Challenges in public speaking for ESL

Challenges in public speaking for ESL

Do you want to become a public speaker in tech?

CFP day conference is a global event dedicated to people who like to build public speaking skill. In particular, in the Tech area when you want to talk in a conference, you need to know some tips from content preparation to submission and presenting.
CFP day has offered some workshops, talks and panels where well-known speakers join the discussion and share their experience and thoughts with the audience who are interested in stepping into public speaking.
There is an ESL panel which means a panel with speakers who have "English as Second Language" and the purpose of this panel is to offer advice for people who don't have English as a first language but they like to develop skill in public speaking.
This panel consists of 4 active succesful speakers in the IT community including Wagner Silveira and leila Etaati from New Zealand, Inaie Ignacio from Perth and myself, Nelly Sattari, from Sydney.
Here in this post, I am going to brief you on some of the discussion and answers I provided from my perspective and what I learned so far.

Biggest barriers for an ESL speaker

Public speaking in a non-mother tongue is not easy. There are some challenges in your journey that you need to know and overcome. To be honest with you all of them are part of a bigger category which is Failure and the solution is safe to fail environment which I will discuss. Having the failure broken down, here is the list of tangible possible barriers:

Language related barriers

Common language errors are what most of the non-english speakers are afraid of. Generally speaking, the speaker is worried that their language error or even the accent causes the audience to interpret the meaning different from what the person is actually trying to say.
1- Word choice
2- Word order
3- Word stress
4- Pronunciation
5- Prepositions
6- Intonations
7- Articles

Cultural related barries

One of the most amazing facts about Australia is it's a multicultural country. Having said that, people from different cultures have unique elements which does not sound familiar or even make sense for other cultures or sometimes they are a bit offensive. Therefore, we as speakers should be aware of them.
Some examples that you can pay attention to them is:

  • Communication: Some people came from an amazing culture which makes them so direct. However, sometimes it can be shocking for others or they might be perceived as rude.
  • Think Complex: Some cultures think philosophically and they are sophisticated. So they have an intention to make things complex. However, in the Australian culture, people try to avoid complexity. They expect you to tell them 3 things.
    what are you going to tell me?, Tell me about it, Tell me what you told them
  • Greeting
  • Humour: Some cultures often enjoy joking throughout the conversation to lighten the mood bt it can be unappropriated in other cultures. Especially some of the jokes when they are translated from one language to another it loses the meaning and become completely awkward.
  • body language: Use of Hands or Fingers or even the way you sit.
    A simple example is saying 'NO'
    To do that some people move their head side to side, some people up and down, some just raised the eyebrow.
    Another example is the way we say Ok, while it can be very polite in one language it can be quite offensive in other cultures.

So if you are delivering a talk in an English country make sure you know their body language, gestures and identify any possible offensive expression.

Managing panic and stress before and during the talks

We all need some stress/state management tools in our life to deal with stress, problem and anxiety and public speaking is not any exception.
Some of the tools that I found helpful particularly for public speaking are:

Physical approaches

Breathing is the most important in the tool list.
For Calming Breath take a long, slow breath in through your nose. Hold your breath to the count of three. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.

Another technique is doing some quick exercises before your talk to pump more blood to different areas. Like doing some push-ups or going up and down stairs if you will.

Good sleep before your talk and maybe take a sip of wine or some herbal relaxing teas.

Mental approaches

Practice your talk as many as you can. So you feel you are on the top of that.

Remind yourself that the nervous energy that you feel is sort of Excitement and is not necessarily bad. So enjoy the Adrenaline

Attend Other Speeches to learn from others and make the public speaking more natural and familiar for yourself.

Don't be late especially if the talk is in-person. Get into the venue early and meet and greet other people. Try to find familiar faces and it makes you more comfortable.

Remind yourself why are you doing the talk and here why you need to have a good reason. Yoga is also a good friend for those who are interested, to give you some balance, breathing techniques and deeper inside to know you are bigger than all your problems.

Beyong all these techniques, I always remind myslef that, hey I am just going to share what amazed me with other friends who have similar interest. Take it easy :)

How do you deal with interruptions when presenting

Interruptions can be too generic. It might be :

  • Language barriers (not understanding someone, your message is not transferred,...)
  • Someone asking crazy questions or making unfair comments
  • Technical issues like power are gone, audio is not working, Slides are not connected, ...

My strategy for all of them is The Transparency Policy. Being authentic helps you acknowledge if something is misunderstood. You can simply ask people to rephrase their question/statement. Even sometimes you can get the help from the audience to say you did not get the point and if someone can help you to get the context.
I had an experience where I was talking and two people were whispering and laughing loudly which made me interrupted. Following my policy, I paused and asked them what are they laughing at?
Or if I am not sure about the pronunciation (Which normally I check before the session) I just ask the audience that how do you pronounce it?

What is your strategy to make the audience stay engaged throughout your presentation?

Eye contact and a bit of smile :)

The audience don't feel relaxed when you are stressed.

Proper setup

If you do a virtual talk, make sure your microphone has good quality, make sure your webcam is descent and the angle is correct. Investigate your lighting and make sure you have good enough light on your face. Look into the camera is another form of eye contact in virtual talks.

Interactive demo

if you have dem make it hosted on the cloud and make the URL or QRcode available to the people so they can connect and see what you are talking about

Kick-off Strongly

Communications experts are all agreed that the first three minutes of a presentation are the most important. They talk about ‘hooks’ – simple techniques for getting the immediate attention of the audience.

  1. Give them a problem to think about.
  2. Give them some amazing facts.
  3. Give them a story or personal anecdote.

Ask questions during the talk

Don't make people uncomfortable, let them use a digital sticky note board to add their questions to the wall. or using chatbox or running a poll.

Telling some personal experiences, challenges, failures or stories

Games or ice breakers

  • Running a poll: Instead of asking questions with open answers , you just limit the answers to a few options
  • Name pickers : when you want to draw a lottory for the audience
  • Digital wall for ideas/questions
  • Fist of Five to get some feedback on audience understanding

Presentation Techniques

  • Choose the right method for the slide
    Depends on the topic you can use different methods to create your slides, One which I found helpful is Takahashi method where there is no pictures and no charts are used. Only a few words are printed on each slid as a key points to help audience track the flow.
  • Make each part of your talk timeboxed and fairly short to avoid making people tired or bored
  • I prefer recorded demos to live ones where you make people watch your typing
  • Learning story structure PASTOR(Person, problem, pain)
    For instance, if you’re a man who struggles with his weight, you’ve tried everything, and you’re almost ready to give up...
    (consequences of not solving the problem) Ignoring this problem only makes it worse, and puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
    Story, solution, system
    I know how you feel, but I found a way out and I can show you how.
    Just look at these results others have enjoyed.
    Offer (80% destination and 20% vehicle)
    Imagine what it will feel like to be fit, trim and healthy. Here’s what you get with your kit...
    Response (asking for the sale – tell them to buy)
    Click below, fill in your credit card information and you’ll be downloading your handbook in the next two minutes or less.

Know your audience

Gathering some preknowledge if possible is a great idea otherwise you can get to know them by asking a few questions and see how do they answer, how do they react and communicate. You need a bit of philosophy.

Know your audience by asking a few questions to analyse them.

Do you think pronunciation discount your credibility on the topic you present to a large audience?

To be honest with you, at the beginning I felt upset but I started my feeling and asking why? and it changed my perception and it does not bother me at all.

I started getting honest feedback from some of my audience and interestingly, they did not even notice that mistake and could not even remember. I realized, that does not look like so important for people.

Learning a new language is a conflict! You want to learn a new language to succeed but unless you fail in the learning process you won't progress which makes you look imperfect but that's the only way. We just need to make ourselves comfortable with Failour and accept it as part of the growth!

Having said that, I always run my talk (Videos) by mentors and English speaker experts and try to learn from my mistakes. Recording my talk and listening to that helps me understand what is wrong in the flow.

Also more importantly as Noam Chomsky a linguist philosopher said 'A language is not just words. It's a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community.”
Indeed, the language is so much more than mere words. There are a lot more to contribute which is how to shape the content, how you express it through different techniques and tools and how your character can reflect in what you are saying.

What is the most unique element of ESL speaker?

Everyone thinks that second language speakers just have barriers while I think sometimes it is a privilege to be second language speaker.
Different cultures have interesting stories which are quite new to other cultures and they help you to come up with unique stories. That helped me with one of the entertaining talks that I was asked to give in one of the conference events or say after parties where I used one of the interesting stories from my culture and connected it to the tech world.
Another benefit is, as ESL speakers have a limited amount of words compare to a native speaker, they normally go right to the points and cut the fluff which makes the talk more understandable and focused.

Additional References

Simon Sinek
High Performance Planner
Presentation techniques
Presentation Courses by Damian Conway
English for Business by Leonie Tillman
Technical presentations
Digital Ice breaker for presentations