Ah, presentations in English. Wev’e all had to watch, or rather, endure 20 minutes of shared torture as Jean-Franéois reads his slides out loud during the meeting with the American team; As Chantal concludes each part of her English presentation with “Et voilé;” As Julien shows his slides that have more spelling and grammar mistakes than a teenagers’ text message.
If you participate in meetings in English, you probably will have to do a presentation in English at some point. Whats’ the worst part about giving a presentation in English? Bird Office, the expert of training room rental, asked a few business English trainers* from different parts of France: “In your career of training French business people, what are the worst (or funniest) things youv’e seen during presentations in English?”
Here’s what they had to say. At least you can take comfort knowing your’e not alone…
“I spent a whole course teaching presentation skills, speaking with minimal notes, using slides in an interesting way, etc. We looked at cultural differences and expectations of a “good” presentation from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. The last student to present on the last day of the course had no powerpoint. He sat down in front of the group and proceeded to read, in a monotonous flat voice. It was an academic-style tract with no humor, no attempt to engage with the audience. Ironically, he was a communication trainer…”
“I was working with a client who needed to do TED-style presentations. He had to get on stage, use a microphone, and everything. And he had a really good accent, almost like an American accent. He was on stage practicing his presentation and began speaking with a strong French accent. I asked him why he changed his accent suddenly. He told me that when he presents with his natural accent, his colleagues make fun of him. Tell him to stop showing off and pretending to be American. So he has to fake a French accent when he presents!”
“The worst thing I’ve seen, and that I see regularly, is French people reading their slides. And their slides are full of text! Its’ like projecting a Word document on the wall! I know that some companies use their slides as resources that they share with the staff, but that doesnt’ mean that the presenter should read the slides. Maybe they could highlight key words, or summarize key points, or something. But if your’e planning to read your slides, just cancel the meeting and send them in an email!”
“One time, I had a client who loved learning idioms. And as part of his training program, we began a module on presentations. For the first session of the module, I asked him to prepare a presentation. This way, I could see his presentation skills and what we needed to focus on. He stood up to give his presentation and seriously, he placed idioms every 3 sentences: “Think out of the box,” “go back to the drawing board,” “a diamond in the rough,” “put the cart before the horse”. I appreciated his enthusiasm for English, but his presentation was very funny.”
Of course its’ not nice to just point out the difficulties you might have when speaking English, and we would never do that! Noooooo.
So what can you do to avoid making these same mistakes (and ending up in a compilation article about bad presentations in English on Bird Office)?
Here are four short tips for successful presentations in English :
- Remember that you can engage your audience without putting on a show. Make eye contact. Use your notes as supports that you glance at from time to time. Use the space you have, or at least use your body language. Good content is not enough to make a great presentation.
- Just be yourself. If your accent is really French or actually quite Anglophone, just be yourself. Your accent is one among hundreds of accents in English. Its’ an international language, which means that theres’ no need to aim for a native accent. Just aim to be understood.
- For the love of God, stop reading your presentations! Make notes and use those. One tip is to write your notes in the form of questions, on small cards. Glance at the question and then answer it. Youl’l sound much more natural, even if your English is less perfect.
- Dont’ use too many idioms, especially if your’e presenting for an international audience. Your aim is to be understood and to give a clear message, not to show how many pages of the idioms dictionary youv’e learned. Save the idioms for the networking after your presentation.
*Names have been changed to prevent the clients from recognizing themselves
An American living in France since 2004, Christina coaches clients to better communicate in English through face-to-face and distance training programs. With her YouTube channel Speak Better, Feel Great TV, she is on a mission to boost the English level of French people everywhere. If youv’e got a presentation in English soon, youl’l definitely want to sign up for her Speak Better, Feel Great Newsletter to receive free video lessons each week!