6 Must-Know Tips for Giving a Presentation in a Foreign Language Posted by meaghan on Oct 14, 2013 in Archived Posts
Speaking in a foreign language can be a challenge in and of itself—giving a presentation in a foreign language makes that challenge even more…. well, challenging. Whether you’re presenting to your classmates, your co-workers, or your community, you’ll want to practice a little harder than normal. These tips will help you perfect your presentation, leaving minds blown rather than tongues tied.
1.Practice, practice, practice—but don’t memorize.
Scripting yourself is a terrible idea for any presentation, regardless of language. It doesn’t make for a very compelling or natural presentation, and you might panic if you forget or veer away from your script, especially if it’s in another language!
Instead, narrow your focus. Acquire the specific vocabulary you need to discuss your topic, but rely on what you already know to fill in the gaps. Practice speaking about your topic out loud to yourself, so you’ll be prepared to improvise when all eyes are on you.
2. Prepare notes.
Didn’t I just tell you not to script your presentation? Yes I did, but here’s the loophole: prepare notes! Add speaker notes to your slides or jot down major points on a set of notecards. Do not read directly off these notecards! The less you look at them, the better.
The placebo effect of notecards is powerful—knowing you have an important statistic or difficult word in the language written down in front of you should make you less nervous that you’ll forget it. And just in case you do forget it, voila, there it is.
3. Practice speaking.
This is an obvious one, but seriously, if you’re preparing to speak in front of people for an extended period, you need to be comfortable speaking in the language in general.
You want to be comfortable speaking about your specific topic, but also in using the language fluidly and confidently. Talk out loud to yourself in your second language as much as you can—around the house, in the shower, while driving, etc. Say whatever it is you want! Rage about that guy who cut you off on the drive home, talk about what you want to do this weekend, make up a story about your neighbors who just walked by. Get comfortable pronouncing the language and speaking it fluidly. Then practice the specifics of your presentation.
4. Keep it simple.
When you present, you want to sound intelligent and compelling. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when you present in another language, focus first on being understood and making your point.
Trying to sound sophisticated only works if you actually sound… sophisticated! But if you mispronounce the big words you insisted upon using and mumble through those prolific examples you just had to include, you’re actually hurting your cause. Keep it simple and within the reach of your current language skills. Impress people with your message itself, not the way you phrase the message. Besides, giving a presentation in your second language is impressive enough as it is.
5. Don’t apologize.
Do not start off by apologizing for your language skills (or lack thereof). Instead of making that excuse for yourself, be aware of your shortcomings and address them without drawing attention to them.
If you have a thick accent when speaking in your second language, speak slower than you normally would so your audience can understand you. If you mispronounce a word, don’t get flustered or laugh it off—say it again once or twice so your listeners can catch on. Writing off your mistakes to the fact that “this is your second language” won’t challenge you to get better and do it right.
6. Be culturally appropriate.
This isn’t related to the language, but it’s just as important as the advice above. Unless it’s a class assignment, chances are you’re giving your presentation in another language because you’re abroad. If that’s the case, research the culture of your audience.
Be aware of hand gestures or facial expressions that are potentially offensive. Figure out if humor is well-received, or if you should show your personality in another way. Speak to colleagues or native speakers who are aware of the culture—and while you’re at it, practice giving your presentation to them!
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