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FOB-How do i get better at communicating and presenting in business setting?

Hi I'm new in America and wonder how I can get better at leading discussions and presenting in meetings. I'm somewhat good in English but not as proficient as natives in storytelling. I'm afraid I already feel English has been a bottleneck in my internships. I don't want to be perceived as someone who's not able to elaborate or eloquently express what I think. Please advise what kind of sources I should tap into so I can get better in the business setting. My career aspiration is to get to the executive level, with business development and partnerships #english #professionals .

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Dexter’s Answer

Hi Jessica,

I learned English as a second language and I would recommend the following:
1. Take speech classes – I would enroll in Speech 101 or similar classes at a local community college. They'll help you develop speech skills, and I still remember of the lessons that it taught me 20 years after I took that class.
2. Join Toastmasters – It's an organization (popular at businesses) that meets to have their members improve in public speaking. I've had many friends use this resource to improve their public speaking abilities. As a bonus, it's a great way to make friends.
3. Talk with friends – You can only improve if you practice, and I think talking with friends is just about the best way to go about it. However, I would not recommend talking with friends in English mixed with your native tongue. You won't improve this way. Rather, speak only in English, and try to speak with individuals who are native speakers. This will help you pick up the idiosyncrasies and the local slang that you're probably missing.
4. Watch a lot of TV/Movies – Again, please do not watch non-American TV shows/movies. The goal here is to pick up the American way of speaking english so that you pick up the terms/lingo that if not taught in text books. When you find a show that you really like, pick out some favorite scenes, recite them, and act them out. They come in handy when hanging out with friends, and it'll teach you the rhythms of speech.
5. Listen to a lot of popular music – Things like American pop or rock songs will help you get more creative with words. I believe that singing will help you use English as the locals do.
6. Listen to podcasts – I would pick something up like 99% Invisible, Revisionist History, or Hardcore History, where the podcaster is a well spoken individual. I would try to listen to them and repeat some of what they say out loud.

Another benefit of 4, 5, and 6 is that it'll help you pick up reference points, as those are a great way to understand and be a part of a culture. If you're picking shows some that I recommend highly are Friends, Seinfeld, The Office, etc. These are monolithic TV shows that Americans refer to all the time, so it's good to watch them and understand the references that your colleagues will inevitably make.

Thank you for asking such an interesting question, and I hope these answers help!


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Andrew’s Answer

Hi Jessica

I suggest you look at an organisation called Toastmasters. Many of my mentees have attended and built up their ability to speak well in front of an audience. Toastmasters is well structured and permits you to build up your capabilities in a safe space.

Another approach I have found useful is through volunteering into non-profits / charities. If you can find the right one you can also find opportunities to speak to groups. Ideally it is about a topic you find personally interesting. This helps you relax.

These two approaches give you the same outcome - practice. The more you give yourself the opportunity to lead or participate in a discussion, the better you will get.

Best of luck

Andrew recommends the following next steps:

Evaluate Toastmasters as an option for participation.

Great tips! Raquel Elie-Pope

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Allison’s Answer

I have taken a public speaking class as apart of my communications major and have had a couple of opportunities where I have had to present publically. I recommend when preparing to speak publically that you create an outline of the things you want to talk about. One mistake people make when presenting is writing down everything they want to say and they just end up reading the paper. Some of the biggest things with public speaking is making eye contact, having voice modulation (speaking monotone can lead people to not pay attention), and speaking freely as you would in a conversation. While you are prepared, it should sound like you did so without preparation, that it is like a conversation. It is also important to have some kind of hook at the beginning of your presentation, you want something to grab their attention. This is a great spot to tell a short personal story that has to do with what you are talking about. And at the end of the day, it is all about practice. One of the most useful things I have found is physically practicing my speeches (and timing myself if I have limited time) this is really the best way to nail that public speaking.

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Raquel’s Answer

You can do it is the first ting I would say. Do not allow your fears or thoughts stand in your way. If you can prepare write down what you want to say and read it out loud until you feel comfortable I would suggest watchBig Business/lawyer type of TV shows to see how they speak and or present and mimic them. And finally reading aloud would be helpful as well. Good luck and keep dreaming!!

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Kiirsten’s Answer

Hello Jessica!

I hope you enjoy your time here in America :). Everyone's answers have been wonderful-- echoing a bit of Raquel's answer-- you can do it! The biggest part of any presentation, whether you're presenting in a non-native language, or foreign subject, is confidence! The fact that you asked the question on this platform shows that you have determination, and huge willingness to learn-- that alone is extremely important, great job! Other answers have mentioned ToastMasters-- my good friends participated in that program and they loved it, I highly recommend it as well. Other suggestions have been to watch popular TV shows, movies, and listen to popular songs-- all great, I would also add that if you have time, join some school groups or extra curricular activities that you enjoy. There are many different clubs at schools such as Art Club, Audio Visual Club, there are lots of sports clubs, medical clubs etc-- this will help you find like minded individuals to befriend and also it will help with your English :). If you have any English speaking friends now, ask if you can practice your speech in front of them-- I used to do that with some of my classmates in college.

Good luck-- you got this!

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Alexandra’s Answer

Dear Jessica,
I absolutely agree with Raquel. Preparation and practice are key to presenting and commanding the room in any business setting. My whole team is dedicated to public speaking and here are some of the key ideas I can share with you, that I use when coaching them.

Like Raquel also suggest that before you start to write up your notes/script thinking about some of the following things:
-What is the goal/purpose of your presentation?
- What is the message you want the audience to leave with?
-What will the audience gain from your presentation? What is in it for them?
-What background do you need to give them?
When it comes to preparing your presentation think about the following:
-What support tools will you use?
-Pick no more than 3-4 key points you want the audience to leave with. More than that and they will not retain your key message.
-Create your presentation with lots of time to spare and make notes on all of the points you want to make for each slide. If you have slide show a good rule of thumb is that less is more, and never have more than a ration of 1 slide per minute. So if you are doing a 30-minute presentation you should have no more than 30 slides max. Also, keep the slides clean with only key points. You as the presenter will fill in the gaps.
-When you create your notes I recommend starting with a long script which you study carefully.

Once you are very comfortable with the script I create cue cards with only keywords or bullet points so I am not relying on the script or reading it word-for-word, leaving me free to interact and engage with the audience.
Next, I like to practice by recording myself using my cell-phone or an app like zoom. I watch the recording and sometimes have someone else watch it to give me feedback. This is the moment where I get to see what my body language is like, check my language (words that are hard to pronounce/technical jargon), making sure I am using the correct industry technical language. Correct pronunciation and knowledge of industry language will give me credibility. This will help me establish where my difficulties lie and any bad habits I might have in body or verbal. I can then address them with more practice or by altering tweaking presentation. Sometimes what looks good on paper or in theory does not work live.
While I am watching my recording or getting the feedback I think a lot about the physicality of my presentation. Be aware of your body language. The right physical communication can have a profound impact on how your message is received and interpreted. Some things to think about are:
1) Face your audience and stand with your feet hip-distance apart, this grounds you and makes you feel centered.
2) Make eye contact with every person in the room at some point, but not for too long . You want to connect with them don’t want to appear creepy. If this makes you nervous trying looking at their forehead or the point between their eyebrows, this may help steady your nerves.
3) Don’t remain rigid, hiding behind a lectern. Move around freely and own the available space on the stage, however, beware that you are not moving around unnecessarily and starting to look like a caged tiger.
4) Avoid crossing your arms, clasping your hands behind or in front of your body or hands in pockets. All of this body language makes you seem closed off or insecure.
5) Don’t fidget or fiddle with anything. Keep your hands free for expressive gesticulation, when you want to emphasize something, but be careful that your hands do not become a distraction.

The tone of your voice and how you talk will have a significant impact on the way your talk is received. To speak clearly and confidently you must become like a classically trained actor. Projection – Make sure the back of the room can hear you but don’t shout. Pace – Keep a steady pace. Your nerves may encourage you to speak faster to get the ordeal over, but that will make it difficult to understand and dampen your message. Try varying the pace to keep things interesting, and remember to breathe. Pitch – Vary your pitch, monotonous voices are boring and difficult to listen to but don’t be over the top. Also, try not to use an upward inflection at the end of all sentences, it makes you sound like you’re unsure about the things you are saying. Pronunciation – Don’t mumble. Ensure that all of the syllables are clear. Practice hard to say words and phrases. Pause – Do not be afraid of silence when you want to get your point across. Never underestimate the power of a moment of silence to let an idea sink in. Pausing helps the audience to absorb the information they just heard and gives you time to prepare for the next section. It also allows a moment for you to collect your thoughts. Additionally, it is better to be silent then use filler words like ‘um’, ‘ah’ and ‘you know’.

Once all the preparation and practice is done, think about this. Some butterflies are healthy but do not do anything to heighten your nerves. Avoid coffee before a presentation. Have some water next to you to avoid "dry-mouth". Remember that the audience is not there to see you. They are much more interested in what you have to say. Don't tell them if you are nervous, it will make you seem insecure, usually, people will not realize unless you tell them. I like to do a two-five minute deep breathing meditation exercise before my presentation to feel centered.

And now, THROW AWAY YOUR NOTES. If you have practiced enough you don't need them. If you really need something make sure the notes fit on one piece of paper and are just bullet points. Having a lot of notes in front of you make you seem like you aren’t an expert on the topic. They reduce your credibility. They become something to hide behind to help contain your nerves. If you are looking down at your notes, then you aren’t engaging with your audience. If you aren’t engaging with your audience, then they aren’t listening properly. If you are reading directly from notes then your tone of voice will likely be flat, and you will have minimal stage presence. If this is the case, you might be talking about the most exciting topic on the planet, and your audience may well still be nodding off. And now try to relax and enjoy yourself. Easier said than done I know, but if anything goes wrong use it to learn from your mistakes for next time.

Finally, I would also encourage you to watch a lot of great public speeches, historical speeches of great politicians, business-men/women, or public motivators (like Raquel said TV law shows). What they do and how they capture the audience's attention. Study their body language: what stayed with you, how did they make you feel? I know that this may seem a little over the top for a business meeting presentation, but these are the best examples you will ever find of influencing a room when presenting and being taken seriously. TED talks are a great resource, they have a wealth of great public speakers than you can watch, see how some of the best public speakers engage the room.

Keep practicing and remember even the greatest speaker put a lot of work into each one of those presentations. Good luck!!

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Sindhu’s Answer

Jessica, you have some great advice here already. A couple of other things for you to look into:
1) If it is more than language and you are struggling with executive presence, try something creative like improv classes or singing lessons to get you out of your comfort zone
2) There are story telling techniques for executive settings such as Pecha Kucha that is about storytelling with images that you can practice with to get better

At the end of the day, I think practice by yourself and presenting to an audience many times is the key to getting comfortable.

I struggled with being nervous when I first began consulting many years ago and presenting to clients. Things I’ve done to improve are the Dale Carnegie course, singing lessons, getting feedback from colleagues, and a ton of practice - it does get easier.

Hope that helps and good luck!

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Keri’s Answer

You've received a bunch of great advice on this question!

First, Toastmasters is a definite "should do", I know lots of professionals that worked their way up the ladder, but struggled with public speaking or presentations because they got tongue tied or weren't sure of their audience or material. The answer you received about preparation is so, so huge! You have to know your material inside and out when you are going to present in front of people, even if your nerves get to you, if you know the material, your brain will take over!

Also, I would recommend podcasts of professional speakers, business speakers, CEO's, President's of major corporations. Those folks have prepared for public speaking and often know how to draw an audience into the topic and keep them captivated.

I hope this helps you!! :)

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Holly’s Answer

As someone who delivers presentations to folks outside of my organization:

1. Rehearse your presentation. Even if this means making notes for yourself. Do what you need to do so that you feel confident entering the presentation.

2. Be compassionate toward yourself. Give yourself some compassion. English is your second language and it's difficult and everyone has fumbled in a business setting at some time. There was a time I was giving a presentation on topics I really didn't understand because I was too new with the company and I found that my "we're learning this together" approach was very welcomed with my listeners. I found that the paramount pressure I put on myself to "perform" in this presentation was actually my biggest obstacle.

3. Look outside for ways to practice. As mentioned in previous posts, there are several ways and communities that can help improve your conversational speech.