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Effective Business Presentations in English: A Guide for ESL Learners

Updated: Jan 21

Published in Vent Mag Times: 13th of December 2023 In today’s global business landscape, proficiency in English has become a crucial skill for professionals. For ESL learners, mastering the art of delivering effective business presentations in English can greatly enhance their career prospects. In this guide, we will explore some essential tips and strategies to help beginners transition from basic English skills to delivering impactful presentations in a professional setting. To some these principals may seem basic. To an ESL learner, this eight step process will be gold.

1. Know your audience: Before preparing your presentation, it’s important to consider who will be attending. Take into account their level of English proficiency, cultural background, and knowledge of the subject matter. This will help you tailor your language and content to ensure maximum understanding and engagement.

2. Plan and structure your presentation: A well-organised presentation is more likely to keep your audience engaged. Start with a clear introduction that includes an attention-grabbing opening statement and an overview of what will be covered. Follow this with the main body of your presentation, focusing on key points and supporting evidence. Finally, conclude with a concise summary and a compelling call to action. If there is no call to action, and you need the presentation packaged up nicely with a bow, I like to end on a quote that sums up the end beautifully. If you can't think of a good quote, chances are someone else long ago has thought of a great quote. Google is your friend here.

3. Use visuals and multimedia: Visual aids can greatly enhance the impact of your presentation. Incorporate relevant images, graphs, and videos to help illustrate your key points. However, be cautious not to overload your presentation with too many visuals, which can distract and confuse your audience. Things like dot points flying in from everywhere is to much. Use the KISS system "Keep It Simple Stupid"

4. Utilise simple language and clear pronunciation: As a beginner to business English, it is important to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely. Use simple and straightforward language, avoiding complex jargon or technical terms that may confuse your audience. Practice proper pronunciation and intonation to ensure that your message is delivered clearly.

5. Engage your audience: One of the keys to a successful presentation is to actively engage your audience. Encourage participation by asking questions, conducting polls, or integrating group activities. This not only sustains their interest but also allows you to gauge their understanding and adapt your presentation accordingly. For example when you see people maybe starting to fidgit in their seats, or are off to get coffee, have a "straw poll" ready to go. For example "Let's have a show of hands as to who thinks..... " have a couple prepared to keep your audience engaged and responsive

6. Rehearse and seek feedback: There are two schools of thought on this one. i) Practice makes perfect! Before delivering your presentation, rehearse it several times to familiarise yourself with the content and ensure smooth delivery. Additionally, seek feedback from peers or mentors to identify areas for improvement. This will help boost your confidence and refine your presentation skills. ii) Mastery. If you’re aiming for mastery in your subject, have the confidence to back yourself. Know your subject, read the room / audience when you get there. To much rehearsal can lead to creating a self induced fear within yourself that you won’t get the presentation to be "perfect" Perfect is not the goal. The goal is to get your message across so that the message resonates with your audience. Personally, I go with option two. However, I'm a native English speaker, I don't worry about pronunciation, and grammar. I "read the room". You will have different concerns.

7. Manage nerves and body language: It’s natural to feel nervous when presenting in a professional setting, However, remember to remain calm and composed. Maintain eye contact, use gestures to emphasise key points, and project confidence through your body language. Practice deep breathing exercises or meditation techniques to manage nerves and maintain a steady voice. This is the mani school of thought. What I coach people is say out loud right at the start your fears. For example; "Wow, big crowd. The biggest audience I've ever spoken to before was 300 people. There has to be what, 1000 people here? If I stumble a little you'll have to forgive the nerves." Or "This is the first time I've given this speech in front of a live audience. If I have to refer to my notes, please forgive me." Both of these two opening lines and variations of each line elicits an immediate feeling of empathy from your audience. They already know public speaking can be nerve inducing, There is something else that has worked well for me in the past. Humour. However, if you're not good with timing, maybe wait a little while to use this. Here is one of my favourites. "Hello everyone. Let me start by saying that I realise my presentation is between you and the cakes, biscuits and coffees, so I'll be intentional and get my presentation our of the way..." This let's the audience know you will be intentional, you wont mess around, it breaks the ice, and it lets the audience know you're in the real world with them. In other words you can read the room. (even if you can't) ,

8. Don’t fill a Powerpoint (PPT) presentation with words and read from the slide once projected. Always use bullet points that will jog your memory for what to say next. You don’t want the audience reading and you parroting what is written on the screen. Put up a bullet point, maybe three to five words that remind you about your presentation. This helps you maintain eye contact with the audience, it also shows the audience you know your topic well, and there is nothing else to read on the screen so "look at me"  

Mastering the art of delivering effective business presentations in English may seem challenging for ESL learners, However, with persistence and practice, mastery over self, when confidence is achieved, mastery can be achieved. By following these strategies and continuously honing your skills, you will gradually build the confidence and proficiency needed to excel in the professional world.

Remember, effective presentations are not just about language proficiency; they’re about connecting with your audience, conveying your ideas clearly, and leaving a lasting impression. With dedication and determination, beginners to business English can become proficient presenters, opening doors to countless opportunities in their careers. By Mr Russ

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