- Don’t read out everything on a slide
- If you need to circulate slides afterwards, consider having a separate hand-out version with additional detail
3. Practice makes perfect
There’s a common misconception that public speaking is a talent you’re born with, not a skill you can easily learn. But even experienced actors and speakers get nervous (British actress Helen Mirren, famous for playing The Queen, once said she still suffers terribly from stage fright.) Practice is the key to confidence. In our language training course, we constantly record students and give them constructive feedback on their progress to help them hone their own presentation style and approach.
Generally, we've found that students are most nervous at the beginning of the speech and when they need to transition between sections of the presentation. You can conquer that with practice – and by having techniques up your sleeve to help you overcome mental blocks and keep your speech on track.
For instance, starting with a short story is an effective way both to help you find your stride and engage your audience (we’re psychologically programmed to respond to stories). And having a bank of key phrases will give you space to collect your thoughts and move seamlessly between ideas. Handy phrases include:
- As you can see on slide 2…
- Let me skip to slide 2…
- Any questions at this point?
- To recap that point…
- The key takeaway here is…
- This links to the previous point because…
- If you note down one thing on this topic, make note of…
Do you have an upcoming presentation in English?
Our business English training focuses on presenting and other practical skills needed for effective English communication. “Effective” is the key word in that sentence – and is central to our 100% success rate. Whether you’re presenting to one person or speaking at a large conference, the tools, strategies and cultural insight we give helps you make the right impression and achieve your goal.
Zoe Flaherty, Founding Director of The Language Grid