Presenting in English – effective introductions for beginners

Presenting in English – does it make you nervous?  Does the idea of speaking in front of people make your mouth go dry? Well keep reading …

If you are nervous about presenting in English, making an effective introduction is especially important.  An effective introduction will help your audience know what to expect and it will help you feel confident.  Once you’ve started well it is easier to keep going – and don’t forget that your audience is there to listen to what you have to say and not your English!

Effective introductions for beginners – the 3 Ps

A colleague shared this simple technique with me, and it always works. When you are presenting in English (or in any language) your introduction needs to answer three questions:

1.  Why are you standing there presenting? What is the purpose of your presentation?

2.  What are the steps in your presentation? What is the process you will follow?

3.  Why should your audience listen to you?  What is their payoff?

It doesn’t matter if you are introducing your team, presenting a process or giving an update on a project – the structure is the same. The 3Ps help you remember this structure, and if it helps you when you are nervous, why not use the three keywords?

Presenting in English – an example of the 3Ps in action

“Good afternoon and thank you for coming.  The purpose of my presentation today is to update you on the factory acceptance test.  The process I will follow is to first review the agreed schedule, then talk about the tools we are using and finally we will look at two problems we have found and how we will solve them.  This will take me 10 minutes. Why should you listen?  Well, your payoff is that you will be confident that we can complete the FAT on schedule and that everything is under control.”

If you follow this structure your introduction will be simple, clear and effective.  Most importantly you can concentrate on what you want to say, and stop worrying about the English.

Good luck, and why not let me know how it works for you?


Coaching Presentations: Presenting to Upper Management

Sometimes coaching presentations take on a bit more importance when the topic is tied to the board of management somehow. This creates an even greater need to ensure that the language is clear, concise, and professional. That’s where I was able to help out.

With the growing possibility that a quota system will be introduced to ensure there is a fixed percentage of women in all European companies working at executive level, DP DHL is taking its own initiative. A group-wide survey was carried out to see the impact of culture, local working practice and national laws on aiding, or preventing, women reaching higher positions of responsibility.

With feedback gathered from surveys and focus groups, the responsibility for keeping the Group’s board members informed of the developing situation falls to the HR division’s department of Corporate Culture. With an international board looking for signs of real progress, the task to present feedback and next steps with the required specificity is a significant challenge.  Extensive topic knowledge and excellent English skills provide a great foundation, but in order to gain the extra edge the department leader of Corporate Culture enlisted my help.

Preparing to perform

After a short but thorough briefing on the current status of the project, I was able to form a clear picture of what the next update presentation needed to accomplish. The following step involved me listening to each section being described and using the advantageous position of ‘outsider’ to cross-check what was not immediately clear. This technique helped me mirror the reactions of board members who may not to be familiar with the finer details of the Women in Leadership initiative. Through frequent questioning and by repeating the section with more clarity each time, Frau Muehlbach became more at ease with the information and was able to hone the essential message for greater audience impact.

Tailoring a language toolbox

With the key messages from each section now being clear and concise, the groundwork was set for giving the presentation greater bite. This process involved Frau Muehlbach and me brainstorming key phrases to be used to introduce and conclude each section of the presentation. Having established two or three options to choose from, Frau Muehlbach tried out each one within its surrounding context, while I played audience to determine which words carried the most effect.

Honing delivery style

With each section of the presentation having clear information, and the linking language now holding the attention of the listeners, it was time to analyze the presentation when delivered as a whole. Through several practice runs, I was able to highlight where Frau Muehlbach should increase pace, think about a dramatic pause or correct a word that was being mispronounced.

Seeing change in the boardroom

Using this technique, Frau Muehlbach has been able to make several successful Board and international conference presentations on the status of the Women in Leadership initiative. With each success comes more confidence which, in turn, breeds further success. This is a key example in transferring knowledge to the workplace.  Who knows, maybe the effect of the latest presentation was behind the Board’s recent decision to appoint DP DHL’s first female board member!

Target Training at IATEFL BESIG 2012 in Stuttgart

On Saturday 17th November Kate Baade and Nathan Wale spoke at the IATEFL BESIG 2012 conference. We had a room full of participants, and as part of the BESIG online conference program, we also spoke to individuals around the world as well as groups in Croatia and Uruguay.

Our theme was “Keeping long-term training programs alive” and our aim was to give trainers some tools and ideas to help keep their programs alive. We also wanted to show how easy it is to move outside our comfort zone and try new ideas and techniques out.

How to handle long-term courses

We started off by throwing some questions out to the audiences to establish how many people have long-term courses, how you would define a long-term course and, and here comes the honesty part, how long it takes as a trainer to use up your “bag of tricks”. Plenty of answers came in – almost everyone had long-term courses, but the definition depended on the individual and ranged from a few months to 25 years.   Responses to the “bag of tricks” question were individual, but largely depended on how big your “bag of tricks” is.

There was a lot great information shared and ideas generated.  For all the information presented, and the tips and pointers that resulted from the workshop, click here to download a printable version.

Anyone have any additional ideas to share or feedback on how things worked?  Let us know below in the comments field.

Target Talks: Scott Levey on the importance of training

Target Talks is a series of interviews with key Target Training GmbH employees, designed to put them on the spot about a topic that really matters to all of us: the importance of training.  This week, we talk to Scott Levey, one of the company’s Directors.

As the Director of a training company, how important is training when it comes to your own staff?

SL: Training is as important to us as it is to every company.  Ironically though, trainers in the industry just don’t get enough training themselves, and there tends to be very little done on an incidental basis.  By nature, trainers often work independently and at best get development opportunities by accident.

Regarding our own staff?  Our policy is to attract and hire the best trainers and, through training, help them to stay sharp.  When we hire, we look specifically for evidence of continual improvement so we know we are working with people who are open to development and learning.

What advice would you give to a new manager confronted with his/her first training budget?

SL: Haha. Phone us!

No, seriously, take time to talk to your people about their current skills and their needs.  As their manager, it’s vital that you carve out your own time to think about these needs; skills; and the future situation of the organization you manage.

Another thing to bear in mind is that it is not always feasible to solve a current problem by throwing training at it: training often takes too long to solve an immediate concern.

And be ready to be actively involved in supporting whatever training you go for.  Your support, or lack of, makes so much difference.

What’s the most beneficial training you have put your staff through?

SL: This is a very difficult question to answer: some of the training has been directly job-relevant, while other is designed to introduce new skills (e.g., management courses for new managers).

I suppose the training from which we have had the most positive feedback has been our in-house „Boot Camp“.  This is where we explore the new skills an InCorporate Trainer needs in order to be successful when delivering in-house training. New trainers generally have low expectations coming onto the course (‘training for training’s sake’ being a classic attitude) but the feedback has been consistently strong and participants report that they have been pushed, been developed and gained confidence during the week.  Not only that, their line managers have reported a clear difference, as have the end client.

The Boot Camp has acquired an outstanding reputation within Target; in fact, for budget reasons we recently looked at reducing the time required but decided against it.

And the most memorable training you have personally taken part in?

SL: Looking back at the last year, probably the Kirkpatrick Certificate Training in March (2012).  Jim Kirkpatrick is a skilled and charismatic facilitator, and just watching him caused me to pick up lots of tips and tricks for my own work.  The majority of the participants were HR managers—who are typically our clientele—so it was nice to be able to work together with them on a collegial basis and get a first-hand insight into how they work and learn.  Interestingly enough, their challenges closely reflected our own. I was particularly interested to hear how the soft skills training market in the UK compares to Germany: it seems to be a much more competitive—and perhaps saturated?—market than the one we operate in here.

Many thanks, Scott, for being the first to take part in our Target Talks series.  Now, over to our readers: which questions do you have for Target Training GmbH about training?


Job-focused Business English Training

Last week I was in Berlin to give a presentation at a conference called “Sprachen und Beruf” or Languages and Business. My presentation got me thinking (and hopefully it got the audience thinking too). A large part of my presentation was dedicated to the goals of job-focused Business English training from the perspective of our participants, the clients (managers) and the training managers. In other words, what sort of training do our customers really want?

We included video interviews with the various stakeholders in the presentation. When I sat down and watched all of the videos, including the out-takes and the drafts, it was obvious that there was a very strong recurring theme throughout.

Quite simply, and this will probably sound obvious, our customers who buy our InCorporate Trainer concept want job-focused training. So far so good, but, more to the point, they want training directly focused on what they do in English in their jobs. OK, still nothing really new here. But, what did they really want?

What managers want with their English training

Universally, what they wanted was:

  • focus only on the skills that they actually use for their jobs
  • integration of their own documents, emails and presentations in the training material
  • activities that reflected what they actually had to do in the workplace
  • training to do what they do on the job better, not simply training to improve their knowledge

Without consciously thinking about it, the participants and clients (managers) were highlighting the importance of relevance on transferability. This is a core concept in the InCorporate training model. The training should reflect what the trainer sees on a daily basis. The ideas for the training should come from the on-the-job support that the trainer does on a daily basis. The role-plays and activities should be as close as possible to the real meetings, presentations and phone calls going on in the office.

By creating and running this sort of training, the learner can more easily apply the learning. Sure, if you watch a lot of English movies, eventually your vocabulary will improve. But, taking that learning and applying it to improve your negotiations at work is another matter.

The training really needs to reflect not just the real world, but it needs to reflect the learner’s real world. The literature and research supports this concept – “relevance aids transferability”. But, it sure is nice to hear that the participants and managers instinctively know this too.

On-the-job Training in Action

On-the- job training can be hard to imagine for many of our new Business English trainers. What exactly  is  the DMAIC cycle? And what does on-the-job training really mean. We’re going to regularly update you on some of the on-the-job work we’ve been doing each month to give you a clearer idea. Most of us deal with a wide range of material, and all of us have signed confidentiality clauses as we are privy to some really confidential information.

So, what do we actually do?

Without showing you the texts we’re given it’s difficult to be specific about this, but let me try anyway. The idea is that we aim to help as quickly as possible, so as trainers we need to be as flexible as possible and accept that we might never be able to achieve what we set out to do at the beginning of the day as our agenda gets shifted by the clients‘ needs. As an example, here are a few things I did in terms of on-the-job work last week:

A) I helped someone with their email correspondence to a demanding partner in the States (in this email chain the tone was becoming increasingly heated and it was particularly important to achieve a firm but not overly direct tone — the American was also getting a bit wound up, but I couldn’t do much about that).

B) I helped someone review a draft of a circular regarding an update on the status of a project, and informing everyone across the company that they need to adhere to the attached guidelines. This circular is to be sent out by a board member to all divisions in a multinational — understandably, my participant was keen to make sure that the English was perfect both in terms of style and accuracy.

C) A new lady joined one department I work in this month and has to give two presentations next week in English to senior management. As you can imagine, she’s nervous. She prepared what she wanted to say in advance of our meeting, and we went through it with her giving the presentation the way she had planned to (which was pretty good) . This gave me an opportunity to pick up on any errors that were important to her overall performance but, perhaps more importantly, consider how she could improve the level of language she was using to further improve her style. I gave her relevant feedback, and she did the presentation again.

Why do we do it like this?

Because we’re really able to help the clients with exactly what they need — and in combination with classroom training based not on coursebook content, but rather on their real and changing needs — we can help them directly.

What does the client get out of it?

To name but a few: a boost in confidence, the certainty that documents they are producing or presentations they are giving are really accurate, an improved image, credit from their bosses — the list goes on.

What does the trainer get out of it?

The certainty that what you are covering, whether it is in the on-the-job interactions or in training sessions, is immediately relevant and useful. However much you supplement, you are never going to get the same feeling by working your way through a coursebook.

The reward of having really helped them and the resulting level of motivation; the excitement of actually seeing them put what you’ve taught into action. I can’t wait for next Wednesday, as I’m going to a training session on process changes that two of my participants have prepared with me for over a hundred people. They’ve already run it with confidence in the States, Brazil and China, and this is the European session. I think I’m more nervous than they are, and the added bonus is that it’s going to give me bags of material for our training sessions over the next few weeks! Next time, I’ll let you know how it went.



Presentations: Three Mistakes Even Experienced Presenters Make

A few weeks ago I was coaching two partners at a financial service provider on their presentations.  They were looking to present a new innovative investment product at a series of upcoming client meetings, and together we were sharpening their  message and the delivery.  They did a great job.

It was quarter past six, the end of a very long day, when Jean-Paul, one of the junior specialists, popped into the meeting room.  He’d been waiting patiently outside.  “I wish I could have some sort of presentations training like this, but I’ve only just started here.  Can you give me any tips or tricks?“

Apart from being suitably flattered, I was also, unfortunately, very tired with a 3 hour Friday rush hour drive ahead of me.  We talked a little about his experience and as I knew I’d be back within the next 2 weeks, I suggested I sent Jean-Paul some handy materials and then we could carve out 30 minutes for a coffee next time.

Stuck in traffic 45 minutes later my thoughts began to go over Jean-Paul ‘s question -“Can you give me any tips or tricks on making presentations? “ . Sure, we have a library of resources, examples and suggested reading  – but this didn’t seem to sit well with me. Then I began to reflect on the day itself – here we had a fresh, ambitious and young professional looking to build his presentations to a level comparable to the partners (his hopefully future-self).  The reality is though that regardless of training and experience, many of us still make fundamental mistakes when presenting due to time pressure and prioritization.  Perhaps the most valuable thing I could offer Jean-Paul was to highlight this and try to ensure he kept this in mind as his career, responsibility, workload and pressures increased.

So Jean-Paul, this one’s for you …

Simple mistakes we make in presentations – and how to avoid them

Know your whats AND whys – Incredibly obvious-  but too often when the presentation is just one among many tasks you have to get done, even the most experienced professionals start thinking about  content and structure before they have crystallized  what they want to achieve with the presentation.

An excellent tip is to write down in a single sentence what your presentation is about and why you are presenting.  If you can’t do it in 14 words or less, rewrite it – and one of the 14 words needs to be the powerful “so”. e.g.  I’m sharing three mistakes that even experienced presenters make so you don’t make them .  My first stab at this sentence came in at twenty-eight words- there was a lot of fluff to remove. Now I have a very simple framework to move forward, and clear criteria for what I want to put in and take out.

Complete your presentation before you go anywhere near slides – This one is a killer and everyone has done it. We know we have to make a presentation and the first reaction is to start looking at existing slide sets and begin copy and pasting them into a “new presentation” –  we start thinking in slides, and build our presentations around our visual aids (as opposed to our visuals aiding the presentation).  Plan your presentation and, dare I say it, practice it out loud BEFORE you go anywhere near your slides.

Perhaps the comedic writers Steve Lowe and Brendan McArthur[1] best summed it up – „PowerPoint: The Microsoft tool that encourages people to think and talk like ********s.“

Be comfortable with what you are doing – Your audience’s reaction to you is as important as the content itself. When you come across as unsure of yourself or uncertain of your content you are creating barriers to success.  Now I accept this is a huge developmental area so here is a concrete tip for presenters that even the most seasoned presenters know, and sometimes forget, to follow:

Practice. Practice out loud.  Practice is not thinking to yourself what you could say – it’s actually saying it.  Practice in front of a mirror. Practice your presentation a day before you hold it -if you start practicing an hour before you run the real risk of deciding to change things around which makes things harder.

So Jean-Paul, keep those three points in mind and your presentations will be both effective and memorable.

[1] Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: Insanely Annoying Modern Things – By Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur with Brendan Hay (Grand Central Publishing)