How to Prepare International Professionals for Presentations in English
Steven Hobson helps international professionals improve fluency and confidence levels speaking English in the workplace through one-to-one online coaching. He has previously taught English in Madrid and ran a language school for 9 years in Rio de Janeiro, providing in-company language training. He has written the Kindle book, "How to Become a Confident English Speaker at Work", and writes articles on business English and fluency improvement for his website, impactfulenglish.com. Steven currently resides in Porto, Portugal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have ever successfully prepared a student for a business presentation in English, you will have probably found that it is one of the most fulfilling things you can experience as an EFL teacher.
The main reasons for this sense of realization after the student has let you know that their presentation went fantastically well, are firstly, achieving a relatively quick result in terms of language learning, and secondly, your instruction and guidance has a visibly positive outcome on the student’s real-life scenario.
These two aspects normally take ‘a while’ to bare fruit for language teaching in the traditional sense, such as one-to-one classes, or follow-a-book classroom teaching. In my experience, preparation for a presentation normally takes three months (on the longer side) to two weeks (on the shorter side). Therefore, when you receive that text message from your student thanking you and telling you everything went well, it gives us evidence that we are directly making a positive difference to our student’s life.
During the time I’ve been in the EFL space I have helped a range of business professionals with English presentations, as well as training teachers to prepare their students for presentations when I ran my own language school in Brazil. In this article I’m going to share with you a step by step approach which I have consistently used for great results.
Start with a mindset switch
Firstly, you need to make sure that you are in the right mindset to prepare an executive for a presentation.
If you are teaching students in regular English classes using course books and then are suddenly asked to help an executive with a business presentation, it is easy to approach this presentation class with the same mindset or lens as you approach the regular class.
What I mean by this is instead of your focal point being on the English language itself, for instance, “which mistakes is the student making and how can I correct them”, your primary focus needs to be on the message the student is trying to communicate to the audience and whether that message is coming across clearly.
Now, this doesn’t imply that you should not correct the student’s mistakes. It merely means that the focus should be switched to the message. If you think about it, they could be speaking 100% grammatically correct, but their message could still need improving and communicated in a clearer and more impactful way.
How to successfully prepare executives for business presentations in English in steps
Step 1: Know the basics - Goal of Presentation, Audience, Previous Challenges
Sit down with your student and find out what their goal is for the presentation. What do they want to achieve and communicate? Does the presenter know who the audience is personally, or are they complete strangers? For what reasons are they listening to the presentation?
Additionally, it’s helpful to ask the student about previous presentations. Did they face any challenges? What improvements would they like to make for the next one? Asking these questions gives you added input on what you’ll need to be working on with the student.
A student of mine once told me that he often froze up when he was interrupted and asked difficult questions during his presentation . We therefore anticipated the questions he may get asked during his presentation, and I purposely interrupted him during rehearsals so he got used to responding to these questions.
Step 2: Student Gives the Full Presentation Prior to Any Preparation Beforehand
If the student already has the slides (in my experience they often do), get them to make the presentation from beginning to end, even if they haven’t yet rehearsed it. For sure, the presentation will be far from polished, but you need to have an idea of how the student presents in English as well as a more in depth understanding of the topic.
The quality of this initial presentation will vary from student to student depending on their experience presenting in English as well as any previous rehearsals they may have done. As the teacher, you observe, listen and take notes without interrupting the student.
You should look out for the following:
Overall delivery – is the message clear? Is the speech objective, or is there too much waffle? English mistakes (grammar, pronunciation etc).
Presentation Structure – Does it have an introduction, middle and end? And are these three parts clearly defined within the presentation?
Presentation Flow – Do the individual parts of the presentation link together, or is it disjointed? Is the presenter using linking phrases between parts? If so, is there enough variety?
Slides – Is there too much text? Could the slides be better summarized? Watch out for the presenter reading the text word for word on the slides and not addressing the audience.
Positives - What was the student able to do well? What did you like about the presentation?
Go over this feedback with the student, starting with the positive points, and use the information as a foundation to build on for the forthcoming classes.
Step 3: Work on individual parts - The introduction
Next, you’re going to focus on the individual parts of the presentation starting with the introduction.
The introduction normally consists of just a few sentences saying who you are and a short outline of the presentation. It is a crucial part of the presentation because a strong intro helps to settle the presenter’s nerves and gives an initial positive impression form the audience’s standpoint.
I like to get the student to write down the script and memorize it word for word. This can be done in the ‘notes’ section at the bottom of the PowerPoint slides. It’s a bit much asking the student to memorize the whole presentation, but it’s reasonable to ask them to learn a short intro by heart.
Once it is written and the student has practiced it a couple of times, move onto the next section of the presentation which will be the middle or main part.
Click here for expressions to help you with the introduction to a presentation.
Step 4: The mddle
This middle section will often have different parts within it, so break it down and work on each individual part.
Again, get the student to write down the script, but unlike the introduction, the purpose of writing it isn’t to memorize it. But rather to improve objectivity and clear up any structural or grammatical doubts.
You’ll find that some students will virtually memorize the script, while others will say something quite different when practicing. Both are ok. The important thing is that they are communicating the message in an effective way.
As you’re working on the middle parts, go slide by slide, and as you do so, you will be checking the slides for spelling and grammar mistakes.
As well as this, pay attention to how the student links each part together. I encourage my students to use a variety of linking phrases when they are ending a part and beginning another, for example: “That’s all I wanted to say about abc.”, “Now let’s turn to the xyz section.”
The linking of each part is fundamental with regards to the flow of the presentation, as well as helping the audience follow it.
Click here for linking expressions for presentations.
Step 5: The end
The ending to a presentation is normally a summary or conclusion followed by questions. Use the same approach as the introduction and middle by writing the speech and then practicing it.
Click here for expressions to help you with the end of a presentation.
Step 6: Practice the presentation from beginning to end
At this stage, you will have the full presentation written down, corrected slides and a variety of linking phrases to join everything together.
Now’s the time to practice over and over again from the intro to the end. This is the step which builds confidence and increases fluency. Encourage the student to practice at home and in front of colleagues, which gets them used to presenting in front of people.
A student of mine once jokingly said that his presentation was his mantra after practicing it so much. But on the day, his presentation was great and he received heaps of praise from the audience.
Step 7: Anticipate audience questions
When the student is comfortable with the speech and giving the presentation, the next step is to predict possible questions which the audience might ask and decide how they are going to answer them. Just like the presentation script, I get my students to write this down.
The audience will either be invited to ask questions at the end of the presentation or, in rarer cases, they will interrupt the presenter during the presentation. The latter being the more challenging scenario.
Find out what the question policy is then simulate it. So if they are at the end, ask the student the questions after giving the full presentation. If the questions are during the presentation, interrupt the student and ask them questions related to the part they are talking about.
I have used these seven steps for most of the students I have prepared for business presentations, but sometimes I’ve had to adapt to shorter timeframes and different student learning styles.
This approach works for both in-person and online classes. For online you will need to use software which allows the student to share the screen so you can visualize the slides.
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of preparing for a business presentation in English is practice. This is how the student is going to build confidence to speak a second language about an important topic to an audience. So if you are able to inspire your students to practice outside the class, they’ll be on their way to giving a successful presentation.
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