Public Speaking Secrets for ESL (2015)

Chapter 5: Making the Best Use of your Language


Milosh sat once more in his favorite coffee shop deep in thought. His friend walked up to him placed his own coffee cup on the table and sat with him.


“Are you still concentrating on your presentation next week,” the friend enquired of him.


When he nodded yes, the friend then asked.


“Is there anything I can do to help you? Anything you want to talk about?”


“My supervisor today,” Milosh said, “gave me advice.”


“That’s great,” his friend said enthusiastically. “What kind of advice was it?”


Milosh sighed deeply, answering, “Make the best use of your language?”


“That sounds like good advice,” the friend agreed.


“It might be,” Milosh conceded, “but I’m not quite sure what it means.”


If you’re like Milosh, and speak English as your second language it’s doubly important that you make the best possible use of your language. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, only a few of which are outlined in this chapter.


Read this chapter over, think about the ways you can use your words to the best possible way – and then do what you believe will make your presentation that much clearer and understandable to your audience’s ears.


Speak in Simple Terms


This is no time to show off a big vocabulary, as tempting as it might. Keep any terms referring to your area of expertise as simple as possible so they can be quickly and easily understood.


This is essential advice if English were your native language, but it becomes nothing less than crucial when you’re addressing your listeners in a language other than your first.


Your goal as a student of English is to discover the most succinct words and strategically place them in your presentation so your audience automatically knows what you mean. It may mean you find yourself writing your talk more than once in order to select just the right word that denotes exactly what you mean.


Here’s is a hint to remember when you’re giving a formal presentation. The English language has, at minimum, two different vocabularies. One is the written vocabulary, where you can open yourself up to a wider range of large words.


The other language is our speaking vocabulary. Smaller, simple, easy to understand. This is the one that you ideally want to use when you’re giving your presentation. The idea is that you want the audience to spend time on what you’re saying not on trying to figure out the meaning of your words.




Try not to beat around the bush. Say what you have to say in the fewest amount of terms. If you’re not getting your message across, your audience will ask questions at the end of the presentation. If you feel you spent too much time at the end of your talk answering questions that seem to revolve around word use, then perhaps next time you should clarify your language more. The key to this is to file this experience away so you’re better prepared for the next time.


You’ll also need to take into account who is in your audience. Obviously, if you’re presenting to a small group within or corporation who as familiar as you are with the topic, you can expect to sprinkle in some larger words and terms more specific to the industry without the need to explain.


If your audience is composed mostly of lay people who don’t have a grasp of the industry jargon, then you’ll want to explain events and important facts in smaller, more digestible terms.


The speed of your speech


We’ve talked about your cadence and pacing earlier in your presentation. This point is closely related. Did you know that the normal pace in giving a presentation – specifically one in which you’re trying to persuade someone is between 140 and 160 words per minute?


If you speak any faster than that, you may appear glib and pushy. I knew one gentleman who had been trained as a used-car salesman. I knew it the moment he tried to persuade me to do something his way. His words would come out faster and faster.


It didn’t take me long to recognize this. When he started to rev up his speech I simply stopped him and explained to him that nothing he had to say would convince me otherwise, so he could simply save his breath.

We also talked earlier that it was important to speak slowly. But here again, you need to be careful. If you speak too slowly, you may give the impression that you’re lecturing them, which in turn, implies that you’re “better” than they are. That’s not the vibrations you intend to give off at this time.


If you’re not sure about how quickly or slowly you’re speaking, there’s a simple solution. Record yourself for a minute. At the end that minute, count the number of words you spoke. While you’re listening to yourself, try to imagine how the audience would interpretation your speed. If you can get inside your listeners head even before you present your speech, you’ll be a step ahead and preparing will be much easier.


But more than that, if you speak too slowly your audience will tend to drift off. Keep in mind that the average human ear and brain together can hear, compile and then decode more than 400 spoken words per minute.


The human ear and brain can compile and decode over 400 spoken words per minute, so if you are going too slow your listeners' minds are going to start to wander as the brains finds other ways to keep themselves occupied.


Using language to accommodate your audience is essential if you want them to truly understand and appreciate your presentation. If you don’t find a way to write and give your speech in a manner that they can understand without sacrificing quality or meaning, then you’re really just wasting your time and their time as well.


That would be a shame when, as this chapter shows you, it’s so easy to ensure they know exactly what you’re talking about and can, in turn, talk about it themselves.


In the following chapter, I’m going to provide you with several ways to help you and your audience know exactly what’s coming next in the talk. It’s as simple as using words either before or after (or both) a segment of your talk telling them what to expect. The use of what some individuals call transitional phrases and others call signposting.


Why wait any long trying to figure out what I mean, when you can turn to the chapter right now to begin using these terms and phrases. Not only that proper use of these words will give you a leg up on writing your speech as well.