Everything takes place in English. That is, ultimately, why we are employed. However, English language skills alone are not enough. Our business executive students at CEFR B1 or B2 level are dealing with native or near-native speakers with very different accents in very different countries especially as we move more and more to a virtual business environment.
They don’t know the people. They don’t know the country. They don’t know the market. And they don’t understand the accents. So how do you improve productivity and performance in that virtual environment?
Part of the answer is confidence and that comes from learning the same techniques we use in English speaking presentations:
- Keep it concise.
- Keep it structured. (Use frameworks.)
- Use stock phrases. (What the French call ‘automatismes’.)
What does it mean?
KEEP IT CONCISE
Short sentences. Keep the communication clear and simple. ‘Talk like Hemingway’, I often say. The way to keep things concise is to think of everything you say as a product. A product may be a can of Coke. Think of your sentence as a can of Coke – a definite message, package and presentation.
KEEP IT STRUCTURED
Use a structure in presentations and meetings. If you have a clear structure, it frees you to focus on your content. I worked as a BBC broadcaster and producer for 20 years. Have a structure and then be flexible within that. Remember the lights will go off after 30 minutes or whatever. Have a structure that will deliver in that time.
USE STOCK PHRASES
These are the common phrases everyone uses. If you say, ‘If you would have a questions I would try to answer it after finish my presentation’, we’re all thinking, ‘What kind of a speaker is this?’ However, if you learn the stock phrase, ‘If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them at the end,’ everyone’s used to it. They may not even listen but they’ll all get the message: ‘Shut up till I’ve finished!’ Stock phrases free you to focus on what really matters – what you want to say.
HOW TO MAKE A PRESENTATION
I follow Winston Churchill’s advice. ‘Tell them what you’re going to say. Tell them you’re saying it. Tell them you’ve said it.’ On the basis of this we offer a framework, called the 3S Structure, which provides a simple way of organising and delivering a presentation from 3 minutes to over an hour.
As we teach this framework, we can attach to it typical stock phrases that are used in English. Once again, if participants master these they can use them automatically and have time to focus on content – what they want to say.
The 3S STRUCTURE
The three S’s are simple to understand. They are:
S1 SIGNPOST provides the roadmap. S2 SIGNAL tells you where you are in the presentation. S3 SUMMARISE tells you what you’ve learned and explains why it’s important.
Each stage of the 3S Structure has a series of steps. Here they are, with the kind of language I’d expect native speakers to use.
- Introduction Hello, I’m … Thank you for coming.
- Title I’m going to talk about …
- Duration The presentation will last 3 minutes.
- Main points I’m going to make three main points. 1…, 2…, 3…
- Questions If you have any questions please feel free to interrupt.
- Or: If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them at the end.
The important thing is not to miss out any of the steps. Having done this you can move on to S2 SIGNPOST.
- First point My first point is …
- End first point That’s my first point.
- Transition to second point (A sentence or phrase summarising the point).
- Second point My second point is …
- End second point That’s my second point.
- Transition to third point (A sentence or phrase summarising the point).
- Third point Moving on to my third point …
- End of third point That’s my third point.
The importance of S2 SIGNPOST is that the audience often loses track of where the speaker is in the presentation. This happens with both native and non-native speakers of English. The use of these devices makes your progression clear.
- Summary To sum up, I have made three points. (Use the transition phrases here.)
- Conclusion In conclusion, it’s important to recognise …
- Thank you Thank you very much.
- Questions If you have any questions, I’ll be delighted to answer them.
- Or: Any questions?
You’d be amazed how many people forget to say ‘Thank you’ at the end of a presentation. It’s the best way of saying ‘I’ve finished! You can applaud now!’
You can change the language, of course, and you may find some of the language I’ve suggested a bit clichéd, but the formula does work.
An increase in confidence is the main outcome of the 3S Structure. Executives, especially at B1 and B2 level, feel much happier about giving presentations face-to-face or in a virtual setting.
Even C1 executives find it valuable as a reminder. One executive even taught it to his son and reported back he got straight As in his English language course. Try it, then change it, if you want to. It will work for you.
BARRY TOMALIN is the author of many bestselling Collins titles and has presented on his area of expertise, Business English in International contexts, at a variety of conferences.