Over the last few months I have been training groups of employees at a large Korean company. All the students are non-native English speakers, and all the employees have differing levels of English.
In each 4 week course ( we do four hours per week) the students do two presentations. One at the beginning and one at the end.
These students are continuing their everyday work, and have to prepare their presentations in their own time, and, if they can find the time, during their working hours.
A number of interesting observations have come up that I would like to share with you.
1. at the beginning of the course, almost all students believe they cannot present in English. By the end of the course all students have the realisation that actually they can present in English. This has nothing to do with the course, or my teaching method – sadly. This has everything to do with confidence. At the beginning of the course, most of the students simply have no confidence in their English ability. Once they have completed two, short presentations in font of their peers they begin the believe in themselves.
This problem in endemic in Korea. Most business people are tested on their English ability before entering a company, then they spend the next ten or twenty years only speaking in Korean, with the occasional English greeting and a “thank you”. If you do not use English regularly, then you are not going to be confident using English in your professional life.
If you want to feel better at using English, then find every opportunity you can to use English.
2. Many students over prepare their short presentation and end up either memorising their words, or reading a script. These students are always the worst presenters. They lose their place during their presentation, they hardly ever look at their audience and they spend too long looking down at their notes / script that the words they are speaking sound muffled and unclear.
Doing a short presentation in class is not the same as doing a keynote presentation in front of a hundred English speaking journalists at the launch of a new product, but all the same, if the presentation is important, the way you communicate with your audience is vital. Reading a script will prevent you from connecting with your audience in a personal way and you will fail. Not only will you fail, but your whole presentation will fail.
You need to know what you are talking about. If you do not know your subject well enough, then you should not be presenting. Reading a script is unforgivable, and simply tells your audience that they are not important enough for you to prepare properly.
Preparing for a presentation is about knowing your topic, knowing your stories and knowing what it is you want to tell your audience. It is not difficult. Any presenter, who is presenting in a foreign language should have the necessary language skills already. If they don’t, they should not be presenting.
3. It is hard to let go of practices learnt in the past. Yet, letting go of 1990s style presentations is something we must all do if we are going to be great communicators in the twenty-first century.
Maintaining a love affair with complex charts, text and bullet points is damaging your ability to communicate effectively. A twenty-first century presentation is about presenting your ideas in a clear and concise way. It is not about presenting slide after slide of technical data. That simply does not work today. If your grandmother would not understand your presentation, then it is not simple and concise enough.
If your presentation is all about technical data, then consider preparing a handout with the details. Then in your presentation itself focus on the key points that you have pulled out from the data. Explain to your audience that the detailed data is contained in a handout.
On a side note here – I am shocked and amazed when students turn round and tell me that preparing a handout means more work! Unbelievable! If your presentation is important enough for you to be presenting it to an audience, then a handout should never be considered “more work”. It should be considered an essential part of your presentation for your audience’s complete understanding.
These are just three things I have picked up over the last few months. There are more and I will write about these over the coming weeks.