Many of us have had moments in our careers when we could say, ‘I wish I had more confidence’. It might have been during a job interview, a contract negotiation, a challenging conversation with our boss or when presenting. As a manager or a leader in a corporate organisation, you are often required to share your ideas, projects, and results in the form of a presentation in front of your team or key stakeholders. And you may have found yourself in situations when anxiety before the presentation affected you. Even though you practised a lot, you may have gone blank in the middle of the sentence, had a shaky start, or didn’t know how to answer a question. And what if we add another layer of complexity to the presentation challenge? What if you need to deliver it in your second language? I have recently been working with several clients from Poland, China, Israel and France, for whom presenting confidently in English is a real Achilles heel. In our latest blog, I would like to share a few tips on how to build your confidence when delivering a presentation, specifically when English is not your first language. I know everyone has a different level of spoken English, so I have tried to cover all levels of ability. However, before I start, let’s define what we mean by self-confidence:
“Our self-assurance in trusting our abilities, capacities and judgements. And the belief that we can meet the demands of a task. To be confident that what I have done is okay.” Source: https://psychologydictionary.org/self-confidence/
You might be good at running meetings and delivering presentations in your language. You are an ambitious leader who delivers great results, so you want to share this with your team and/ or senior leaders. However, you recognise that in the meeting, your vocabulary was not quite right, it took you longer to understand what others were asking you, you had a sense that you might have missed something, or you were unable to explain a nuance of an issue in exactly the same way as you could have in your mother tongue. As a result of these feelings, you leave your meeting feeling disappointed with yourself. My clients often compare themselves to other English-speaking colleagues, which is not helpful as different people have different abilities.
1. Set mini Goals
Let’s focus on mini goals you can achieve to overcome this feeling. Start with where you wish to get to, then break it into smaller steps. For example, one of my clients struggled with ‘blank’ moments, so he worked on a strategy of re-capping where he was and following the presentation. Another client struggled with forgetting specific phrases, we worked on identifying keywords before the presentation and having them written down next to her, and if she forgot a word, she could explain it differently. Another leader wanted to work on his answers to questions after presentations; what if he didn’t understand the question properly and felt confused? To overcome this, we worked on either repeating the question in his own words to check if he understood and then answering it or answering the question first and checking at the moment that this is what the person was looking for. That gave him more reassurance that the person received what they needed. As you may already notice, I encourage you to identify a specific area that you want to improve and define what success looks like to you, be realistic. What we’re trying to shift here is your feelings and thoughts afterwards: from ‘That wasn’t great at all’ or ‘I’m not great at this’ to ‘It wasn’t perfect yet, but I managed to achieve my goal, and I will get better next time’.
2. Prepare ‘Go To Phrases’
At this point, I’m thinking about two scenarios. First, prepare specific business terms and keywords that need to be included in your presentation or that you expect others will refer to. Also, think about any words that you personally tend to forget. Make a list of those and keep adding to it whenever you practise presentations or have a conversation in English so they become more natural. Another angle to this topic is communicating that you don’t know something. What are the right phrases to communicate that? Observe how your English colleagues achieve this. Maybe they say things like: ‘I can assure you that my team has been looking into this matter, let me confirm the latest findings, and I will come back to you as soon as I can’ or ‘Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This need has not been identified before; I will make sure it will be included in our next report.’
3. Practice speaking in English
We can divide language skills into passive: listening and reading; and active: writing and speaking. It means that in speaking, we need to actively produce a message instead of ‘only’ understanding it. Therefore, think about different ways to increase your opportunities to speak in English: to practise formulating thoughts, to put certain phrases in the right context, and to get your mouth muscles familiar with the right articulation and pronunciation. For example, you can start talking to yourself out loud, give yourself a challenge of 10 – 15 minutes a day, listen to the news and try to repeat some sentences, get one of your family members or a friend to practise English conversations, try to have as many interactions as possible with your English speaking colleagues.
4. Manage your Nerves
Experiencing stress before and during presentations is normal. Your stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are rising; your heart is beating faster, your palms are sweating, your breath is quicker, and your mouth is getting dry. Sometimes you might find yourself getting in a fight-flight or freeze reaction. Maybe you are trying to calm down, but it is not working. Instead of telling yourself to calm down, use your body and connect to the present moment. Put both feet on the ground, feel the surface underneath, if you can stretch your arms as much as you can, or sit straight, try to take up more space. Take a few deep breaths and focus on the journey of the air into your lungs; slow down. Feel your body and tell yourself that you are safe. Don’t forget that your body language is also hugely important in communication, so the more relaxed your muscles are, the more chances you have to show your confidence through your posture and gestures.
5. Manage your Thoughts
I feel I could write a whole separate article on managing unhelpful thoughts. Let me mention a couple at this point.
Catastrophising: ‘My presentation is going to be a disaster. I will embarrass myself. My colleagues will laugh at me. My boss will fire me after this.’ Ask yourself honestly, how likely is each of these scenarios on a scale from 1 to 10? Most of the time, you realise these fears are unrealistic. However, if other fears are more likely to happen, focus on what is in your control and what you may need to let go of.
Black and white thinking or perfectionism: ‘My presentation will be either very good or bad if I make one mistake or don’t know how to answer a question’. What about the whole range of greys in between? Your presentation can still be well received, even if you need to come back to your notes for a second or if you need to come back to someone with a particular answer after the presentation. Can you think about presentations of your colleagues or your boss when things like that happened, and actually you have appreciated their work and found it useful?
6. Visualise your Success
How to build confidence when we don’t have enough chances to practise in real life? The answer is offered by visualisation. When you think about elite sports people, they visualise their practice in their heads – over and over again. Our brains can build and strengthen without real-life experience. Take an example of a presentation; you work on it, you repeat it, you build your memory and feel more comfortable with the topic. However, I would like you to practise deeper: imagine exactly what you will see, hear and feel during this presentation, step by step, detail by detail. Close your eyes and imagine which room you are entering. Which of your colleagues are here with you in the room? Where are you standing/sitting? How are you acknowledging everyone? How are you starting the presentation? What reactions are you seeing and hearing? What are you feeling? Visualise your full presentation.
It is important to remember that everyone feels nervous about presenting at some stage, regardless of whether they present in their first language or not. If you would like to learn more about presenting confidently and explore this topic further, please get in touch to arrange a no-obligation discovery call. Let’s connect.