Public speaking makes almost everyone nervous. It isn’t surprising to learn that a lot of people are afraid of spiders, snakes, or heights. All three things can be dangerous to humans, so those fears make sense. However, public speaking isn’t physically dangerous – our brains just trick us into feeling like it’s dangerous. If this sounds like you, keep reading for my tips on developing your business English presentation skills.
How to Give a Great Business Presentation in English
I used to be terrified of public speaking. And I gave presentations in English, as a native English speaker.
My voice and hands would shake. My face and neck would turn red. I couldn’t think very well – or at all – when I spoke. I would often make simple mistakes because I was so stressed.
And I hated it, but I had to give business presentations at university. As a business student, my final year required three to six presentations every month! Luckily, after I stood in front of my classes about ten to fifteen times I figured out how to practice and each presentation became easier. By the time I graduated, I was comfortable standing in front of people. At my first full-time job, they even sent me to give business presentations and workshops as a representative of my company – and I had fun!
What helped me? Finding some transition phrases that felt natural, a specific type of practice, learning to breathe and slow down, and figuring out how I best deal with questions.
If I can do it, you can do it!
Use simple business English presentation vocabulary and grammar you’re comfortable with…
If you’re already nervous about giving a presentation in your target language, now is not the time to use new vocabulary or complex grammar. If you keep things simple for yourself, it can help you in more than one way.
Help your audience understand you
In the second part of the Globish articles, one suggestion that helps you to be easily understood by everyone makes a lot of sense. In every meeting or business English presentation, “[adapt] your speech to the lowest level” in the room. This is true for all public speakers, whether they are native or non-native presenters.
So, in order to be clear in your presentation, use simple business English vocabulary and phrases that you – and your audience – are comfortable with.
Using simple language also stops extra stress. Trying to use unfamiliar grammar will make everything more difficult than necessary.
For example, if you use a new phrase you’re not comfortable with, it’s easier to forget important information or lose your confidence. Instead of memorizing vocabulary, spend your time becoming comfortable with your presentation topic.
Use transition phrases to move between topics
What’s the purpose of a business presentation? To give information to your audience. The purpose isn’t to entertain your audience, however, you don’t want them to stop listening because it is too complicated or boring.
Therefore, you should keep things as simple as possible while connecting to your audience.
It’s easy to make your transitions feel smooth and less awkward. Use a few simple phrases before you start new slides or topics to help your audience follow along.
“Are we ready to get started?”
If you need to officially start the meeting, this is a gentle way to stop other conversations happening.
First, Next, Then, Finally
An easy way to start each slide is by ordering them out loud. This helps your coworkers keep track of the information.
- “First, let’s look at the industry trends.” “First, this is important because…”
- “Next, the marketing department will start their ads.”
- “Then, we can start phase three.”
- “Finally, we can present the solution to Customer A.”
Now that we know ___, we can ____.
If you’re presenting the solution to a problem, this is a great fill-in-the-blank formula for helping your audience understand the logic of your solution.
- “Now that we know the customer needs Option A, we can update our product.”
- “Now that Project A is finished, we can start Project B.”
I’d like you to…
When you’re ready to end the presentation, you can re-state the most important information or ask your audience to do something.
- “I’d like you to use this information with our customers.”
- “I’d like you to try this during your next customer meeting.”
- “I want you to remember that Option A is a much easier solution to Problem B.”
- “Please keep in mind that Project C will fix a lot of customer problems.”
Practice with and without notes
The most important step to getting completely comfortable with any presentation is to practice the words you’ll say. You should practice the same way you’ll speak on presentation day – without notes.
However, if you memorize every word of your speech and then get interrupted or distracted, you might forget your most important ideas, facts, or statements. The easiest way to smoothly handle distractions is to only memorize the most important things.
Here is my process for practicing:
Read your notes out loud
When you begin to practice your presentation, read everything out loud to make sure you’re comfortable with the words and the order of your slides. You only need to do this three or four times.
As soon as you’re happy with how it sounds, you can start memorizing the very few phrases or details that are the most important.
Repeat your main points until you don’t need your notes
If I needed to give a business English presentation about this blog post, I would memorize only the outline of my main points:
- Use the vocabulary you’re comfortable with.
- Simple grammar.
- Help your audience.
- Use transition phrases to sound natural.
- First, next, then, finally.
- I’d like you to remember…
- Practice with and without notes.
- Use your outline.
- Take deep breaths.
- Nobody notices your pauses.
- Decide how to deal with questions.
- During or after.
Memorizing the outline is a good way to make sure you say everything in the correct order, while sounding natural throughout the rest of your presentation.
Give the full presentation to your mirror
The next step is to talk through your entire presentation – at least three times! – while looking at yourself in the mirror, without your notes.
You’ll probably talk about your supporting information a slightly different way each time you practice. That’s good! Most speaking coaches will tell you that it’s natural to use different words or phrases each time – unless you’re an actor with a script.
Presenting to yourself in the mirror will give you all the benefits of self-talk for general English practice. It will also give you the confidence that – even if you don’t use the exact phrases you planned to use – you will give a great presentation.
- Use the vocabulary you’re comfortable with.
During the presentation, take deep breaths and remind yourself to slow down
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received about presentations was this: Nobody else notices if you pause to take a breath.
And they were right.
When you’re nervous, your heart beats faster. You might forget to breathe, or you might breathe too fast. Don’t get dizzy – that makes business English presentations much too difficult! Instead, take a deep breath to stay calm and steady whenever you need to:
- Before each new slide or topic
- If you forget a word or phrase
- Before answering a question
- If you start talking too fast
Stop at each new slide or topic
Transition phrases help your audience understand the flow of information. If you pause to breathe after the transition, that will help both you and your audience.
Speak slower so you can think slower
Sometimes I make mistakes during my presentations because I start talking so fast that I can’t remember what I want to say next or say something I didn’t mean to say.
It will be much easier to think about your words and presentations if you take the time to slow down a little bit.
Decide how you’ll deal with questions about your business English presentation before you start
I personally prefer to give workshops instead of presentations. I can teach and answer questions during a workshop instead of giving a full speech without interaction from my presentation audience.
So I encourage questions. Answering questions makes me less nervous in general. But does it make you more nervous? This is a personal preference – it isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. But you’ll feel more comfortable if you decide before you stand up in front of people.
Let your audience know you like questions
If you prefer taking questions during the presentation, simply say, “I’m happy to answer questions as we go along.”
You can also say, “Feel free to ask questions.”
These phrases give your audience permission to raise their hands or speak out.
Let your audience know you like to answer questions at the end
If you prefer getting through your presentation and then answering questions, simply say, “I’ll have a few minutes at the end to answer your questions.”
This lets your audience know that they should remember their questions, since you’ll be taking them after the presentation. Since not every business English presentation is the same, it makes the audience’s job easier if you let them know what to expect.
Finally, trust your preparation
After all your hard work, the best – but most difficult – thing to do is to relax and trust your preparation. It’s the same advice that I give in my book, 8 Steps for Interview Prep. Keep in mind that you’re giving a presentation because you know things your colleagues – or customers – don’t know. You’re giving them valuable information!
When you make a mistake, just remember: nobody is perfect. Your coworkers understand that even native speakers make mistakes!
About the Author: Tina Crouch is a writer and Business English coach who started TinaTeachesEnglish.com and published 8 Steps for Interview Prep: How English Learners Can Confidently Answer ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ and Other Questions. She has a unique perspective on language learning after years of studying Italian and loves helping students improve their communication skills.