Become an Effective Presenter in the U.S.
By Vince Varallo
Delivering effective presentation in the U.S. can be a daunting task for international leaders whose primary language is not English. Yet, both formal and informal presentations are cornerstones of business conducted in the U.S. In work groups, sharing information in team meetings and presenting key findings can be daily activities. Presenting ideas about products and innovations are standard for many leaders. Delivering follow-up information to peers and superiors are commonplace. Clearly, presentation skills are a must when working in the U.S. The purpose of this article is to provide tips and suggestions for the international leader who cannot afford to shy away from public-speaking events.
What skills do these leaders need to develop to be effective, if not dynamic, in presentations?
- Use Clear and Concise Language
- Understand the Audience & the Cultural Expectations
- Organize the Material Appropriately
- Deliver the Content with Impact
The linguistic challenges are numerous as English might be the leader’s second or even third language. In our experience, we have found that many of these international leaders come to the U.S. with an excellent foundation in English. However, delivering presentations can be challenging because of vocabulary, clarity of speech, and lack of vocal variety.
Of course, the first recommendation is to get the proper training. Leaders are often beyond the standard ESL programs and need to adapt to native rhythms and expressions. For example, I heard a colleague say the other day “stop putting me on.” These phrases are elusive for most international professionals but represent the type of English Americans use everyday.
Strong clarity and intonation also present significant challenges. Naturally, each language has its own rhythm and cadence. The best way to learn such advanced structures in U.S. English is to seek high-level training either on a private or a small group basis.
Audience & Cultural Expectations
U.S. cultural expectations regarding business presentations focuses on three areas: a dynamic introduction, effective interaction, and specific action plans. The old paradigm–that each presenter must begin with some sort of joke–has shifted. In today’s politically correct environment, jokes are not appropriate, but the presenter still must “break the ice” and the get the audience involved. Here are some of the attention grabbers that presenters can use effectively.
- Startling Statements
As an example, I often work with multicultural audiences and begin by telling them,
“What you will learn in this workshop will be completely useless…..(then, I provide a long pause before finishing the sentence)…
“unless you use the skills. Welcome. My name is Vince Varallo and our topic today is improving your presentations. This is performance-based training.”
Developing interaction is also critical in a U.S.style presentation. Americans learned at a very young age that interaction is an important part of the educational process. Unlike many European and Asian countries, the lecture is not a popular format. There is a careful balance that must be maintained during discussions. The presenter must remember that he/she is in control of the content and must guide discussion without losing focus. The presenter must also be careful to get all involved and not allow extrovert participants to dominate.
Finally, the U.S is action-oriented in business, and the presenter carefully constructs the content so that a path is clear for follow up, responsibilities, and deadlines. Without this component, the presentation might be perceived as a waste of the participant’s time.
Organization of Material
Most U.S. presentations are organized using an inductive style. The most important and specific results are discussed up front. The great American writer Mark Twain once said that in a good presentation one should 1) tell them what you are going to tell them, 2) tell them, and 3) tell them what you told them.
This inductive style moves from the specific to the general. The presenter boils a specific topic into a sentence usually declared at the onset of the presentation. The results of an experiment, for example, are detailed in the opening. Specific examples are used to support the main idea. Generalizations and categorizations appear near the end. The conclusion is a restatement of the opening; however, now broad and general ramifications are brought in. This style is best for information sharing, new product introduction, and technical presentations.
In a sales presentation, or when you need to persuade others to support your point of view, the deductive approach is a much better style of organizing. Basically, you must demonstrate the reasons why your proposal is best for the organization. The deductive approach will allow you to follow the model problem, analysis, solution.
State the Problem: Demonstrate the severity of the situation
Use Analysis: Upfront & hidden costs; use real examples
Provide a Solution: List options; present your option as the best
Standing up and delivering the presentation can make even the most seasoned presenter nervous. Nerves, however, are positive, and we use them to express high energy. The conversion of nerves to energy is critical. The audience appreciates the passion.