Executive Public Speaking for English as a Second Language (ESL)


Public Speaking is a challenging skill. It is TOUGH! For some of you, it's probably the hardest thing you will ever do; and I can sympathize. Standing in front of the employees and coworkers that you want, (or need) to impress, all the while hoping that you remain clear, memorable, persuasive, entertaining and fun isn't a piece of cake. It is TOUGH, TOUGH, TOUGH!!

Public speaking is a difficult thing on its own; however, imagine being in a leadership role and speaking in a language which is not your first language. These people have a second layer of challenges about which to worry. When someone is speaking English as a second language, they are also worried about their accent, pronunciation, intonation, grammatical errors and whether or not they are being perceived as a knowledgeable person despite their choice of words.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the United-States, 1 out of 5 people speak a language other than English. Many of these people are hired in at mid-level management. By 2030, demographers predict that English as a second language learners will account for approximately 40% of the students in the United-States. In some areas, that projection has already been exceeded. For instance, in California, 60%-70% of schoolchildren speak a language other than English as their primary language. It is therefore clear that many people are faced with this situation since a good majority of North Americans speak English as a second language.

Accent is one of the major concerns for ESL speakers, especially for someone in a management role. Many accent reduction techniques and courses are out there, but my advice is to embrace your accent rather than to run away from it. Be true to yourself: if you have an accent, don't try to cover it up or camouflage it. An accent is a great way for you to differentiate yourself. You want people to remember you for who you are. About a year ago, I was training a gentleman from India. When he spoke in a social and conversational way his accent was easily detectable. The strange thing was, when he presented in front of a group he would put on a Deep-Southern accent. He sounded like a cross between Gandhi and Uncle Jesse from the "Dukes of Hazzard". When questioned about this, he said he thought he would be more respected and understood if he sounded like an American. Well, his approach totally backfired because the audience was more interested in his fake accent than in his words. In today's world, everyone has an accent; we all come from different parts of the globe and we all have different ways of saying things. Accents can even be an asset since some audiences find them charming and aesthetically pleasant to the ear. You will be your best when you let yourself completely be who you are. You will sound natural and it will be a pleasure to listen to you.

Another concern that might arise is the apprehension resulting from the proper choice of words, or grammatical errors and syntax. Many times, people feel that since they are in a leadership role, that they have to use complex and technical words to be taken seriously. Finding the right words to express yourself in a language in which you are less comfortable can be a challenge. Regarding this, my advice is two-fold:

Firstly, don't try to chew off more than you can swallow - use a vocabulary that makes you comfortable and that you understand. An audience will be much more impressed with a presenter that uses logic than with a presenter that uses a lofty, pretentious vocabulary.

Secondly, use gestures, facial expression, and a "conversational" way of speaking. This will result in a warmer and more comfortable presentation. In addition, the audience will feel like they are communicating with a friend and that will make your talk much more effective. Your choice of words will consequently become less important. Finally, an audience will be far more tolerant and responsive to a confident, happy speaker, therefore embrace your culture and don't be afraid to let your audience see where you're coming from!

Martin Perras, martin@leadersinstitute.ca, is a Management Consultant and President of The Leader's Institute Canada, http://www.leadersinstitute.ca.

He offers management training and consulting to companies in the US and Canada. He can be reached at 1-800-872-7830 x103.

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