Presentation Tips for English Learners

Last Updated on February 5, 2022 by Estrella

Presentation tips for ESL speakers
Presentation Tips for English Learners. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

I made my first presentation in third grade. It was in a school assembly of 2000 students from K-12 and college prep. I memorized the entire speech because I did not understand the English in the story. My English teacher selected me to represent the class. Since this was my first time, I did not know I was supposed to feel nervous. So I felt calm. I made eye contact with the audience, both those on the main floor as well as those in the balcony. Having zero knowledge about public speaking was a blessing that day. Fast forward to today. I eventually heard that there’s a lot of fear around making speeches. I see this in both my American and ESL students. In this article, I would like to share a few presentation tips for English learners. I hope this will help you feel more ease and confidence the next time you are asked to speak in front of a group.

How to feel relaxed in your presentation

Is it a good idea to memorize your presentation?

Recently, I met someone who felt she did not do a good job in her presentation at work. She wanted to improve her presentation skills. As we spoke, I learned that in her own language, she is a really good presenter. It’s just that when it comes to a foreign language, she worries that she would not get her ideas across. So she memorized her speech. As we chat more, she shared that memorizing the presentation has its disadvantage. If she forgets one point, she would feel nervous.

We talked about how her American co-workers are probably relatively informal. That if she sees it as just sharing an idea with co-workers instead of a PRESENTATION, it would be more relaxing for her.

How this client improve her presentation skills

She reported that in her following presentation, she started with a joke. To make her points, she used a story. She only memorized the points she was going to make, not the whole speech. And she referred to her teammates during her presentation. “I feel better about this presentation. And I feel more confident.”

Why is it important to feel relaxed about your presentation?

Who’d knew that feeling relaxed is one of the keys to making a good presentation? But it does make sense. Think of the times when you have to make important decisions. Do you make better ones when you feel tense, or when you feel relaxed? Most likely, your answer is “relaxed.” Your mind works better when it’s relaxed than tense. That means, when someone in the audience asks a question, you can do a better job with the answer. And it also means that when there is sudden change in the schedule or in the room, you’d be better able to adjust your presentation accordingly.

So, relaxation. Breathe slowly. Take deep breaths, and let them out slowly. You can prepare yourself like this. Or, don’t think about it at all.

What is your attitude toward your presentation?

Next, attitude. Answer this question. Do you feel that making a presentation is a way for others to evaluate you? If so, tweak your thoughts a little bit so you take the element of being evaluated out of it. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. If you were to come to your presentation, what do you want out of it? You want useful information, right? Your intention is not to evaluate the speaker. Unless your job is to recruit good presenters. Otherwise, you are spending that 30 minutes or one hour to get information that’s relevant to you.

If you would approach your presentation with this in mind, then you would have taken your thoughts off of yourself, and to the needs of the audience. This is a good thing. You would serve the audience better. You’ve switched your focus from feeling nervous to meeting the needs of those who came to listen to you. Which brings me to my next point.

Meeting your audience’s needs to present effectively

Another key to an effective presentation is knowing your audience. Let’s say you are an engineer. Is your audience technical? Are they decision makers who know enough technical language to do their job but not enough to do yours? If so, think about why they need this information. Then package the information for them through examples.

For example, if you are in data analysis, and a sales manager is in your audience, give an example of how your data will benefit their audience. This manager can use your example when talking with the next customer. You are making your information relevant to members of your audience. The better you know who you audience is, the more relevant you can make your presentation. And THAT’s effectiveness. Your audience would be glad that they have spent that time to listen to you. You have shown them how your data will help them make a sale.

Other people’s experience with these tips

So, by feeling relaxed, focusing on the needs of your audience instead of how nervous you feel, knowing your audience, and making your information relevant to members of the audience will contribute to your successful presentation.

Over the years, I’ve helped many tweak their presentation to be more effective. Some are very polished; some are not. When they come to the realization that the presentation is really not about them, but about the audience, all of them feel more relaxed almost immediately. And their interaction with the audience becomes more engaging. THIS is something an audience appreciates.

If you have questions that come up after reading this article, please email them to estrellachan@gmail.com. I will address your question by email or include the answer in another article.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to explain yourself clearly.

Estrella Chancoaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email estrellachan@gmail.com

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