Last friday, I hosted a workshop, “Public Speaking Tips for Non-Native Speakers.” You may find the slides and recording below for reference.
Here are the six categories I shared:
Having the right mindset is the first step to success.
- Think differently. The word “non-native” could be negative sometimes. Instead, use the word, “multilingual.” You are a master in your first language and you are taking on more than many others to master your second, third or fourth language. Instead of thinking of what you lack, think of what you are gaining and working towards.
- Be proud. Instead of thinking “I need to get rid of my accent,” you should be proud of your voice and where you come from. You shouldn’t get rid of your accent; you should embrace your accent. 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. Communicate with Mastery further shared that “your accent tells part of your story. It informs that path you took to arrive at your current leadership moment. And it offers useful context to your peers. Claim your international identity and own it proudly.” (112)
- Be open to feedback. Listen. Listen. Listen. Ask around for feedback. When you are giving a speech or presenting a proposal at work, ask three or four of your colleagues to take notes and give you feedback on specifics you can improve on. Listen to what they say. Be open to asking for feedback anytime you are speaking to get better at communicating. I shared in the workshop that I have a tutor who reviewed the speech I gave and provided elementary school level grammatical error guidance. I could choose to feel defensive or ashamed of those errors, or could look at it as an opportunity to grow. Choosing the latter makes me a more coachable candidate.
I strongly believe that learning is a life-long enjoyable journey.
- Enrich your vocabulary. Finding the right words to describe your feelings and story is important. My grandma is now 70 years old, but still carries a small notebook of vocabulary that she tries to memorize every day. I thought it was silly that she did that because it reminded me of my SAT days, but she shared that it’s a lifelong enjoyable journey to learn. Little by Little, a little becomes a lot.
- Find speakers you like. This one may sound easy, but purposefully finding speakers you like can take planning. Do you like Obama’s speaking style? What about Sheryl Sandberg’s? How’s Amanda Gorman’s speaking style? Maybe you like all of them, but can you see yourself become a speaker like them? If not, keep looking!
- Watch great presenters in action. We watched “Jennifer Villa: Reprogramming Our Engineering Stereotypes” in the meeting and I asked the audience what they liked about her talk. Most highlighted the key message and great storytelling. I encouraged us to use our Toastmasters’ evaluation training to look at her speech with keen eyes. I not only highlighted the message, but also talked about what I like and how I can potentially improve her speech. Watching great presenters in action with keen eyes will help us become better speakers faster.
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”Mark Twain
For multilingual speakers, it’s even more important to use the right words to convey what we want to say.
- Find synonyms. Find synonyms for words you can’t pronounce.
- Use transition. These words make it easier for your listeners to follow your argument. Examples are: On the contrary, similarly, nevertheless, therefore, and in addition.
- Avoid overly polite language. Don’t say, “To be honest, we were a little upset with the 1st quarter results”; instead, say “The 1st quarter results were disappointing” or “We were disappointed by the 1st quarter results”.
- Avoid idioms. Although many English learners enjoy using idioms, don’t do so unless you have mastered the use of the idiom. An idiom used incorrectly sounds hilarious or ridiculous and will surely detract from the seriousness of your talk. For example: hold your horses (idiom meaning “Be patient”) vs. hold your horse (not an idiom and therefore taken literally).
- Avoid colloquialism, which is a word or phrase that is not formal or literary and is used in ordinary or familiar conversation. For example, don’t say, “we need to up our game”; instead, say “we need to improve”.
- Avoid jargon, which are special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand. The jargon from one country is often unintelligible to people from another cultural background. Use plain English to explain what you mean. It’s difficult to understand special words or expressions used by a profession or group. For example, instead of saying GPU, say “graphic processing unit” or explain what it is.
- Avoid slang, which is a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. In a professional environment, slang is out of place. Use the best English you can and you will make a better impression. For example, “lit” in slang means when something is very good, enjoyable, or exciting, you can say it’s “lit”. You may hear things like, “Dude, the party last night was lit! Where were you?” But that’s not professional for the work environment.
- Avoid crutch words, or filler words, for example, “hmm,” “ahh,” “you know,” etc.
- Avoid acronyms. Instead of saying “NVAIE,” spell it out and explain it! NVIDIA AI Enterprise (NVAIE) is an end-to-end, cloud-native suite of AI and data analytics software, optimized, certified, and supported by NVIDIA to run on VMware vSphere with NVIDIA-Certified Systems.
- Avoid phrasal verbs, which are verbs that are combined with prepositions or other words. Different words result in completely different meanings. English has thousands of phrasal verbs. Take the word “run,” which means to move quickly. If you add different prepositions, you get different meanings: “run down” (in bad condition; exhausted); “run into” (to collide with something; to unexpectedly meet someone; to unexpectedly encounter a situation); “run through” (to stab someone through their body; to rehearse).
- Use verbs vs. nouns. – Spoken English, which is quite conversational, is quite different from written English, which is more formal. While academic and business writing may use a lot of nouns, spoken English sounds more natural when you use more verbs.
- Nouns – less effective: The delivery of the package took place on Sunday afternoon by the post office.
- Verbs – more effective: The post office delivered the package on Sunday afternoon.
- Use active verbs.
Passive – less effective: five thousand apartments were rented by ABC Housing last year.
Active – more effective: ABC Housing rented 5,000 apartments last year.
- Don’t fill your slides with words – Native speakers find them hard enough to read; second language speakers find them even harder. But do put numbers on slides, they say. Numbers can be hard to understand in your second language and seeing the figures on a slide makes it easier.
- Put important phrases on slides – Make sure to put important key messages on a slide of their own in large font. Make sure everyone in the room can read these words. From our experience, font sizes below 14 points are not suitable for a presentation that is held. For headlines you should use at least 26 points.
- Have your visuals professionally edited. Nothing is worse than professional material with grammatical and spelling errors. Such mistakes detract from your credibility and can ruin your professional reputation. Millions of dollars in lost business could result. So, take the time and effort to have your slides, brochures, and handouts edited by an English professional.
- Write down numerical information. Make sure important numbers and statistics are written on your slides so the audience does not miss this critical information. Adapt the style of writing and saying out loud the numbers to the country where you are making your presentation.
In the meeting, I asked the audience how to improve slide 12. Suggestions included: 1) use one word throughout, 2) categorized, 3) use animation, 4) close the box, 5) use a lower case “L” in “Language” for style consistency.
- Practice one letter at a time. Find the letter that is the hardest for you to say (V or R or W or P). Practice just saying those letters over and over again. Pick words that have those letters in them and get your mouth comfortable with finding out how to properly say them without being distracting. Practice one letter at a time.
- Rehearse with an experienced English trainer. You would be surprised how much difference it makes to receive feedback from a professional. Any important presentation deserves such serious preparation.
- Record yourself. I shared an example of how I recorded myself and watched every second of the recording to see how I can improve.
- Prepare a checklist. List all the things that could go wrong. Then directly challenge them by identifying probable and alternative outcomes. Prepare for things that could go wrong in advance. Example: Have a backup copy of your presentation in case technology fails.
- Know your tech. Technology should not form the basis of your presentation, content should. If you expect to be using technology, make sure you know what tools are available in the location where you will be presenting. Take the time to confirm what equipment you will have at your disposal, and make sure you know how to use it. If you are giving a presentation in your own building, you can just walk over to your scheduled room and check out the physical setup.
- Don’t fear a moment of silence. If you lose track of what you’re saying or start to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it may seem like you’ve been silent for an eternity. In reality, it’s probably only a few seconds. Even if it’s longer, it’s likely your audience won’t mind a pause to consider what you’ve been saying.
- Read your audience. On the day, stand tall and speak confidently. But, look for signs that your audience doesn’t understand. If they furrow their brows together in a look of confusion, don’t worry, simply ask them, “was that clear or shall I repeat?” Audiences appreciate this kind of attention, so don’t be thrown off track, just repeat your last couple sentences at a slower pace, then repeat again using slightly different words
- Pause early and often. When you pause, you give your listeners an opportunity to rest from drawing upon their cognitive resources, and to absorb what you’re saying. But your pause is also an opportunity for you — you get to remember or consider what you want to say next, check your notes, read cues from the audience, or even take a sip of water.
- Speak slower. This is for all speakers and communicators. Slow down! Most of the time you are speaking too fast and it is distracting. It slurs your words together and on top of your accent it can make it hard to digest what you are saying. Remember to pause, slow down, and enunciate your words.
Summary of the 30 tips for multilingual speakers:
Hope you enjoyed that and look forward to seeing you at our next meeting on June 9th, 2021 6:45 p.m. PT.
Written by Renee Yao, President of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters