Assuming you have already mastered and honed those skills, you should be aware of the specific situation you may find yourself in, which is giving a speech or a presentation in front of people whose primary language is different from English. As I am Polish, I’ve had a few opportunities to observe some key-note speakers giving their presentations to various polish audiences and have made some interesting notes. Nonetheless, most of the tips mentioned below will probably be useful not only for Slavonic, but also other non-native English speakers. You may find some of the suggestions irrelevant or trivial but believe me or not – from a listener’s point of view – there are not many presenters who are aware of them.
Mind the language
This is the most important basic issue as regards giving presentations to non-natives. Although you may have a good command of the language especially being a native speaker of English, your audience may not have mastered the language well enough to keep up with the presentation.
Now, it is the time to reconsider a few points below.
- Assume that the level of English is lower among your audience than you suppose. Don’t ask people about their level of English at the beginning of the presentation. Even if people tell you that they are OK, everything depends on the content. They don’t really know it upfront.
- Slow down your pace. Poles are often too shy to admit that they don’t understand something openly. Natives are known for speaking at a very fast pace, especially those from the UK. If you are non-native or have a specific accent (which sometimes you may not be aware of), it is even more important to express yourself clearly. The second thing is to is change pace or slow down in order to underline or clarify important issues. If you drone on your speech and sound a bit staid, your whole nice presentation may even become a lullaby for some…
- Be careful with the tech, geek or slang words. It is good to smuggle those words once in a while either to authenticate what has been said (tech) or to show that you are not stiff like a broom stick (slang). Just make sure it is clear for the audience. You can explain it in a few words, or in a funny way which will should make you seem even more emphatic and friendly in their eyes. Be extremely careful with the abbreviations and avoid them unless it is necessary to do so.
Use the microphone.
If you are not used to speaking with a microphone, you may not know what posture you should take and how to deal with all the devices with just one hand. Well, it is high time to learn how to do that. The audience’s comfort is more important than yours if you want to be understood clearly. A good idea would be to arrange for or have your own portable hands-free mic.
As my experience obviously shows – not to everyone – make sure that you hold the mic next to your mouth.
Make some fun of yourself as an icebreaker
Poles are really slow in digging the atmosphere. Don’t expect them to interact from the very beginning of your presentation. What you need to do is give them something first. You could win their trust by putting some distance to yourself. Telling jokes may not necessarily be the best idea but a reference to your English/American/Australian etc. origin or your name is much better.
Use visuals to engage the audience
Try to use some good inspirational images or videos within the time provided for the presentation. With each nice picture you will be able to grasp the attention of the audience and create some emotions behind what you really want to deliver. There is nothing more boring than loads of text and bullet points in a presentation. Text and bullet points in English are even more boring for non native listeners.
Again – make sure that you are understood
Once in a while make sure that the audience is with you. Interact with active listeners but don’t assume that everyone else is also with you. If they simply don’t answer your questions or even laugh when you joke, it is time to go back to one of the points above.
An audible sign of loosing contact is when the attendees start to whisper or have snippets of conversation which would mean that you are not understood either because of the language aspect or the content. Never assume that the audience is rude – they are just demanding and it is the role of the speaker to engage them. Try not to advertise the content of the presentation by saying: “Come on people that is really important!”. You need to prove it.
The best way to handle these kinds of situations is to engage the few who show their interest first. You can ask a few questions about their situation in reference to the content of the presentation (have some question up your sleeve just in case) and give them some solutions or advice. You’ll become an insightful authority and they will stay with you until the end.
Summing up. Poles are like a volcanic rock – they may seem rough and cold from the outside, but they are deeply emotional inside. If you create proper conditions and a friendly atmosphere, you stand a big chance to break through the first layer and give a spectacular presentations with a lot of instant positive feedback.