Why ‘free flow’ speaking in English in your business meeting doesn’t work (+ case study).
Updated May 2022
If only you could ‘free flow’ speak in English during your business meetings.
Not when giving a formal presentation, but when you’re asked for your opinion about an issue, asked to give a progress report on an ongoing project or asked a question about something you’ve just presented.
‘Free flow’ means being able to speak without thinking. In other words, without pausing.
Here are 5 reasons why you want this.
1/ You do it all the time in your first language.
2/ It demonstrates your effortless grasp of the issue being discussed – competence.
3/ It shows you have all the information at your fingertips – knowledge.
4/ It makes you sound eloquent and articulate. In other words, professional.
5/ Plus more often than not, you have little time to prepare for those meetings so relying on ‘free flow’ is desirable.
What you think is the problem
As you see it, your ‘bad’ English grammar and lack of extensive vocabulary, preferably sophisticated, are stopping you from achieving what you desire.
You believe they are stopping you from showcasing your expertise in English and this could affect your credibility.
What do you do?
You look for an English teacher in the hope that they’ll teach you all the English tenses and give you the vocabulary you need to face your meetings with confidence and authority.
Meet my client, Gerhard
Gerhard invested in a 6-week full immersion intensive course with me in 2019. His ultimate goal was to ‘free flow’ speak his way in English during his business meetings where he often has to give progress reports on production and offer his advice on problem resolution.
He does this effortlessly in German and wanted to do the same in English.
Gerhard was obsessed with English grammar. He was convinced that mastering the English tenses would solve all his problems.
He insisted on doing as many grammar worksheets as he could, despite my reservations about their usefulness in achieving his business goal.
Learning and mastering grammar take a long time and time is the one thing you don’t have in this fast-moving world. You’re too busy going from one meeting to the next, troubleshooting and growing your business which requires getting business results quickly.
This applied to Gerhard too, but I needed him to realise this for himself. This often happens when I first start working with my clients. They need time to change the way they see their English and I help them make that change.
I set Gerhard a communication task which was to read an article on leadership (his favourite topic) and prepare an opinion piece. I gave him some reflection prompts to guide him when reading.
He was to present the opinion to me the following day. We were going to simulate one of his business meetings. I too read the article and made copious notes to help me in our discussion.
The following day, I noticed Gerhard’s notebook was blank. He had the article up on the screen but nothing else. I asked him if he hadn’t prepared his assignment but he said he had.
I started recording. After 5 minutes, I paused the recording and played it back so Gerhard could listen to himself speak.
His grammar was fine. Some mistakes, but nothing that interfered with understanding.
What was hard to understand instead was his rambling (speaking without purpose).
It wasn’t because the words were wrong, but because there were LOTS of words randomly put together with no structure or cohesion. I simply couldn’t follow his train of thought.
When I asked him, Gerhard said he was ‘free flow speaking’ because that’s what he preferred – not to think too much before speaking.
Or more accurately, to do his thinking while speaking.
Here’s the problem when you do your thinking while speaking in English in your business meeting.
No structure – thinking while speaking doesn’t allow you to develop a structure around your thoughts and that makes it difficult for your audience to follow what you’re saying.
No cohesion – as your thoughts whizz through your brain at lightning speed, you struggle to navigate a path for those thoughts so your audience can see its start and finish.
No conciseness – all that thinking while speaking means you take a long time to get to the point. That can irritate your time-pressed colleagues.
Not audience-focused – by insisting on doing your thinking while speaking, you don’t leave yourself the space to check if your audience is following you or if they have all they need from you.
With no structure, no cohesion, no conciseness and no audience focus, you’re speaking but you’re NOT communicating.
Gerhard’s new task. (You can try it too).
I gave Gerhard 20 minutes to do what he should have done in the first place – prepare.
I gave him 5 reflection prompts to guide him. (Use these prompts to help you prepare before participating in your next business meeting.)
1/ What do you want your audience to know about a project update or an issue? What are the important points your audience needs to know?
2/ How are you going to structure it so your thoughts flow coherently? Imagine you’re taking your audience on a journey, what does it look like?
3/ What keywords do you want your audience to hear? Include them in your notes. They will also help you when your mind suddenly goes blank.
4/ Consider when you need to pause to give your clients to digest what you’ve said and for you to check that they are following you.
5/ Anticipate questions they might have and jot down some answers. That way you won’t panic when you can’t find your words or the answer doesn’t come immediately to mind.
How did Gerhard do?
He gave a significantly improved presentation – clearly structured, coherent and concise.
By giving himself time to prepare, he significantly reduced his thinking time during the presentation. More importantly, he spared me from being part of his thinking process and he ended up communicating and engaging with me rather than talking at me.
And the best part? He achieved all this without a single grammar worksheet and with the English he had.
‘Free flow’ speaking may be something you aspire to and that’s absolutely fine. But remember, free flow speaking without preparation is just empty words which will not engage nor connect you with your audience. In other words, you won’t be communicating.