As a native speaker of English, I always find the prospect of a presentation quite daunting. Consequently, I am always nervous when asked to present. Therefore, I can imagine that a non-native speaker’s anxiety levels must be ten times greater than mine when delivering a presentation.
Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of non-native speakers the art of delivering a successful presentation. As a starting point, I always give my students ‘The Top 25 Presenter Tips for Success’ Tips Sheet.
Remember, there’s a FREE Cheat sheet button below for this lesson:-
The tips are placed into categories. So, let’s start off with the category of ‘Mindset.’
What is my mental attitude before I deliver my presentation? Am I thinking of failure or success? And this brings us to Tip Number 1 which is:-
1) Nothing bad will happen if you make a mistake
If you mispronounce one word, it’s not the end of the world. Your reputation won’t be destroyed. Remember that the more you worry, the more likely you will be to make a mistake. So, relax and focus on the positive outcomes!
2) Your audience wants you to do well
There’s that misconception that your audience is not on your side. But, I’ve been in an audience where the presenter has struggled and it’s not nice to see. The fact is, I always want a presenter to do well. It’s really important as a presenter to adopt the mindset that the audience wants you to do well. This mode of thinking has always helped my mindset when presenting.
3) Don’t apologise for your accent
Everyone in the United Kingdom has an accent. Most of us can tell immediately if someone is from Liverpool, Newcastle or London. But we don’t notice the accent anymore after a couple of minutes. If you have an accent, just realise your audience will be listening to your words, not your accent. Many of my non-native speaking students say, “I need to get rid of my accent.” I think this is the wrong way to look at your voice. You should be proud of your voice and where you come from. You shouldn’t get rid of your accent, you should embrace it. Keep the accent but make it so others can understand what you are saying. When you are proud, others will listen.
This also will help you build confidence in what you are saying and remind yourself you speak two languages! Not many people can say that! By apologising at the start of your presentation, you are demonstrating a lack of confidence from the onset. So, stay clear of any apologies and show your audience that you’re super confident!
4) Be open to feedback
Ask around for feedback. For example, when you are giving a speech or presenting a proposal at work, ask colleagues to take notes and give you feedback on what you can improve on. Listen carefully to what they say. Be open to asking for feedback anytime you are speaking to get better at communicating.
5) Passion equals connection
You should do it with passion or not at all. Time and time again, great presenters say the most important thing is to connect with their audience, and the best way to do that is to let your passion shine through and be honest with your audience about what’s important to you and why it matters. Be enthusiastic, be honest, and the audience will respond.
6) A strong start
A strong start to your presentation is essential to your confidence and mindset. You want your audience engaged from the onset, and you want to start with a bang and not a whimper.
7) Think of your speaking engagement as an opportunity to expand your knowledge and enhance your experience
I remember being so nervous and cautious about presenting in my early career, but I wanted to put myself out there. I wanted to challenge myself. I believe that it’s good to test yourself. When you overcome an obstacle – it’s a good feeling. For the non-native speaker – the challenge may be more difficult. But, when you have the mindset of expanding your knowledge and enhancing your experience, it becomes easier.
8) Keep it simple
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep everything simple. Sometimes I will overthink my presentation, from the structure to the words I use, and then I say to myself – ‘keep it simple, Aidan.’ So I will adopt a simple structure – I will use short phrases and sentences to express my thoughts and ideas. My objective at the end of the day is to relay clear and straightforward communication to my audience so that they understand what I mean and what I’m saying.
Preparation means the things you do or the time you spend preparing for something. So, how can we ensure excellent preparation?
9) Know your audience
So, you’re determining the level of your audience. How many people will attend? What are their job titles? You want to design a presentation that meets their needs. You want to meet expectations. So, in advance – do your research. Understand your audience and know what they want to hear.
10) Ask for help in advance
Now, this tip is highly beneficial for a non-native speaker. Let’s speculate – you’re incredibly well prepared for your presentation, but you can plan further in advance by having an audience member there to help you if you can’t think of the word. For example, your native language is English, and you’re doing a presentation in Spanish – a colleague or audience member might be able to assist in translating a word from English to Spanish for you. Use what’s around you to help you. You may also have trouble understanding the questions at the end, as people may use words you don’t know or have an accent. In such a situation, look at somebody who is a native speaker whom you understand, and say, ”Could you please help me with that question?”
11) Prepare notes
Native and non-native speakers can manage their nervousness by preparing good notes that they can consult during their talk. For example, I often prepare a presentation script and highlight the most important sentences. Now, I rarely refer to my notes, but they’re there if I need them. More than anything, in this way, I’m better placed to remember the contents of my presentation.
12) Learn relevant vocabulary
Aim to learn the relevant vocabulary to your speech topic. It will help you better connect with your audience. If you don’t know the appropriate words in advance, there’s the possibility that you will have trouble understanding audience questions.
13) Prepare for things that could go wrong to eliminate specific worries
List all the things that could go wrong. Then directly challenge them by identifying probable and alternative outcomes. For example, have a backup copy of your presentation if technology fails.
14) Watch great presenters in action
I often take time out to watch TED Talks and the great presenters in action. It enables me to develop new ideas about my presenting style in terms of body language, speaking, expressions and words.
We can improve our Business English skills when we put the time aside to practice. Let’s look at the tips to achieve this.
15) Record yourself
Many people don’t like to see themselves on camera. But, it gives us a real insight into how comfortable or not-so-comfortable we look when presenting. In addition, it gives us an invaluable insight into seeing our performance as the audience will and therein lies an opportunity to fine-tune performance before the real-life experience.
When I asked my students to share with me the proportion of time spent planning, designing, and perfecting their slides compared to practising speaking the presentation aloud, most of them admitted that they spent almost no time rehearsing. While this is often a problem for native speakers, too, for non-native English speakers, rehearsal and repetition are especially crucial steps in preparing for a successful presentation. So take time to rehearse potentially for friends or family members. It will be time well spent.
It brings me to my next tip: overlearning – pushing on with practice even when it seems like you’ve done enough. Overlearning is the concept of ‘practice’ practice’ ‘practice’. The result is that – hopefully, your presentation becomes embedded in your long-term memory. When we’re confident that we remember things and have the knowledge, we can be less susceptible to the effects of stress. For example, I remember a job interview presentation I had to do, and I practised so much and overlearned the material. So, on the day, I was incredibly well prepared. As a result, out of 120 candidates, I got the job!
Visual refers to our non-verbal actions, visual aids, and how our audience sees us.
18) Body language
Body language is the way your body communicates without the use of words. Keep your body language positive, and this means that you ensure that you use positive hand gestures. You don’t want to be static and still without moving any other parts of your body. You can provide facial expressions. You don’t want to give your presentation with a blank face, a face without indications, so smile, aim to make eye contact and make your audience feel welcome. In terms of posture, don’t slouch. Stand tall and make sure your shoulders are back. Some presenters like to walk the floor. For example, they might walk towards the audience and get closer to them. Overall, you don’t want to be too animated with your gestures. It can be off-putting and can look odd. Aim to keep it simple and strike a balance. You can get that balance by aligning your key messages with your body language, facial gestures and hand gestures for maximum impact. Positive body language will ensure that you connect with your audience.
19) Use visual aids to your advantage
If you’re a non-native speaker – you can use visual aids to your advantage. You can present your evidence visually using photos, timelines, flow diagrams, pie charts or movies. Decide what works best for you. If you’re not very confident in your spoken abilities, write it out on your PowerPoint slides so that the audience can read it also. Alternatively, you could write a key statement at the top of each slide. Importantly, check the spelling of all slides. Misspelling looks unprofessional.
20) Observe your audience
On the day, be confident and present in style. But look for signs that your audience doesn’t understand. For example, if they look confused about a part of your presentation – then don’t worry; you can ask them, “was that clear, or shall I repeat?” If they didn’t understand what was said – then trackback – you could rephrase your message to them slightly. Overall, it’s very likely that your audience will be supportive, and audiences appreciate it when a presenter checks in on them to make sure they’re okay.
21) Try not to use words you cannot pronounce
Speakers feel awkward when they struggle to pronounce specific words – they doubt whether the audience will understand them. That negatively affects speakers’ confidence and the quality of their presentation. You can avoid this problem and improve your speech by finding a replacement for your problem word.
22) Try not to use words if you’re not 100% on their meaning
If you’re unsure that a word can be used in a specific context, replace it with a synonym. It’s important to present accurate and concise information when presenting.
23) Slow down and pause
By slowing down your speaking pace, you help your audience to hear and understand you. Choose your opening words deliberately and pronounce them carefully. Many presenters start a presentation nervously and rush their words. Relax and speak slowly and carefully. Also, feel free to pause occasionally. It allows you to catch your breath and get a sip of water. Also, waiting before a critical point makes that point more powerful. Every famous speaker is aware of the power of the pause.
24) Don’t use crutch words
At times, it’s challenging to find the right word which is perfectly understandable. But, try not to overuse crutch words or sounds while trying to remember the right word. The most common crutch words aren’t words at all—they’re mumbles like “um,” and “ah.” and for the listener, it’s annoying. Sure, it’s not easy but try to think with your mouth closed. It’s far more professional to adopt this approach.
25) Use your voice in the right way
Let your voice resonate in the air in your lungs rather than in the throat. And this helps to produce a more precise sound. Aim to speak clearly and loudly. And if you’re not heard or have a soft voice, request a microphone. You also might be presented with a large audience. once again – ask for a microphone. Don’t be the presenter that the audience cannot hear.
If you’ve applied all these tips, it will hopefully give you the confidence to believe in yourself. You are well prepared, your attitude and mindset are right, you have rehearsed. You’ve ticked all the boxes, and it’s time for you to shine and show your audience how good you are.