Top Tips for giving presentations in a second language

Generally, I seem to lead a bit of a charmed life on twitter. I know it’s supposed to be full of angry trolls, but my experience is much friendlier than that. I often tweet questions or appeals for advice, and sometimes people really come through.

My latest exercise in canvassing the wisdom of crowds was asking for their top tips for giving presentations in another language. I pride myself on being a reasonable Spanish speaker, but there’s no question that giving a talk or a powerpoint is different for me en español. More stressful. I’m not as smart, can’t think on my feet, sometimes say really weird or embarrassing things (OK, maybe not that different then).

Here’s what the tweeps came up with, divided up roughly into how to prep, how to speak, and how to manage the interaction

How to Prep

Write out the talk, practice out loud, maybe even record it in advance and get a native speaker to listen and point out any major no-nos.

y ahora en español……

Get into role: read something in the same language beforehand to get your linguistic juices flowing; write down a list of keywords on your topic (on paper or in notes on your slides), but also linking phrases if they don’t come naturally

How to Speak

Swallow your pride/don’t take yourself too seriously – apologise in advance; give the audience permission to laugh at your blunders. Don’t try and tell jokes – in this language, you are the joke. Get over it. In fact, use it to engage people.

Repeat yourself more often, in different ways, so if one version is complete gibberish, the other might still land.

Visuals: lots of pics, a roadmap you can come back to, enumerated lists. They can all help guide the bewildered audience through the linguistic torment of your presentation.

Managing the Interaction

Hand over the stick earlier. Invite native speakers in the audience to give their views on points where you are stumbling.

One question at a time at Q&A, and better to ask your host to translate (if they can) than answer a different question to the one asked…..

Fantastic advice – thanks to Alistair Leadbetter, Deborah Doane, Peter Evans, Milenko Fadic, Oscar Gomez, Dan Honig, Matthieu Lohr, Marinke van Riet, Haley Stevenson, Sofia V, Linda Yohannes

And now over to the rest of you to add your thoughts

And just because I haven’t reposted it for a while, and it’s vaguely relevant, here’s a table of What Brits Say v What They Mean…….

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4 Responses to “Top Tips for giving presentations in a second language”
  1. Good advice, but it does depend on the type of presentation.

    Yes lots of pics if you’re giving a general talk, an inspiring intro etc. But if you’re giving a technical talk, or trying to get over something new or tricky, then ignore the advice about few words on your ppt and print the salient points at least. A few extra slides at the end too, so that listeners can download the presentation afterwards and try to figure out what you have been saying in more detail.

    Another thing (I’ve found this especially with US mediated events): they want your ppt long in advance of the talk so that they can go through it and ‘format’ it. I’ve known cases where they have changed words and altered the meaning. Unless you are certain that you can review their revisions, hand your ppt to the projectionist just before the start of the session!

    And if you work for an institute that has a mania for insisting on a corporate-style slide format that includes tiny pale typeface, change it, because your talk maybe in a room with a dodgy beamer and the sunlight streaming in.

    If you are kicking off the event, you could try assembling some pics to spool through as they are filing in. With luck your hosts might be willing to let you add music too, it can be very effective to create the right mood, especially for a serious topic.

  2. Robin Ford

    Great! Now how about tips for those speaking to a group where that language is not the first language of the listeners. I am often grinding my teeth listening to long sentences, jargon, speech that is too fast, every phrase connected with “right’, ‘you know’ ‘um’, ‘so’, and on. Oh, there are 4 tips.

    • Duncan Green

      Yeah, I’m really bad at that – e.g. still use weird cultural references and favourite turns of phrase, even if ppl don’t understand them. Actually jargon often translates better than ‘normal’ English, in my experience – ppl are used to hearing words like governance and accountability, not so much ‘that won’t butter anyone’s parsnips’…..

  3. SF

    Not super sensitive saying that “Don’t try and tell jokes – in this language, you are the joke.”… to an audience of people who are often NOT native speakers…