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Effective Oral Presentations for Non-Native Speakers

Being compelled to speak in a nonnative language can lead to feelings of insecurity, pressure, and frustration. Add to that the stress of making business presentations in front of superiors and key stakeholders, and the anxiety will be significantly bigger.

So, let’s check four steps non-native English speakers can employ to help them feel more confident before and during a presentation.

 

1- Practice makes PROGRESS

  • Practicing helps you identify missing vocabulary, including key technical terms, and express your ideas more fluently. 
  • Start by speaking slower than you are used to until you feel comfortable with your pronunciation and fluency.
  • Memorize the outline of your presentation. Never write down and memorize or read your full text, because then your presentation will sound like a recited written text.
  • Make a tree structure of main points and subpoints reinventing the words as you go along. 
  • Think about what to say next and find the most appropriate words to say it. Instead of using filler words (um, you know, I mean, etc.), simply pause.
  • Vocally, vary the tone, rate, and volume of your voice as a function of the meaning, complexity, and importance of what you are saying. Stress the most meaningful word in each sentence and lower the volume on the less relevant, which in conjunction with varying the speed, creates a sense of rhythm.
  • Prepare a list of difficult words (to review on the day of your presentation) or write down an occasional complex yet crucial sentence. 
  • Practice the presentation a number of times to get the pacing right and ensure you fit the information into the time provided. 

Remember, the more prepared you feel, the less nervous you’re likely to be. 

 

2- Practice in front of an audience

Practicing in front of an audience —a few friends, for example— will help you improve your verbal fluency, refine your pronunciation, and feel confident. It will also help you speak spontaneously if you can trust that your core content is safely stored (and able to be retrieved) from your long-term memory.

 

Strive to focus your nervous energy in your voice, your gestures, and your eye contact, even if you say a wrong word, or if you mispronounce it.

Speak loudly enough for your audience to hear you clearly and slowly enough for them to easily follow your argument. Use silence and pauses effectively when making particular points, and maintain interesting intonation patterns.

The goal here is “overlearning” your presentation. This will help your presentation to become embedded in your long-term memory and therefore less susceptible to the effects of stress. 

 

3- Ask for help

You may be unaware of certain words you mispronounce; ask teachers, tutors in advance or check online dictionaries that offer phonetic spelling or audio rendering.

  • Remember to slow down, especially at the beginning of a presentation, so your audience can get used to your accent.
  • Write down the words you mispronounce. Take your time to repeat them over and over again. 
  • You can also self-record to detect if you have corrected those errors.

 

4- Support your presentation with slides

Effective slides get the message across on their own, so if attendees do not understand what you are saying, they can still get your point from your slides. 

If you have a strong accent or are prone to mispronounce key terms, you may want to include these terms on your slides, integrating them as naturally as possible with the rest of the slide content. Then, as you say a term for the first time, you might point to it casually on the slide so the audience makes the connection between the term and how you say it.

At all times, make sure you address the audience, telling your story in a stand-alone way; do not just explain your slides. You should know at all times what your next slide is about so you can insert an appropriate transition.

 

Weekly Vocabulary:

WORDS:

Fluency: The quality or condition of being fluent.

Mispronounce: Pronounce (a word) incorrectly.

Non-native speaker: Not having spoken the language in question from earliest childhood.

Verbally: By means of words/with the function of a verb.

Vocally: Relating to or produced by the voice, either in singing or speaking.

 

PHRASAL VERBS

To call around “Cindy called around to find a nearby English teacher.”

To check out “I need to check out Obama’s speech.”

To see to “They hired an event planner to see to all of the details of the party.”

To dive into “I’m not quite ready to dive into that discussion.”

To wait on “I didn’t have time to wait on an answer.”

 

IDIOMS

A grey area: Something unclear.

Cool as a cucumber: To be very calm under stress.

Cross your fingers: For good luck.

Down to the wire: At the last minute.

Draw a blank: Can’t remember.

 

 

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