'If you can't explain it simply, you do not understand it well.'
'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.'
Leonardo da Vinci.
K.I.S.S. - Keep it short and simple.
B2 and above.
Presenting in English for non-native speakers is a challenge that many find daunting. Keeping things as simple as possible is often sadly overlooked. Over the years, I've heard a number of objections to using the above acronym as a modus operandi for giving a presentation:
'My subject is extremely complicated! My customers expect detailed information.'
'I'm a professional - a specialist in my field. I have to show my audience this, otherwise, they will not take me seriously.'
'K.I.S.S.' means 'Keep it short and stupid!'
So, what were Einstein and da Vinci talking about? Is simplicity possible when presenting something which may be very complicated and detailed? I think it is, and to illustrate why and how I'd like to look at three aspects of giving a presentation.
A tried and tested method - by the way, I'm using it myself in this post - is:
Say what you are going to talk about.
Say how you are going to talk about it.
Say what you have said.
One of the things we have to ask ourselves is: 'what are we trying to do when we present something?' Most of us - unless we happen to be a genius like Albert Einstein- are not capable of effectively assimilating a lot of complicated information aurally. We want an overview which clearly outlines the main issues in such a way the specific purpose of the presentation is effectively achieved. This of course could be anything - selling something, explaining a specific situation, offering alternatives to enable decisions, giving advice, reporting budget forecasts or, simply passing on information. The important thing is; your listeners must be able to follow you.
One possible method is to give out the structure of your presentation as a handout and actually 'signpost' your listeners as you go along. For example: 'Ok that's all I want to say about..... let's move on to the third part of my presentation...'
You can find more examples of this sort of language by downloading the' Survival Language for Presentations' PDF attached to this post. Please click the following link:
The advantage of this method is that it reassures your audience. 'This person is organised - we're not going to be here all day'. By the way, try and keep the presentation no longer than 20 minutes - most of your listeners will be more than grateful. 20 minutes is the average period that most of us can sustain our concentration.
To a certain extent, this varies according to the situation in which you're giving the presentation. If it is a meeting with a limited number of participants, you may be sitting down rather than standing. You may find it more effective to encourage questions as you go along - so that the presentation becomes more of a discussion. Your language skills would have to be B2 and above to be able to do this confidently. An easier way - and more advisable if your English level is below B2 - is to say what you want to say and ask for questions at the end. In any case, think carefully about to whom, where and how you're giving the presentation and make sure all your equipment is working.
Giving a presentation in a second language is a challenge for most people. The temptation is to simply read text from a slide. However, this defeats the purpose of presenting. If you're simply reading text that your audience is reading - they don't need you. You could have sent them this electronically or on a piece of paper. So why are you there? To explain what is not immediately apparent. The text on your slides should be not much more than prompts to aid your memory about what you are going to say. Some people go as far as the 6/6 rule - on each slide you should have no more than 6 lines, each with no more than 6 words. You have to be brave. Use simple language with standard phrases that you have practised and memorised. You will find a list of these standard phrases in the 'Survival Language for Presentations' sheet attached. Don't try and learn all of these - pick out the ones you feel are right for you, practise them and use them over and over again.
These should be as simple as possible. The text should be minimal, large enough to read at a distance and clear. Again use standard phrases to prepare your audience for what you are about to show them - see sheet attached. If you wish to give complicated and detailed information, put this on paper as a handout or suggest that you send it electronically after the presentation.
To sum up.
Determine a clear structure, which your audience can easily follow. Keep your language simple and practise using the standard phrases until you can use them with confidence. I always use the following criterium: 'Can an intelligent person who knows nothing about this subject follow me?' Language accuracy is not as important as functionality. Everyone makes mistakes in a second language - these are easily forgiven. What is not so easy to forgive is a lack of clarity, disorganisation and tedious delivery. Remember - 'less is more'. Leave the audience with a feeling that they want to know more, rather than thinking- 'thank God, that's over!'
Please get in touch if you like further support. I'm quite happy for you to send me your slides, or we can work together via Skype.