7 tips on great presentations in English

This article is for you who would like tips on how to give a great presentation – in English – in a multicultural environment.

The 7 tips

  1. Be formal and avoid jokes and irony
  2. Make personal contact with your audience before you start
  3. Be you first
  4. Be the professional next
  5. Start with your key message
  6. End with your key message
  7. Make your final slide a source of inspiration for your audience to promote questions

Read more about of each tip below.

Have you, the listener

  • Attended a talk or a presentation where you were fighting to keep your eyes open?
  • Seen slides full of numbers and text, impossible to digest?
  • Left a presentation not really being sure what the key message was?
  • Not really understood the speaker’s “funny” remarks?

How can you make sure your audience doesn’t think that way about you?

Or have you, the presenter

  • Delivered a presentation where you became doubtful about whether your subject was in fact interesting to the audience?
  • Prepared slides you knew were overloaded with data and text?
  • Rounded off your presentation without much dialogue with your listeners?
  • Felt uneasy with the English language and the jokes you made?

And how can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you (again)?

The audience: more demanding, still polite

When I started my career as an independent communication consultant 35 years ago, it was in many ways OK for audiences to be bombarded with incomprehensible details, exposed to speakers who mumbled and who were not in sync with their audience.

In academia and in business. Audiences were used to pretending to be interested and receptive, even if they had no clue about what was happening. This is not a thing of the past.

We may still attend boring, indigestible and unfocused presentations. TED talks / presentations and social media have made audiences more demanding over the years, true. Audiences even evaluate presentations sometimes.

On top of that, more and more presentations are expected to be delivered in English, often in multi-cultural environments. But we still put up with being bored, absent-minded and perhaps even bewildered. Nodding and smiling. Audiences are generally terribly polite. All over the world.

Mistakes can be a relief

To be quite honest, some the most memorable presentations I have experienced (both as a speaker and listener) were the ones that went wrong: the projector failed, or the hosts forgot to book a room. For some reason, these mishaps often contributed to the value of a presentation  in that there was much dialogue between speaker and audience, and the speaker might – in a sweat – say: “Now, what I really wanted to tell you…” The presenter became a human being who had an important story to tell us.

Speaker and audience shared a wavelength where the speaker did not only speak to the audience but engaged in a conversation with them. Somehow cultural and linguistic barriers disappeared.

How can we make a presentation valuable and enjoyable?

I am not advocating that things must go wrong for the presentation to be successful. But perhaps we can learn a bit from what makes a talk or presentation a valuable and enjoyable experience?

How can we achieve this across cultural borders with English as the working language?

Here are the seven tips again:

Tip No 1

Formality is your protection: If you are Danish, you may want to be disarmingly informal. Don’t! Formality is your protection – jokes and irony may do wonders in Denmark, but can do damage abroad. And nobody will tell you! So, if in doubt, be formal. You can adapt your behaviour towards more informality later.

Tip No 2

Your attitude counts: We are social creatures – and presentation s are social events. Show interest in your audience by making links to which they can identify. Make personal contact and talk to people in the lobby: before you go on stage, during breaks and afterwards. Ask questions, be curious – interest in other people always works!

Tip No 3

Be you first: Before you begin your presentation, share a short story or observation of relevance to the subject of your presentation. Your style is relaxed and personal, yet respectful and polite.

Tip No 4

Be the professional next: After the more informal start, change style and become more formal and professional. It will make your audience listen to you.

Tip No 5

Start with your key message: Start your presentation with your key message or key points (“What I really want to tell you”). Your style is focused, insistent and formal.

Tip No 6

End with your key message: Putting it into the context of your presentation. Again, be focused, insistent and formal. Use the final slide with your key message.

Tip No 7

Make your presentation a social affair: The final slide with your key points will work as a source of inspiration for the audience: they qualify comments and questions. The final slide is the most precious of them all. Treat it accordingly. It encourages interaction with your listeners. Across cultural borders – also in English.

Becoming a compelling presenter: plan and practise!

There is a lot more to it, of course.

Giving presentations in a multicultural setting with English as a foreign language can be quite a challenge. But with these 7 simple tips, you stand a good chance of delivering a valuable presentation at home and abroad – you might even enjoy it yourself!

If you are interested in becoming better at giving presentations in English, then join our course: “Presentation techniques in English”

Read the course description in Danish
Read the course description in English

An interesting link

Carmine Gallo offers five more tips in a Harvard Business Review article.

Claus Adam Jarløv