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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Soft skills: Tongue-tied

I am fortunate in my career to travel and work in so many different countries that my passport looks a bit worse for wear. As a native English speaker, it has been easy for me because most of my clients have chosen English as their business language. For those of you who have to make presentations in English and it is not your native language, I salute you. It can be difficult and nerve-wracking. However, remember that your audience is sympathetic and wants you to succeed. It is also my experience that you are never as bad as you think you are. So, what can you do to make it easier for yourself? Here are four key tips.

Focus your effort on articulating key words and phrases
Most people have short attention spans and if you add a strong accent or unusual sentence structure to the mix, your listeners may become distracted. I have found that you can improve your performance by focusing on pronouncing key words or phrases clearly. Sometimes, when all else fails, your audience can hook on to these and catch your meaning.

Do not be too complicated, elaborate or flowery with your language when simple words will do. The English language has many shorter ways of saying things and words with fewer syllables. Be careful of last minute internet translations!

Let visual aids do some work for you
They can act as cues for you as well as assisting your sentence structure on key phrases. Do not put every word into your visual aids. This makes the audience feel like they could have stayed at home and read it themselves. Use a compromise of phrases and bullet points.

Key words only are not enough and full sentences can be too much. Half sentences that are well written make sense to most people. However, be careful that you do not change the meaning when you shorten the sentence. For example: Full sentence: ‘The strategy was accepted by the committee and the amendments were added without complications.’ Half sentence: ‘Strategy and amendments accepted.’ Key words: ‘strategy’; ‘accepted’. While a picture is worth a thousand words, remember to translate your titles onto your graphs and charts.

Structure the message simply and well
Structure and planning becomes even more important for you and your listener. A reminder of a sound structure and order of the basic components for an English language business presentation is shown below:
Subject: what you are talking about specifically.
Agenda: the areas you will cover (like signposts).
Body: the content. The meat and detail of your presentation.
Summary: the reminder of key messages.
Conclusion: your point.

Plan your presentation
As you prepare your presentation, follow these steps:
1 Be sure to decide exactly what your subject is and be absolutely clear about it. Say it in as few words as possible.
2 Be very clear about what your main point, conclusion or objective is — write it out in one clear, precise sentence with no negatives.
3 Decide which areas you need to cover (your agenda), keeping in mind your conclusion as you list them. Will they help you achieve your objective?
4 Put together your content.
5 Decide which summary points you want to re-state.
6 A final tidy up — go back through the presentation and decide which phrases you can use to help you with the transition between different sections.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
In your own language you have a repertoire of transitions that allow you to move comfortably between ideas and content in the body of your presentation. In English, you may feel like you are repeating yourself or have awkward silences. Here are some English phrases you can use as a guide:

With this in mind, I would like to...
Let’s begin... I would like to focus specifically on...
Which brings me to...
To start with...
So, let’s begin with the background...
Now, let’s move on to...
Next, we come to...
Our next important area is...
Finally, we have...
Let’s examine...
So, let’s pull all the elements together...

At the end of your presentation:
So, that’s a look at...
As you can see...
That covers...
In a nutshell...
So, we’ve discovered that...
Reviewing what we have discussed...
So the important things to remember are...
In summary....
So, my point is....
I recommend...

Keep in mind it is also helpful to ask a native speaker to rehearse with you. The above tips should make it easier for your brilliance to shine through. Actuaries have an additional challenge no matter what their native language; most of us mortals do not understand actuary-speak. Combine these tips with an awareness of your audience’s level of understanding and objectives, and you are likely to enjoy your presentations more. Above all: have fun and communicate!

Juliet Erickson is an international communication coach and author of The Art of Persuasion and Nine Ways to Walk Around A Boulder