Three Big Mistakes ESL Executives Make with their Presentations

Three Big Mistakes ESL Executives Make with their Presentations Click To Tweet

I really identify with the struggle ESL executives face when putting together a speech.  It’s difficult to give a solid presentation without struggling with the language, let alone trying to manage phrasing and articulation while presenting.  That’s a lot to juggle.  During my years as a speech coach in New York City and New Jersey I’ve seen a lot of ESL executives give a lot of different types of speeches.  Here are three mistakes I see most often:

  1. Focusing too much on the articulation of individual sounds, and not enough on the musicality of the language – It’s important to circle trouble words within your speech outline, and work on their pronunciation, but it’s equally important to make sure you circle the focus words within a phrase, and lift your intonation on them.  The rhythm and intonation patterns of the language are more important to master than individual sounds.
  2. Going too fast! – If you are an ESL executive, here is the best piece of advice I can give you about presenting… YOU CANNOT SPEAK TOO SLOW!  I know, I know, you feel like you are boring the room.  But would you rather take the risk of being a little too boring, or not being understood?  Pausing is powerful.  Take your time. Focus on your articulation.
  3. Using complex words when simple ones will do – I recently had an executive who was giving a major speech at a conference and he was throwing out a number of four and five syllable words like “instrumentation”.  Naturally, he was stumbling quite a bit.  There’s no need to use complex words, in fact the worlds greatest speakers (including Winston Churchill) generally advocated using simple words while presenting.If you want to make improvement on your articulation, join me for an upcoming online accent reduction course.

The Unexpected Key To Presenting Successfully

In the last presentation skills workshops I gave, I had a few clients who were having trouble being understood.  They had amazing content, and dynamic non-verbal communication, but not a word came across.  Part of the problem was their accent, but more specifically, the bigger problem was their sentence stress and intonation.

Let’s take the word “syllable”.  If you mispronounce this word and say “swablle”, you’ll likely still be understood.  But if you say “syLAble”, and hit the wrong syllable, you will definitely not be understood.

Check out the video above.  I think Mr. Scalabre has an excellent presentation here, but a very bumpy delivery.  It’s possible to understand him, but it’s a strain to get his ideas.   Why?  Syllables.  He’s hitting the wrong notes.

Don’t forget to circle the words that give you trouble when presenting.  Look up their proper pronunciation, and work them.  A lot.  You’ll be glad you did.

Three Core Sounds Every ESL Executive Should Master

There are 44 different sounds in American English.  All are important, but some sounds are more important than others.  Which sounds should you tackle first?

Vowel sounds play a very important part in language.  We lengthen and intone vowel sounds when we emphasize certain words in a sentence.  We also lengthen vowel sounds to indicate syllable stress.  Vowel sounds play an important part in making words, and sentences, knowable.

Practice these sounds:

1.) The “Cat” Vowel Sound – This is a very common vowel sound.  To make this sound, bring your lips into a smile.  Keep the tongue flat. The sound is short.

2) The “Fun” Vowel Sound – This sound often gets mispronounced.  Many executives, especially Russian speakers of English, make it more complicated than it is.  This sound is made by keeping the jaw and tongue very relaxed.   The sound is short. It sounds like a small grunt.

3) The “High” Vowel Sound – This sound is long and your lips, tongue and lower jaw move while you make it.  To start, round your lips as if you are holding a small ball in your mouth.  As you make the sound, move your lips into a slight smile, and arch the middle of the tongue high toward the hard palette.  Count to two as you make the sound.

What Should Foreign Language Executives Do To Learn English Properly?


 When I am coaching an ESL business executive in presentation training and accent reduction at one of my offices in New York City or New Jersey, I often ask them to look at these two words:

Pete and Pet

How many vowel letters are there? There is one letter, the letter “e” (repeated three times).  How many vowel sounds are there? There are two. What does this say about the English language?  Namely, that it’s not phonetic; one symbol can have many sounds.  Yet most English or accent reduction students are still vainly trying to learn the language by looking at the words and then pronouncing them phonetically, according to how they think each letter sounds.  But as we’ve seen, one symbol can have multiple sounds.  What to do?

Listen.  We live in a culture that prioritizes viewing (the internet, our phones, iPad’s, etc.) and the art of listening is getting lost.  But we have to hear the specific sounds of American English before we can pronounce them.  It’s important to recognize that there are 44 sounds in well spoken English (not 26).  Familiarize yourself with these sounds, and listen for them in your friend’s speech.  Hire a coach (like yours truly) to help you drill the sounds of American English and make them habitual.  Weave these changes into your conversational speech and your presentations.  By prioritizing listening, you can dramatically improve the way you speak.