How to Give a Polished Presentation in English Without More Vocabulary
Over a week ago, Khaled sent me a message. He was panicking.
He had to deliver a key presentation to the Board of Directors in 3 days’ time in English.
He was super stressed. With his already packed work schedule, he now had to find the time to prepare for this presentation.
Understandably, he wanted to make a good impression and showcase his expertise in his subject. In his mind, that meant having plenty of Business English vocabulary. The more words he had, the more confident he’d feel. The more he would be taken seriously.
He booked a coaching call. During our coaching session, he asked me to give him a blueprint. A list of business vocabulary he could use in his presentation. It didn’t matter what. So long as he had that list he could hold onto for security.
The last thing he expected was for me to ask him the following questions.
● What was the objective of the presentation?
● What were the key points he wanted to highlight (and how was he going to use his slides to guide him)?
● Who was his audience?
● How much information did his audience need to hear and was that reflected in his presentation?
● What questions did he think his audience might ask? How did he think he’d respond to them?
Feeling slightly irritated, he begrudgingly shared this information all the time telling me that all he needed was the right vocabulary.
The irony of it all was he answered all my questions in English using the words he wanted to use in the presentation. He didn’t need more words. In fact, his English wasn’t the problem here.
The problem was his thoughts.
His thoughts were all over the place. As he was explaining one thing, he’d diverge onto a different thought track. It was confusing for both of us. And it was stressing him out.
This is what happens when you do all your thinking whilst speaking instead of doing the thinking well ahead of speaking. There’s no structure to your thoughts and consequently, your mind wanders. Worse still, it goes blank at that crucial moment.
This is when you start to panic. Your palms start sweating and you wish the ground would open and swallow you up. Just the thought of it brings back painful memories for me.
Now, in your first language, you may have the subconscious tools (words) to somehow navigate your way out of the maze. But even if you have the words in your first language, it does NOT mean you’re communicating effectively.
In fact, you’re rambling, not communicating.
That’s not going to help your audience follow you. In fact, your audience will probably stop listening. It’s too hard for them.
And that’s not going to give you the business results you want.
If you’re going to be a confident and effective communicator, you need structure. You need aforethought. That goes for both your first language AND your English.
“But I don’t have time to do this ‘before’ thinking?”
The short answer? Find the time and focus to the exclusion of everything else.
It doesn’t have to take long. All you need are 3 steps and 30 minutes.
3 Tested Steps in 30 Minutes
Last quarter, you were tasked with reducing the operating costs of 2 applications by 50% by the end of the quarter. You chose to focus this work on 2 regions. You now have to present the results. You have 20 minutes.
Take 30 minutes out of your schedule and reflect using these 3 tested steps.
Step #1: Your Audience
Start with your audience NOT yourself. This presentation isn’t about what you know but what you want your audience to know.
Here’s what you need to ask yourself.
● Who are they? >> Are they from the technical side or management? If you don’t know, check with your boss or the event organiser.
● What information are they interested in? >> Put yourself in their shoes and think “What do I want this person to tell me? What information do I need from them to do my job?”
Step #2: Your Story
No matter what you’re presenting, please remember that you’re telling a story. Every story has a flow. It has a beginning, middle and an end.
Sketch out the outline. Write everything down. Don’t edit at this stage.
Beginning – What: What was the problem? >> What wasn’t working? >> Why? >> What was its impact?
Middle – How: What measures did you take to solve the problems?>> What challenges did you face along the way? >> How did you overcome them? >> What improvements did you make?
End – Result: What was the outcome? >> How much did you save?
Step #3: Edit and eliminate
Look at your notes from your audience’s eye and start editing.
Eliminate all extra information. Work from a ‘need to know’ basis. Ask yourself, is this going to add value or is this simply for my benefit? If it’s the latter, remove.
Strip your presentation to the bare essentials.
The crucial part of any presentation is conciseness.
● Conciseness = fewer words.
● Fewer words = no vocabulary lists
● Fewer words = using the English you already have
● Fewer words = no sweaty palms
● Fewer words = focusing on what’s important – communication.
Now you have everything (structure + clarity + conciseness). You’re ready to give a winning presentation with confidence.
How did Khaled’s presentation go?
After much resistance from him, I made Khaled do 35 minutes of reflection work using the above 3 steps during our 90-minute intensive coaching session.
Two days after his presentation, I dropped him a line.
Me: How did the presentation go?
Khaled: I’m so happy. They appreciate (sic) me a lot. I feel more confident now. Ready to handle any meeting. You are right; I have to work hard to organize my thoughts. I apply (sic) your tips during the presentation. Also, I declutter my ppt to make it simple. And high level.
Way to go, Khaled. All this in 35 minutes. Proud coach.
You can do this on your own or you can work with a coach to help you focus and hold you accountable.
Whichever route you choose, please remember that you don’t need more English words to communicate your message clearly and effectively. You need reflection, structure and the English you have.