Public Speaking Tips For Immigrants

woman speaking at a podium and pointing at a screen
Public speaking tips for immigrants

Public speaking seems to come naturally for some people.   For others, especially if you are not fluent in that language, it can feel uncomfortable.   But it is possible to feel more ease, even if you are not a native speaker. That is why I want to share these public speaking tips for immigrants who need to give presentations, formal or informal.

This blog has been updated on February 25, 2024.  It was originally posted on October 18, 2018.   

Public Speaking for immigrants

Some immigrants hesitate to speak in public because they feel they are not yet fluent in English.   This is understandable.   Especially if you are presenting an idea to decision makers.   And some just did not grow up with opportunities to speak in front of an audience.

American school systems have more opportunities to nurture this skill.   When children are in kindergarten, they have Show and Tell.   They bring an interesting object to class and talk about it to their classmates.   But many educational systems around the world do not do this.

That’s not to say that Americans are comfortable with public speaking.   Most of my university students are American professionals returning to school after working for 20 or more years.  They are just as anxious about presenting in front of class.

The tips I’ll share in this article have helped both my American students and immigrant clients.

#1.  Tell a story

One of my clients was preparing a presentation for some directors of her company.   She wanted to convince them to use her idea.  She went through the presentation for me once.   Then we started tweaking.   We worked on using gestures, since in her culture, using a lot of gestures in a formal presentation may not be seen in a positive light. Also, we worked on varying her voice, so it sounds interesting to the audience and hold their attention. Making eye contact with individuals in the audience was also something we practiced. And then there is interacting with the audience to keep them engaged.   We rehearsed all these skills until she feels confident using them.   

Her presentation was a big hit.   Because the leaders who were there liked it so much, she was asked to give her presentation a second time since some directors were absent on that day.

I just told you a story.  Now you have a picture of what we did in preparing her.

Long ago, a lecturer shared this lesson with me.   He said, “We remember stories.   A short story will drive your point home.   Even if your audience forget some of your presentation a month from now, they will remember the story.   And the point of your story.”

#2.  Your audience wants to enjoy their time with you

Can you think of a time when you wish you weren’t in the audience?

I attended an event where a foreign official was making a speech.   Because he was not confident with his English, he read the entire speech.   And he never looked at the audience while he was reading.   The speech went on and on.   Finally it was over, and I felt a sense of relief among the audience.  Relief that the speech was over.

Now, can you think of a time when you wish the speaker could keep going?

Public television features many wonderful motivational speakers.   Their energy and clarity keeps you wanting more.   Their audience members are smiling.  That’s what you want to do.

Your audience is listening to you for a reason.   You have something to give them.   Give it to them.   They are the focus.   Not you.   Not really.   You deliver what they are looking for.   That’s your reason for being there.   Knowing this, doesn’t it take some pressure off from you?   They are not there to judge you.

Wayne Dyer was a master of public speaking.   He would tell story after story.   It’s as if he was in your living room, enjoying an evening of conversation.   No one paid attention to his clothes.   They didn’t care that he was not wearing shoes on stage.  He was so comfortable with himself that the audience felt relaxed.  Now that’s a speaker worth imitating.

#3.  Don’t memorize the speech

You can tell when someone is reciting a speech, can’t you?    Well, except for actors. 🙂  Or those who have practiced in such a way that they sound like they are just talking off the top of their head.

Know your points.   Know what you want to convey with each point.   Talk like you are sharing with people you already know.  You’ll come across more authentic to your audience than reciting each word perfectly from something you prepared.

When you are not worried about remembering what to say, you are available to your audience.   You would allow yourself to engage with them.  And your audience can sense that.

#4.  Immerse yourself in the interest of the topic

This may sound strange.   When you are interested in something, you almost forget what’s going on around you.   Let me give you an example.

I taught conversational English to working professionals from around the world.   The goal was to improve their fluency.   We sat in a circle.   Each time we met, a different person would bring a topic of discussion.   Often the students got so enthusiastic about their opinions, they forgot they were using a foreign language.  Now THAT’s fluency!   I could have left the room, and they would not even notice I was gone.

If you can feel this enthusiastic about your topic, you would lose sight of what the audience might be thinking about you.   And you know what they’ll be thinking?   They’ll be caught up in your excitement, and savoring the moment themselves!

These are just a few tips to help you feel more comfortable with public speaking.   Especially if you don’t feel completely confident about your English.  Tell stories.   Don’t memorize the speech.   View your audience as people you know and who share your interest.   Feel your excitement about the subject, and you’ll be enjoying your presentation yourself!

If there are other topics you would like me to address, please email

If you find this article helpful, here is one on English fluency is more than just words.

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

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