How to present well in English when it’s your second language

Giving a presentation in a second language can be exciting, challenging and very nerve-wracking! Here are some tips to help you do a great job on the day.

First of all, prepare well…

1. Maximise your confidence by optimising your English skills

Think about your level of English. Are you happy with your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills? Knowing that you can communicate well will give you confidence and stop you worrying about your language capabilities. If you have any concerns about your English, take action to improve it. If necessary, take some lessons.

2. Build up your stamina!

Some students have good levels of English but find it hard to speak for more than a few minutes. If this is you, find opportunities to practice your speaking. For example, discuss your presentation topic with your English-speaking colleagues: doing this will lengthen the time you can speak (and listen) without getting tired.

3. Prepare excellent presentation materials

Make sure that the visual and audio resources that you are going to use are the very best they can be.

For example, think about layout, font and content – is your information engaging, clear to understand and grammatically correct? Are your resources helping you to get your message across, or are they a distraction?

Here at MB English Plus, we can proofread and comment on your presentation materials.

4. Know your material

Just like any good actor / actress, make sure that you know what you are going to say, so that you can perform well when giving your presentation.

Check that you are pronouncing technical terms correctly, and use the right collocations (words that are commonly used with your technical terms).

Take time to practice your talk and get feedback on your performance.


One week before…

If you are not speaking English every day, then the week before the presentation reconnect with the English language. Do some listening, speaking, reading and writing in English, so that it feels familiar to you. Some students have told me that, after spending some time in their own country speaking their first language, when they come to the UK it can take a few days for their brain to get used to communicating in English.


On the day…

A woman explaining a point to people sitting around a table in a conference room.

1. The first sentence

At the beginning of a presentation, many people find that nerves can make them speak too quickly or forget what they were going to say. If you think this might happen to you, write out your introductory sentence in the notes or make it part of your slide. Take a deep breath and read out your first sentence (or a little more if that is not enough to calm you down). Then settle into your talk – as you relax the speed of your delivery will slow down and quite often the fluency of your English will improve.

2. Worried about stamina? Put a break into your presentation

If you think that you might start to get tired after a certain amount of time speaking, put some content into your presentation that lets you to take a break. For example, play an appropriate video or some audio that lasts for a couple of minutes. This could include a brief case study, the demonstration of an experiment, or some other relevant information.


After the talk – taking questions

1. Practice taking questions beforehand

Before the day of your presentation, take questions in English from your colleagues, so that you can practice giving answers. Watch talks on a similar topic, to see what sort of questions may be asked, so that you can think about how to phrase your answers.

2. What if I don’t understand the question #1?

Sometimes you don’t hear all of the question clearly. So, you need to get the person asking the question to repeat ONLY the part that you didn’t understand. You do this by looking at them quizzically and ‘repeating’ their question up to the point where you couldn’t understand it.

For example:

Questioner: Now that you have completed the experimental phase, what xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx?

You: Now that we have completed the experimental phase…??

Questioner: Yes, What will you do to scale up the process?

You: Oh, we will be…

3. What if I don’t understand the question #2?

If you don’t understand a phrase that the questioner uses, repeat it as a question:

Questioner:  Don’t you think that your new process will be just a drop in the ocean when it comes to combatting climate change?

You: A drop in the ocean??

Questioner: I mean, it won’t it have little effect against such a serious problem?

You: No, I think it will be significant because…


Over to you…

Hopefully, these tips will help you deliver a great presentation. If you have an opinion on this topic or advice that could help others to give a presentation in a second language, then please leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Thank you.


Photo credits:

  • Microphone: freestocks.org from Pexels
  • Conference room discussion / People Having Meeting Inside Conference Room: Christina Morillo from Pexels

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