I’ve been working recently with a team in the UK for whom English was not their mother tongue. They had to deliver a series of very important (and time limited) presentations, in English, to a major prospect. In the process I learned a lot about the importance of effective communication in its broadest form.
Some things don’t require language skills. I realized that from the outset every one of the team understood what the end objective was. They all understood their part.
We hadn’t even started talking about what each person should cover within their section of the presentation, they were totally focused on what overall impression they needed to leave with the client. Once we started to get into the project the objective never changed.
Already, this is a significant advantage over many bid teams who think they can just roll up and talk without considering the overall objective and the impression they want to leave behind.
More than words can say
Communicating effectively in any language way more than just being able to use grammar correctly and understanding the nuances of words that sound similar but can have vastly different meanings! Enthusiasm (which is vital for building relationships and rapport) isn’t something that is language specific. It comes across no matter what tongue you’re in. It is, of course, extra difficult when you’re having to think more carefully about the words and phrases that you say.
My client’s team truly believed in the strengths of their business - this came across instantly. I know from feedback from the ultimate client that they picked this up too.
Does it matter if the grammar and phraseology isn’t perfect? Well, this could be an issue, but when the audience can detect the genuine belief in what is being said they may be less bothered by imperfect grammar.
Being brave, being different
Another thing that impressed me was that no matter how stressed they felt about making the presentations they were all prepared to ‘have a go.’ They were not worried about embarrassing themselves in front of their colleagues or prospects by saying the wrong word or using verbs incorrectly. The additional challenges of presenting in a foreign tongue made them even more open to using other techniques to ensure their communications were effective - again, something many bid teams can learn from.
I’ve always advocated the power of the pause. It’s one of the most under-used techniques in effective communication. When I worked with this team I made it my number one priority. They realised that the audience might have to concentrate harder to accurately understand what they were being told. Elongated pauses would give the audience the time to listen, mull over and then confirm in their own minds what information they had just received. They could then check back in to the presenter to listen to the next key message.
From the presenter’s perspective, it gave them added time to get straight in their minds what they would say next and to get their words in order.
Perhaps most significantly, but almost as an unplanned consequence, the presenters had to avoid getting into too much detail because they would have run over time. So they didn’t bore their audience with unnecessary technical speak (and given the industry they work in jargon would have been all too easy to drop into). This de-stressed the presenters who realized they wouldn’t have to try to explain lots of complex details, which made them appear more confident and even more enthusiastic.
The feedback I got was that the audience could focus on remembering the key messages and the evidences and proofs that supported these. The audience was relieved not to have listened to detail laden presentations from which they would have to try to sift out the important information.
Being enthusiastic and making it as easy as possible for the audience are goals all presenters aspire to. It makes your role as influencer that much easier!
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.