6 strategies you need to stop going blank when presenting in English
What do you struggle with the most when you communicate in English and why?
This is the response (in his words) my client gave.
“Well, I struggle with my capacity to structure my ideas and share them. I am a designer, so, I have to articulate every design decision and explain it and defend it if it is necessary, but my lack of English fluency most of the time becomes in a big impediment to do it, the most of the times my mind goes blank, I start to sweat and all my ideas are gone, this is very terrifying and I want to overcome this.”
Can you relate to this?
It’s easy to blame your ‘bad’ English for your struggle and see it as a professional obstruction. So, imagine you said this to me. Let’s dissect it and analyse what’s happening here.
“I struggle with my capacity to structure my ideas and tell them”.
Let’s put aside the English and let me ask you this question.
Question: “Is this something you struggle with also in your first language?”
Possible answers and my follow-up questions
>> Yes, I do.
- What strategies do you use to overcome your anxiety?
- How is that working for you?
>> No, I don’t.
Great, so here are my next questions.
You say that as a designer, you present your design, explain why you chose this design and defend/justify it when challenged by your audience.
- How do you structure your ideas to cover each part- what is your method?
- How do you stay focused during the presentation?
- Do you ever go blank?
- What do you do when this happens?
Take some time to reflect on and answer the questions. Then, I want you to think about how you could apply your coping strategies/ tried and tested methods using your English.
Here are some prompts to help you.
Ask yourself why your “‘lack of English fluency is stopping you from achieving your goal”.
Is this ‘lack of English’ real in that you don’t have the vocabulary to present your design?
Or, is this the default position you take before each presentation “my English is bad, therefore, I will definitely forget my words, my mind will go blank, I will make mistakes and break out in a sweat.”
If it’s your default position, then you’ve set the scene for imminent disaster. You’ve decided before you’ve given yourself a chance and made your English the enemy.
Much of my work with clients focuses on helping them break down the mental block they’ve fossilised over time and reframe how they see their English. This work takes time but is totally feasible so long as you are strategic.
In this post, I want to share 6 coping strategies you could implement taking 1 real fear which is going blank and losing your words. These are suggestions, not tips. Only you can decide which strategies will work for you and with which you’re comfortable.
Pick one or two to start with and apply them.
6 Coping Strategies
As you prepare for your presentation, make sure you have all the vocabulary you need. The chances are you already have it. Then start strategising on what you could do if you forget key expressions.
Strategy #1: Use flashcards
Write the keywords you want to remember on some flashcards and have them near you.
Strategy #2: Paraphrase with examples
If flashcards aren’t your thing, paraphrase with examples. You probably do this all the time without realising it. List some examples.
Strategy #3: Notepad
Jot down the main ideas you want to share on a notepad, like a mindmap, and refer to them when your mind goes blank and your ideas ‘have all gone’. (They haven’t.) I do this all the time when I am giving a webinar and I have a memory lapse which happens more often than I like.
Strategy#4: Ask the audience
Ask the audience to help you find the right expression. It’s natural to consider the audience as sitting in judgment but the reality is that you’re the one who’s sitting in judgement, not them. If they’re international speakers of English, they will know what it’s like to be in your shoes. So, get them to help you.
Strategy #5: Admit you’ve gone blank
Admit you’ve gone blank and pause to gather your thoughts. We all lose our train of thought at some point. It could be that someone’s phone is ringing, or someone’s dog is barking in the background (Zoom meetings). Don’t immediately place the blame on your English.
Strategy #6: Anticipate the questions you may be asked
As you may need to defend your design, you could anticipate the questions your audience could ask. If you’re used to presenting different designs, the objections or questions you’ll be asked are similar. So, what could you do to prepare yourself beforehand?
Now that you’ve picked one or two strategies, I want you to apply them to your next presentation and observe and record what happens.
There’s a lot of reflection work that goes into dismantling your mental block and resetting your thoughts, but if you want to silence your inner critic and ease the terror of your mind going blank, breaking into a sweat and your ideas vanishing in an instant, this reflection work is essential.
Only through reflection and applying clear, focused strategies will you discover for yourself that your English isn’t stopping you from becoming a confident, authoritative and credible communicator and having a successful career.