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Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Presentation Hacks for Bilingual Speakers

Putting on a presentation in a second language is one of the more difficult challenges executives and professionals face, some say. There are so many rules to remember and then just as many exceptions. There are so many ways to say the same thing; well, almost the same thing. There are so many accents and dialects. There is industry jargon and those in-house corporate acronyms. Undeniably, presenting ideas with intent and purpose in a language other than your first-learned language can be difficult. But if you apply these hacks, you will avoid sabotaging your presentation.

  1. Slow down. Speed is not a necessary characteristic of fluency. In fact, people who speak too fast are just as likely to lose the listeners' attention as those who speak too slowly. The rate of speech should reflect the mood and feelings that the speaker hopes to ignite in the audience. A good steady pace that moves quickly with excitement and slows down, stops for a second or two, can be entertaining, and help to maintain interest and attention. Yes, you can stop sometimes to gather your thoughts if those moments of silence are placed with intention and purpose in the flow of the message. So, slow down. Set your pace. Get your groove. Find your timing. Then lead the audience into your message.

  2. Rename your nervousness. Call it excitement or declare that you are thrilled or moved to be asked to speak. Studies show that renaming uncomfortable feelings shifts your perspective so that you can address the audience from a positive place. Engaging the audience when you are enjoying your presentation is a better way to get them involved. No one wants to watch someone struggle through a presentation.

  3. Reduce jargon. Many second-language speakers are familiar with the language that is used in familiar conversation, albeit professional. Just as you would wear your best suit and shine your shoes to stand before your audience, your language should register a little higher in formality than when you are having a beer or sharing tapas with a colleague. Raise the bar on your language by showing your presentation script to a first language speaker. Ask for advice on the verbiage and choice of idioms and metaphors. Not everything translates and you surely wouldn’t want to offend anyone or miss an opportunity to shine.

  4. Practice more. Depending, of course, on the importance of the presentation, a speaker could practice a thousand times before she steps foot on a stage. Consider a competitive athlete or a race car driver. How many times would they perform and test their skills before getting on the field? In addition, everyone knows that the best in any field has mentors and coaches who help polish and perfect the performance and presentation. Focus on practice and then practice some more. Practice even more after you are finishing practicing. If you can, find a coach or trainer to work with. Practicing incorrectly and repeating mistakes will only deepen the problem rather than eliminating the issues that stand in your way of achieving success and hitting your public speaking target.

  5. Address your audience. Learn about cultural communication differences without judgment. The best way to present your material is to consider your audience and their comfort with receiving and processing your message. Education, persuasion, inspiration, and entertainment are demonstrated differently in different countries. Study the listener’s habits and standards for measuring credibility. Outcomes in speaking are completely dependent on the opinion of the audience.

"Studies show that renaming uncomfortable feelings shifts your perspective so that you can address the audience from a positive place."

Slowing down, renaming discomfort, using familiar language, finding a professional to guide second language speakers through focused practice, and learning about cultural differences are just some of the ways to improve audience engagement. Every speaker has a message and removing the audience distractions and decreasing the static in delivery will make for a more pleasant experience and improve performance outcomes.

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