Giving Presentations - Even in English
International unterwegs? Dann kennen Sie das Thema. Nächste Woche steht eine Geschäftsreise nach London, New York oder Singapur an. Ihre Zuhörer erwarten dort eine Präsentation in englisch. Was es dabei zu beachten, gibt erfahren Sie von Clive Davies – Trainerkollege und Business-Englisch-Coach.
The idea of standing in front of a group of people and speaking is, for most people, something that makes them feel stress, anxiety, nervousness, etc. So if you had to give a presentation in English when English is not your native language then for most people the negative feelings would be increased. In situations such as these, the preparation for such an event is essential in order to ensure success.
I recently helped somebody to prepare a presentation for a group of Americans visiting for a tour of a facility in Germany. Of course the Americans did not speak German, therefore the presentation had to be given in English. My client was very comfortable giving the presentation in German and had done it many times. He is also generally very comfortable speaking in English but the combination of giving a presentation and speaking in English presented a greater challenge than normal. He asked me to help him and so I asked him to send me the PowerPoint slides that he planned to use. We went through them one by one as he explained to me what he was going to say.
The question is, ‘What makes a good presentation?’ The answer is, of course, ‘it depends’. It depends upon the situation and the message that you want your audience to receive and what action you want them to take, if any. There are lots of possibilities. We may simply want to give information which requires no action or we may be trying to persuade people to do something or think in a certain way, to inspire them or to get them to buy something. In the case of my client, his guests were simply on a fact-finding tour and so his presentation had to be interesting and informative, especially as they had just arrived directly from the airport and were probably very tired. Whatever our objective we need to organise our presentations with a structure and a clear message. So we need a plan.
A good presentation will have a beginning, a middle and an end. We might call that an introduction, the main body of the presentation and a conclusion. The first part should get the attention of the audience, the second part should be interesting and perhaps inspiring and the final part might be the call to action or a simple summary statement.
When working on the content of the presentation we must consider all elements of communication that we are working with:
1. The content
I think it is important to always greet your audience and to thank them for being there. If they have taken the time to come and listen to me then the least I can do is be polite and say ‘Good morning and thank you for coming’, or something similar. This is also a useful technique to stop people whispering and talking to each other when it is time for me to start.
Now we need to get their attention. The way we do this will depend very much on the purpose on the presentation. We might make a grand statement or ask a question. Do we want to surprise or shock our audience, make them laugh, tell them how good they are or get them thinking, imagining, dreaming and wishing? One thing is certain, when making a presentation it really is true that you will never get a second chance to make a first impression. Our one big objective is to make the audience want to listen and pay attention. Nobody wants to sit through long presentations listening to somebody who takes ages to make a point. We need to give important information quickly and clearly without using language or jargon that people don't understand. If we do this we will lose the attention that we got with our big opening.
We must think about how we can make a connection with our audience on some emotional level especially if the topic of our presentation is potentially boring. We might do this by introducing a human element or story into our presentation. This was one idea for my client who had to give facts and figures about his facility and the industry in Germany. So instead of simply talking about production and sales figures he decided to talk about the people who worked in the company, what they did and how they achieved their production and sales figures. This then related well to the guided tour which followed, when the visitors saw people at work - the people from the story.
2. The visuals
When giving a presentation and using PowerPoint slides there is always the temptation to write the script on the slides and simply read from them. The temptation is even greater when making the presentation in another language. However, this is a big mistake. When PowerPoint slides contain words, the audience will start to read them and they will stop listening. A simple, strong picture or image which illustrates what you are saying is much better. Pictures of people doing things can also be useful when telling stories with a human element.
Another alternative is to use physical objects or ‘props’ instead of slides. This can be even better if the speaker is holding the object, because now the audience is looking at the speaker while he or she is speaking and they have their full attention. These ‘visual aids’ help the audience to focus on the speaker and on the topic. They also help the speaker to remember the content of the presentation. During one of the best, funniest and most memorable presentations that I have ever seen, on the topic of sales, the speaker went along a table full of 20 or 30 objects, picking each one up in turn and using it to illustrate his point.
My German client had to present figures so I suggested that he showed one big number for dramatic effect, simple graphs for trends going up or down or for comparisons between large and small figures. It is best to avoid details in these visuals. People can’t see them and they don’t have time to read them or study them. Details can be talked about and the importance of them can be explained verbally.
3. Body language
Another reason for not writing text on slides is that this creates a great temptation for the speaker to turn around and read them to the audience, showing them the back of his or her head and losing eye contact. This is the moment when many in the audience will reach into their pockets to check their mobile phones - especially if they have just arrived from the United States and their colleagues back at home have just arrived at work. The objective of maintaining attention and interest is lost at this point and it can be hard work to win it back again.
Maintaining eye contact is important - but not with just one or two people. We should be looking around the room so that each person in the audience feels that we are speaking personally to them from time to time. We should smile, use open and balanced hand gestures from the waistline and use other facial expressions, such as occasional raising of the eyebrows, to build rapport and trust.
The sound of our voices must be pleasing, warming, friendly, cheerful, positive, enthusiastic - but not excessively so, making us sound a little crazy! Of course it is important that the audience can hear us, too. If a speaker does not have a strong voice then he or she should make sure that there is a microphone and loudspeaker system available, especially if there may be background noises which can be very distracting. We can also use the rhythm of our voices and variations in the speed of our speech to add dramatic effects. Be careful not to speak too quickly though. People, especially in international audiences, may not understand.
So, going back to my client and his American visitors. After the presentation had been delivered and the guests had moved on to the next stage of their European tour I asked, ‘How did it go?’
Joint Training - Magical Presentations (Even in English)
Clive Davies, Business English Coach and Gudrun Traumann, Presentations and Client Acquisition Trainer are offering a special 2 day seminar programme for professional support, in German and in English, to inspire your audience with ‘The Magic of a Good Presentation’.
Executives, sales representatives and anyone else who presents ideas, solutions to problems, products or their own companies are often faced with the challenge of presenting their message effectively and confidently. To do this in English for non-native speakers is an even greater task.
For more details on the seminar and to find out about available dates please contact: