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How To Give A Presentation in English If It’s Not Your First Language

A man giving a presentation in English.

Have you ever been asked to give a presentation in English? Public speaking can feel nerve-racking at the best of times, but if English is not your first language, delivering a confident presentation can feel like a pretty daunting task. 

English is the most widely-spoken business language in the world. Recent estimates show that more than 1.5 billion people speak English, with more than half of all global multinational companies using it in their international operations. Competitive pressure, globalisation of tasks and technology as well as cultural influences mean that English is the lingua franca for international business.

This means that being able to communicate and present well in English is now an essential skill for employees.

A different kind of anxiety

The prospect of delivering a presentation in another language can turn even the most bright and capable speaker into a quivering mess. 

It’s a different kind of anxiety. Communicating in a foreign language can bring unique challenges: from the fear of making language mistakes to the worry about not understanding native speakers’ questions. You may be anxious about freezing on stage if you can’t remember a particular word or phrase, and imposter syndrome becomes heightened.

This can make you feel vulnerable and exposed, worried that your audience might judge you or underestimate your capability. All of this contributes to a lack of confidence.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, associate professor Tsedal Neeley adds: “When non-native speakers are forced to communicate in English, they can feel that their worth to the company has been diminished, regardless of their fluency level.”

So what can you do to build your confidence ahead of a presentation in English so that you can communicate fluently and effectively?

Tips for giving a presentation in English

Preparing to give a presentation in English is a combination of three things: great preparation, rehearsing well and adopting the right mindset. 

1. Preparation

Let’s start with the very basics: if you want to deliver a great presentation in any language, you need to invest time in planning it. This is essential if English is not your first language, as you cannot rely on spontaneity to get you through it. 

Research your audience

Before you reach for your laptop, do some research about who you’re going to be speaking to. Who is going to be in the audience, what do they already know about what you’ll be presenting? Are they native English speakers? What do they need from this presentation? How will it help them?

By starting off answering these questions, you can ensure that your presentation is focused on your audience’s needs, which will make your content more compelling. 

Use a storytelling structure

The flow of your presentation is much more important than getting every word of the language right. If your content is really compelling, your audience won’t mind if you make mistakes with vocabulary. 

When you’re ready to start planning your content, use elements of storytelling to ensure that your audience will be compelled to listen throughout. Frameworks such as Body Talk’s PRO structure can help you package complex information into a concise and compelling narrative that keeps your audience engaged. 

Simplify your language 

A big mistake that people make is trying to ‘sound intelligent’ by using complex grammar or vocabulary. While that might look good on paper, in reality, most people don’t speak like this. Keep your language simple and easy to understand – it’s easier for you and easier for your audience too. 

In the same vein, try to avoid business jargon: it doesn’t actually aid presentations and will make it more difficult for you to remember. 

Top Tip: You may find it useful to use English all the way through your planning, including when you’re writing notes, rather than translating it later. This way, you can immerse yourself fully in the content of your presentation.

2. Delivery 

A lot of nerves around presenting in English are around speaking and pronunciation. The best way to deal with this is to rehearse your presentation out loud, over and over again. Practising your presentation out loud will really help you to build confidence when speaking. It will also help you to find out if there are particular words, phrases or sentences which are difficult to pronounce. 

Speak slowly

Many languages including Spanish and Japanese are spoken much more quickly than English. If your mother tongue is a faster-spoken language, then you’re more likely to speak quickly in English too. And when we’re nervous, we tend to speak faster anyway.

However, this can make your presentations feel rushed and it can be difficult for audiences to follow.  

When you’re practising your delivery, try slowing your pace right down. Take your time. Not only will it help your audience to follow what you’re saying, but it will also give you more time to think about what you are saying and to translate in your head if you need to. 

Speaking more slowly can also help you to look more confident and considered when presenting in English. 

Take pauses 

Pausing is your best friend when presenting in English. Just like speaking slowly, it can give you time to think and to do the mental arithmetic you need to translate words and concepts backwards and forwards.

For example, if you’re asked a difficult question, don’t rush to answer immediately: simply pause and take your time to find the right words. 

Use pitch and intonation to sound more ‘English

Languages around the world use sound in different ways to convey meaning. Some are more ‘musical’ than others, and English is one such language.

In English, pitch and intonation are used to convey functions and intentions such as expressing opinion, showing interest, asking a question and so on. Pitch is how high or low your voice is, whilst intonation is the variation of pitch across a sentence.

A rising tone at the end of a sentence usually indicates a question, or uncertainty. A falling tone often indicates a statement. English often uses a higher pitch for excitement or motivation and lower pitches for certainty or seriousness.

This may be different from your mother tongue, so it’s worth spending some time ‘tuning in’ to how pitch and intonation is used to show emotion. Listen to examples of people giving different kinds of speeches and how their voice ‘sounds’ to see how you can emulate this during your own presentations.

You can find out more about rising and falling tones here

Check your pronunciation

When you are rehearsing, make sure to check the pronunciation of any words you aren’t sure about. You don’t need to make sure that every single word is right, but ensure you know how to pronounce the most important words or concepts. 

If you are in any doubt, ask a native English speaker for help, and if you’re using notes, spell out words phonetically.

Top Tip: Having a strong accent in your native language is not a problem: it is part of who you are. As long as you speak slowly and clearly, enunciating well, people will be able to understand you.

3. Mindset

A positive mindset plays a huge role in delivering successful and confident presentations in English, particularly as it can sometimes feel like a school exam!

We’ve all got that voice inside our heads which warns us that we’re going to be ‘found out’ or that we’re going to make mistakes and it’s all going to go horribly wrong. The trouble is, it’s not particularly helpful – or true. People aren’t coming to your presentation to judge your grammar or vocabulary skills. They’re here to hear what you have to say. They want you to do well.

Techniques such as visualisation and positive self-talk can help a lot. Try to imagine what the room will look like, where the audience will be and how you will begin and end.

Find out more about how to conquer your fear of presenting

Focus on communication, not perfection

A final thought: a lot of anxiety around presenting in English comes from fear of being judged and wanting to make things perfect as a result. Try to shift your focus to one of communication, not perfection.

At Body Talk, we have a number of experienced trainers who can help you to develop your confidence in presenting in English. Get in touch with us today to see how we can support you.