Why performing at your next business meeting in English won’t win you applause or respect (and what will instead).
You’re leading your next business meeting in English. You’re both excited and nervous.
“I want to wow my audience”.
➤ My grammar must be mistake-free.
➤ I must use sophisticated language to demonstrate how professional I am.
➤ I need to include some complex sentence structures to impress my audience.
➤ I should include the latest buzzwords.
➤ I must have the answers at my fingertips and respond without pausing. That way it will highlight my expertise.
In other words, you want to give a flawless (perfect) performance at that business meeting.
So, how do you go about preparing for this performance, sorry, meeting?
Well, here’s your dilemma.
Unlike a pianist who has set pieces they’ll be performing and can practise them in advance, you’re not too sure how you’re going to practise for this meeting.
In theory, you could:
➤ Dust down that English grammar book you have and work through some exercises.
➤ Check Google Translate for the vocabulary you want to use.
➤ Look up the latest buzzwords and try to remember to incorporate them at the meeting.
➤ Practise writing some complex sentences and verbalising them.
In practice, you do none of the above.
Instead, you slowly get more and more stressed out about this impending meeting.
➤ What if I don’t sound good because of my accent?
➤ What if I make grammar mistakes?
➤ What if I can’t answer the questions quickly enough?
➤ What if I can’t think of the right words?
➤ What if they realise I am not good enough?
By the time, the meeting is due to start you’re a nervous wreck wondering how on earth you’re going to get through it in one piece.
What if I told you that you could avoid all that stress without resorting to perfect grammar and complex sentence structures or sophisticated vocabulary?
By refocusing your attention on what or, more importantly, who matters.
Newsflash: In seeking to perform (speak) perfectly, you’ve completely forgotten your audience!
In focusing on yourself, your audience has become invisible to you.
You’ve completely forgotten about the purpose of the meeting – to communicate with them.
In wanting to perform for (read speak at) them, you’ve forgotten:
➤ To consider what your audience needs from you >> to be a helpful resource or a ‘soliloquizing authority ’?
➤ Who your audience is >>experts or non-experts of your sector? >> international or monolingual English speakers?
➤ What their level of English proficiency is >> will they understand the language you want to use? >> do they NEED that language to do their jobs?
➤ To think if using buzzwords would make your message any clearer or simply confuse your audience >> is using buzzwords truly going to help your audience or are they there simply to boost your ego?
Beam that spotlight away from you and your stress levels fall
The moment you focus on your audience, your stress levels fall because the spotlight is no longer on you producing grammar-perfect sentences, sophisticated vocabulary or flawless pronunciation.
The spotlight is no longer on how well you’re performing (speaking), but on how well your audience is responding to you.
And this requires you to watch, ask questions and listen. In other words, communicate.
What a relief!
This is how you can wow your audience without stressing over your English.
Before the meeting
➤ Think about the purpose of your meeting >> is it to get an agreement on a proposal, project deadline >> is it to persuade your colleagues/clients about the merits of a board decision >> is it to motivate your team >> is it to encourage your team to adopt a new way of thinking?
➤ Consider what information your audience needs to fulfil your objective >> do they need facts and figures >> do they need a backstory? >> do they need your support?
➤ Think about who your audience is >> are they international speakers or monolingual speakers of English >> what’s their level of English proficiency?
➤ How should the information they need be delivered >> does it need clear and plain English? >> would buzzwords and jargon be appropriate? >> would non-complex sentence structures be appreciated? >> should the stories you tell them be in the English they understand?
During the meeting
➤ Observe your audience >> watch their body language >> are they following what you’re saying? >> do they look confused? >> do they look interested? >> are they asking questions?
➤ Ask checking questions >> if they look confused or you want to ensure they’ve understood the point, ask them a checking question like “do you think my suggestion could work with your team in Dubai?” >>from their response, you’ll soon know if they understood you or not and address the issue if needed. >> maybe you need to adjust your language >> say the same thing another way (paraphrase).
➤ Engage with your audience >> invite their opinion>> don’t just say “what does everyone think?” >> select someone and ask them “Gerard, you’ve done some work on this before, I’d love to know what you think.”>> invite others to contribute after Gerard has spoken.
➤ Ask questions and listen to their answers >> listen to understand NOT to reply >> if you’re there as a resource, you listening more than speaking will be essential.
After the meeting
➤ Reflect >> take 10 -15 minutes to go over the meeting >> make notes.
➤ Did you achieve your objective?
If yes, how do you think you achieved it? >> what worked? >> was your audience responsive? >> how so? >> asking questions? >> responding to your questions? >> appreciating the time you gave them?
If no, why do you think you didn’t? >> what happened? >> was it your language? >> did you not ask enough questions? >>did you rush through the meeting?>> how would you do things differently next time?
Remember that as leader of the business meeting, your main purpose is to steer and inspire your audience to action.
To do that you need to communicate with your audience, not perform for it.