No English, No Problem!

You've prepared, honed and polished your presentation. It's been met with success in the past so you have confidence in the substance. However, THIS time is different. You are presenting to a global audience so now all bets are off. Perhaps some audience members did not learn English as a first language. Comprehension levels may differ from person to person. And for the first time you are using a translator to bridge the gap.

But don't despair! There is a path forward. These 5 EZPZ tips can help you overcome language barriers in way that increases comprehension and holds attention.

1. Slow it down, but don't talk down

Beware the curse of the fast talker! Personally, I'm afflicted with this, even when I'm not nervous. When speaking to any audience, it's helpful to imagine you are taking a stroll with your words, rather than running a sprint to the finish line. Whether it's age or familiarity with the language, the more challenging the comprehension of your audience the slower you should stroll. If you are nervous and leave your speed unchecked, you can start to sound like this guy, which will make it difficult for ANYONE to follow what you are saying.

One important point. Slowing down is just that - speaking at a slightly slower pace than you would otherwise. It doesn't mean your audience is incapable of understanding you. It doesn't mean your audience is not as intelligent as you. So unless you are talking to an audience of 5 year-olds, don't talk to your audience as if they were 5 year-olds. You should use all the same words and examples that are appropriate for your audience - just watch your word speedometer.

2. Shorten your sentences

Like food, bite-sized sentences are easier to digest. It may seem awkward at first because the natural tendency is to use longer, more complex sentences, but if you are mindful of it, you can deliver the same message shorter, more discrete sentences. Imagine you are hearing the two talks below in a language that is not your first language. Which one would be better for you to follow along and comprehend?

Approach A: Normal, longer sentences

I remember this time I had a problem with one of my clients and it was really bad. They were collecting information and not being clear about all the potential uses of the data. When I asked them about this their reply was they were afraid if they explained too much about how the data would be used, it would spook the person and they would no longer want to share the data. After thinking and worrying about this for several days, I finally came up with a solution...

Approach B: Shorter, structurally simpler sentences

I had a problem with one of my clients. It was a really bad problem.

My client was collecting information. My client was not being clear about all the potential uses of the data.

I asked them about this. They said they were afraid. If they explained too much about how the data would be used, this was a problem. The people would be scared and no longer want to share the data.

I worried about this for several days. Finally, a solution...

3. Pause more often

Powerful speakers pause often to create more dramatic effect. However, pauses have the added benefit of allowing the audience to process and lock in the words spoken immediately before the pause. If it helps, try channeling Captain Kirk or an Evangelical Preacher.

4. Repeat your main points

I can't explain it better than Shatner. Just watch and marvel at how he gets his point across using repetition!


5. Check for effectiveness - for your delivery, not their comprehension

It shows attentiveness and respect when you check in with your audience from time to time to ask how they are receiving your message. They will appreciate it if you pause periodically and ask about speed, volume, and level. 

Hopefully these 5 EZPZ techniques will help you during your next speech. They work regardless of the language comprehension of the audience and whether you are using a translator or not.

But don't just take my word for it. Here is an example of a speaker using these techniques to great effect. By making small tweaks to your delivery, you will have a much more successful presentation. Good luck!

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.