The art of presenting and believing “I’m possible”

The art of presenting and believing “I’m possible”

I was reading a newspaper article the other day about the Paralympics where the slogan on stage in bright lights at the closing ceremony read “I’m possible”. At the bottom of the article somebody had commented on the slogan saying “That’s not good English, I don’t understand what it means”. And I thought to myself, well maybe it isn’t good English but I don’t have a problem understanding it. The basic message (aside from being a play on the word ‘impossible’) is “I may be physically challenged but I can do this too”.

A powerful and uplifting message. That got me to thinking about how the message we deliver when communicating with others is so much more important than any ability to deliver it in grammar-book English. And yet, in a professional environment we fret if we feel we aren’t good enough or at any rate as good as some other imagined or real person. And that got me to thinking about all the colour and warmth and new ways of thinking that non-native speakers bring into the English language.

Embracing language ‘mistakes’

I remember one delightful conversation I had with a French women and a Dutch man, who, when commenting on a presentation the man had just heard, said “Ah, it was so woman”. Each of them understood immediately, I didn’t. But we enjoyed a gloriously poetic moment as the Dutch man found the words to explain that he thought the presentation he had just heard made by a woman was very different from the kind of presentation a man might make. Much food for thought indeed. The very idea of there being a significant difference in the way men and women present was new to me at the time and certainly took me off to new and creative horizons. This is just an example of how ‘mistakes’ in English can actually lead the language itself on to new and unheard of paths that are certainly worth the trip.

Top tips for presenting in a foreign language

A few things to remember the next time you’re called on to make a presentation in English:

  • Your style is different from anyone else’s and that is precisely what makes you interesting to listen to
  • The English you are using is good enough. It does NOT have to perfect
  • What’s more, YOU do not have to be perfect
  • Your audience wants to hear WHAT you have to say – they are not interested in what ‘mistakes’ you might be making
  • Your accent and your turn of phrase do not detract from your presentation, they add to it
  • Nobody wants you either to sound or to behave (whatever that means) like a native English speaker
  • The visuals aids you use are not an added complication, they will help you make your presentation
  • The more you practice, the more confident you will feel
  • The audience is on your side, they want you to do well
  • Enjoy the experience, smile, be glad to be there, and everyone else will too.

Do you have any tips on presenting in English as a non-native English speaker? Please share them below! You may also be interested in the upcoming course, ‘English in the international workplace’ taking place from 30 June – 4 July 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. Secure your place by 12 May!

By Chantal Barry, Sciences Po Paris, France