“An employee in our company is required to regularly present online. The problem is her presentations are very unclear. Are there some recommendations you can make to support internationally trained employees to more effectively present online?”
In today’s digital age, online presentations have become a common requirement for professionals across various industries. However, for internationally trained employees, and especially non-native English speakers, presenting online can present unique challenges that impact the clarity and effectiveness of their presentations. Below I suggest some recommendations which may help to support internationally trained employees in delivering clear and impactful online presentations.
- Pacing the Presentation:
A student of mine with few pronunciation difficulties spoke so quickly it was hard to follow her. She felt this was necessary for her to perform professionally. (Keep in mind that, while most languages communicate the same amount of information in a similar time frame, the pace of speech can vary tremendously.) When she allowed herself to slow down, I was easily able to understand her and found her far more convincing and professional.
Speaking more slowly is crucial for effective communication, particularly for non-native English speakers who may face challenges related to pronunciation. Pronunciation differences, such as adding extra syllables, using different vowel sounds, incorporating non-local syllable stress and intonation patterns, can influence how well the audience understands the message. By speaking more slowly, presenters allow the audience to adjust and accommodate for these differences over time.
Of course, the stress of presenting also creates the tendency to speed up, so it is important to consciously slow down your speech, enunciate clearly, and allow for natural pauses. Speaking at a moderate pace not only enhances clarity but also facilitates understanding and engagement.
- Using Appropriate Volume and Eye Contact:
A client expressed the desire to speak more clearly. As we proceeded, he never made eye contact with me and spoke very quietly towards the table. From what I could hear, his speech was clear, but I missed so much due to having to strain my ears and not getting any emotional cues from his facial expressions. This is complicated face-to-face but online it is very unengaging and tiring. By implementing techniques such as looking directly into the camera lens and projecting his voice, he improved his connection with the audience, making his presentations more impactful and engaging.
Confidence plays a significant role in effective presentations. Lack of confidence often results in speaking too quietly and avoiding eye contact, which can hinder audience engagement and comprehension. Additionally, cultural differences can impact eye contact preferences as can discomfort with technology.
To address these challenges, it is crucial to project your voice with appropriate volume. Speaking with sufficient volume ensures that your message reaches all participants, regardless of their listening environment or technical limitations. Moreover, establishing eye contact, even in virtual settings, fosters a sense of connection and engagement with the audience. Be mindful of cultural nuances related to eye contact and adapt your approach accordingly to make a meaningful connection with your listeners.
- Directing the Listeners’ Attention:
While reviewing an online presentation with one of my clients, I found it difficult to know which section of the presentation he was referring to. I got distracted reading the slide and then got lost and, instead of listening, I was searching for the content he was discussing. Once he started directing my focus (“as you see in the bottom right-hard corner…” or “looking at the top of the second column…”, etc.) I was able to follow and understand very well.
Guiding your audience through the presentation is essential for clarity and comprehension. Emphasize the structure and key points by verbally indicating signposts and transitions. Summarize key ideas, reference specific elements on slides, and use phrases like “moving on…”, “let’s now discuss…” or “you’ll see in the highlighted section…”. These verbal cues provide a roadmap for your listeners, enabling them to anticipate the flow, better understand the information you are conveying and not be distracted by additional text on any presentation slides being used.
- Bridging the Experience Gap:
Many of my clients come from cultural backgrounds where presentations were not expected until university. This has limited their opportunities to present in front of an audience, making it even more nerve-racking than it is for many native speaking employees. Several clients have followed my suggestion to join a Toastmasters presentation group. These meet weekly and provide the opportunity for ongoing practice in supportive environments. After a while, their confidence and expertise has notably improved.
It is important to recognize that experience with giving presentations varies across cultures and educational backgrounds. In North America, for example, individuals often start presenting from a young age, even in kindergarten, building confidence and experience over time. Additionally, cultural differences can influence preferred presentation approaches. Creating opportunities for employees to practice, receive constructive feedback and participate in one-on-one training for upcoming presentations can enhance skill and instill confidence. The result is an employee who has improved confidence, can effectively present and feels prepared.
Effective online presentations are vital for professional success in today’s digital landscape. For internationally trained employees, and in particular non-native English speakers, these presentations may present unique challenges. By implementing the recommendations of pacing the presentation, using appropriate volume and eye contact, directing the listener, and bridging the experience gap, employees can enhance their online communication skills and deliver impactful presentations that engage and resonate with their audience. Remember, effective communication is a journey that requires continuous improvement and practice. Encourage employees to embrace these recommendations, seek feedback, and invest in their growth as presenters.