If you think giving a presentation or a speech in front of an audience can be stressful, wait till you have to give one in a foreign language or in front of a foreign audience!
If you are asked by your employer to do so on your next international trip, resort to the below suggestions to help you get rid of the butterflies that you may feel in your stomach:
- Commit the speech to memory in the language of your audience if you can. If you don’t know the language, write the presentation and get it translated professionally, and then give it to the local field rep or interpreter a few days before the speech and go over it with them if you can. This way as you present it in your native language, your local field rep can read the correct translation and not ad-lib his or her interpretations. Your company and product image and messages are too important to leave to random interpretations.
- If you have slides, use acceptable images and simple language. When time and budgets allow, have your translation service translate them for you. Native translators can pinpoint and revise any culturally sensitive material for very reasonable costs. Properly translated slides can enhance the audience understanding if you are giving your speech in a foreign language to them.
- Practice, practice and practice again! You want to avoid reading a script so that you can establish eye contact with your audience. The audience may have a problem understanding you if you are speaking a foreign language, or their language with a heavy accent. Keeping eye contact with them and speaking clearly and slowly will help you retain their attention and communicate your thoughts to them.
- Think global, but act local. Research appropriate body expressions and use body language effectively to compensate for any linguistic barriers. Gestures, positions, facial expressions, clothing are very important and may be different around the world. Research appropriate habits. Is humor acceptable? What subjects to avoid? How to be politically correct? A quick search will bring up many examples.
- Even though the task maybe daunting, try to divert energy to enthusiasm and excitement instead of nervousness. Join a local Toastmasters International club if you need help and an opportunity to practice. There are thousands of clubs around the world and one or a few may be in your backyard. Contact a club in the country you are visiting and ask for tips on local habits and practices. They will be eager to help.
- Never apologize for being nervous. The audience cannot read your mind. Apparent nervousness is very distracting to any audience and can be debilitating. If you feel nervous, no one needs to know it. If you have too much energy to know what to do with, burn it off prior to the speech at the gym or by going for a jog. Dissipating your adrenaline shortly before you speak will help reduce nervousness and its impact on your body language and speech. Before you start your speech, pause, take a deep breath, relax and smile. You will be amazed at the positive energy you and your audience will gain.
- If you experience mild trembling, don’t make your hands visible until you regain confidence. It often takes only a minute or two in the beginning of the talk for the adrenaline rush to ware out. Tremor is most visible in extremities. You can plant your feet firm on the ground and leave your hands by your side or set them on the lectern. If you have to use your hands the first couple of minutes, make only broad gestures. No one will notice the fine movements. Avoid using a laser pointer as it will amplify your tremor.
- Avoid the ahs and ums! These are distracting filler words that are recognized as such by audiences all over the world. Use pauses instead to emphasize words and ideas. Pauses will also give your audience a chance to catch up with you and follow your slides.
- Unless you are fluent, do not attempt to answer questions in the foreign language during or after your talk. Again, solicit the help of your local office if needed. You can take the questions from the audience and then answer them in your native language, giving time for a local rep to interpret your answers. Listen to the interpretation and then reemphasize points that were not interpreted correctly. Many cultures also prefer to ask questions in private. Allow more time at the end for audience members to approach you for questions.
- And most importantly, excellent preparation is your best friend. Make sure that your presentation and speech are accurately translated into the language of your audience. Your translation vendor can play a paramount role making you sound professional!
Experiment with the above and the butterflies will soon return to their cocoons and you will become an appreciated speaker, even in international arenas!
About the Author
Nabil Freij is the author of Enabling Globalization and the president, founder, and owner of GlobalVision International, Inc. (www.globalvis.com), a Software Localization and Translation specialist. He is trilingual and holds an MSEE from Brown University and an MBA from Bryant University. Freij has worked for 25 years in the hardware, software, and localization industries. He has traveled the world and lived in five countries. He is frequently published and quoted. Nabil is married and has two children. He currently resides in Palmetto, FL. Mr. Freij can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can read his blog at: http://blog.globalvis.com.