I work with a leading international telecommunications company with its headquarters in Paris. I teach international communication in English to senior managers. They interface with customers worldwide but most intensively with the UK, US, India, China, Egypt and Brazil.
They communicate primarily by conference calls, mainly by phone but also occasionally by video. Their main problems are fluency, confidence and effectiveness. Is there a way that we, as communication trainers, can help?
Evidence suggests these things will help:
- a clear and consistent meetings structure
- a strategy for convenors to keep control (especially when native speakers tend to take over).
- a strategy for participants to intervene.
To achieve these three aims I invoke my mantra:
Short – sharp – sweet
Frameworks Stock phrases
Have a structure. It frees you to focus on your content. Fit your content to your structure.
Learn the everyday phrases that everyone uses – and use them.
That frees you to focus on what you want to say that is different.
Armed with our three principles – be concise, use a framework and exploit stock phrases that everyone recognises – let’s look at the first problem: structure.
THE MEETINGS FRAMEWORK
The meetings framework is fairly formal but it allows overseas executives to follow a clear road map and fit their use of English and their content to it. If you are a native speaker, it will be totally familiar. If you are not, it may not be.
I divide the meeting into two parts – the pre-meeting (before the current agenda), and the meeting (the current agenda).
The training methodology is simple.
- Teach the structure off the pre-meeting
- Explain the different terms
- Teach phrases to go with each stage
- Get each person in the group to run the pre-meeting stage so they get familiar with the structure and the terminology
We then do the same with the second part of the meeting. To practise, we agree an agenda. The group appoints a convenor. The convenor runs the meeting. Afterwards, we debrief on the successes and challenges and also on any language confusion that arose.
The outcomes are more efficient meetings and greater confidence and fluency for the convenor. He or she has acquired a road map to navigate by. Many say they wish to introduce the same systematic approach in France.
So the technique works both in international and home markets.
HOW TO CONTROL THE MEETING
If you are a non-native speaker in a conference call or meeting with native speakers, it is easy to lose control. People speak fast with different accents. You are trying to take the minutes, keep to time and keep everyone focused on the point under discussion. We suggest the following strategy.
The methodology is as before:
- Teach each stage
- Elicit or teach appropriate phrases convenors can use
- Practise with different participants running different parts of the agenda
HOW TO INTERVENE
A third problem raised by non-native speakers is how to intervene in a meeting. The non-native speaker’s lament is common. ‘Think, translate, open mouth, too late!’ The conversation has already moved on. We suggest the following strategy, which many non-native speakers find really useful.
Step 4 needs a little explanation. It is to do with being concise. Be clear – make your point clearly. Be tight – be concise, don’t waste time. Be light – don’t be too serious or too pompous. And finally, be polite – always be polite to the other people in the meeting.
These are three strategies of many we teach to non-native speaker executives running, or taking part in, international meetings, either virtual or face-to-face.
The outcomes for them are confidence, greater fluency and the ability to run meetings, or take part in meetings, more effectively.
This article is based on the presentation Barry Tomalin gave at the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Languages (IATEFL) conference in Liverpool, UK on April 9th 2013.