Why ‘free flow’ speaking in English in your business meeting doesn’t work. (+ case study)
Your ultimate ambition is to ‘free flow’ speak in English during your business meetings.
I am not talking about the ‘free flow’ speaking associated with presentations and public speeches.
I am referring to the usual conversations you have during a business meeting where you’re asked for your opinion about an issue or asked to give a progress report on an ongoing project.
‘Free flow’ in those situations means to speak without thinking (or so you believe).
Why ‘free flow’ anyway?
You do it all the time in your first language.
It demonstrates your effortless grasp of the issue being discussed – competence.
It shows you have all the information at your fingertips – knowledge.
It makes you sound eloquent, articulate. In other words, professional.
Plus more often than not, you have little time to prepare for those meetings so relying on ‘free flow’ is desirable.
As you see it, your ‘bad’ English grammar and lack of vocabulary are stopping you from achieving the ‘nirvana’ of free flow speaking and all the advantages associated with it (see above).
They are stopping you from showcasing your professionalism in English.
What do you do?
You sign up for a 6-week full immersion intensive course in the hope you’ll master all the English tenses and build all the vocabulary you need to be ‘free flow’ meeting-ready in 6 weeks.
Meet my client, Gerhard.
Gerhard invested in a 6-week full immersion intensive course with me. His ultimate goal was to ‘free flow’ speak his way in English during his business meetings.
During his meetings, he often has to give progress reports on production and share his opinion on articles he’s read and offer his advice on problem resolution.
He does this effortlessly in German and wants to emulate the experience in English.
Gerhard was obsessed with English grammar. He was convinced mastering the English tenses would help him achieve ‘free flow’ competence.
He insisted on doing as many grammar worksheets as he could, despite my reservations as to their usefulness in achieving his goal.
I soon realised that the grammar issue was not going to be resolved anytime soon, so I decided to leave that to one side and focus on setting him a communication task.
His task was to read an article on leadership (his favoured topic) and prepare an opinion of the 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.
This is what he discovered.
His grammar was fine. Some mistakes, but nothing that interfered with understanding.
BUT, it was 5 minutes of rambling!
I hadn’t understood a word he’d said.
Not because the words were wrong. Because there were LOTS of words all randomly put together with no structure or cohesion.
I couldn’t follow his train of thought.
When challenged, 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 trouble with doing 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.>> 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. You’re rambling.
All those grammar worksheets and vocabulary lists didn’t help Gerhard communicate better because he was too focused on simply speaking.
Gerhard’s ‘new’ task. (You can do it too).
I gave Gerhard 20 minutes to do what he should have done in the first place – prepare.
I gave him more reflection prompts to guide him. (Use these prompts to help you prepare before participating in your next business meeting.)
>> What do you want your audience to know about this article, project update, issue? What are the salient points your audience needs to know?
>> 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?
>> What keywords would you like your audience to hear? >> Include them in your notes.
How did Gerhard do?
He gave a significantly improved presentation – clearly structured, coherent and concise.
By giving himself valuable time to prepare, Gerhard gave himself essential ‘white space’ to think >> about his audience >> what they needed from him >> the keywords he wanted them to hear >> when to add pauses.
By giving himself time to prepare, he significantly reduced his thinking time during the presentation. >> more importantly, he spared his audience from being part of his thinking process.
By giving himself time to prepare, he ended up communicating and engaging with his audience, not simply speaking to them.
And the best part? He achieved all this without a single grammar worksheet and with the language he had.
‘Free flow’ speaking may be something you aspire to and that’s absolutely fine.
But make no mistake, free flow speaking without preparation is just empty words. It’s not communication.