I recently had the opportunity to speak in Dominican Republic to an audience with 500 Spanish speakers. The event organizers specifically wanted an English keynote presentation, even though the audience didn’t speak English as a first language. There was some concern about whether or not the audience would understand the presentation.
I’ve delivered many international keynote presentations, so I wanted to share some of the tips that I’ve learned for speaking to an audience when English isn’t the first language.
1) Speak slowly
- This is the most important one. SLOW IT DOWN. People are translating in their head as you speak, so you want to slow your speaking down so people can really understand you.
2) Use short, simple words
- Choose the shortest and simplest words to explain things. Avoid slang, large words or specific terms that the audience may not know. Aim to keep it simple.
- Try to enunciate your words as much as possible. Pronounce every word as clearly as you can. You don’t want to lose your unique speaking style, but try to be as clear as possible.
4) Use your slides better
- When I normally speak I use my slides to visually support what I’m talking about. They have very little text and serve to visually add to my presentation. With a foreign audience, sometimes it is easier for them to process written words vs hearing the words. Use your slides to share the key ideas that you are speaking about so that people can comprehend through reading as well as listening.
5) Repeat key points
- If you are trying to make a point that is important, don’t hesitate to repeat it a few times. This is helpful for all audiences to add emphasis, but is even more important for audiences that may need extra time to process what you are saying.
- Adding local customization to your presentation makes it even more interesting and shows that you are interested in the local culture. I try to add some local customization to my examples and content to show the audience that I am interested in their culture.
7) Avoid (or be careful) with humor and sarcasm
- Humor doesn’t always translate well. Be careful when using humor and jokes – especially sarcasm, as it doesn’t usually translate very well. If your audience doesn’t speak English as a first language they are translating everything you say, and translating words + getting a joke is difficult. Plus, many jokes are cultural and don’t really make sense to another audience.
I love speaking internationally about social media and enjoy the opportunity to connect with different audiences and learn about how they use social media. Taking the extra time to adapt my presentation to a local audience has made a big difference in how my presentations are received.