Three Simple Ways Non-Native English Speakers Can Improve Their Presentation Skills


Public speaking is a necessary but often dreaded part of almost everyone’s job. If you’re a technical professional whose first language is not English, you may find the prospect of speaking before an English-speaking audience particularly nerve-wracking. 

According to Deborah Grayson Riegel, co-author of the book Tips of the Tongue: The Nonnative English Speaker’s Guide to Mastering Public Speaking, writing in Harvard Business Review, it’s normal for these professionals to be great at their jobs but lose confidence when they have to talk in front of an audience. If you’re experiencing this problem, Grayson Riegel recommends these tips for sharpening your presentation skills:

Over-learn your presentation: Many non-native English speakers report spending much more time preparing their PowerPoint slides than they do practicing what they will say, according to Grayson Riegel. Instead of spending endless hours on your slide deck, make time to rehearse your presentation and do so repeatedly. This will go much further in helping you prepare for the moment you are up before a live audience. 

“The goal here is ‘overlearning’ your presentation — pushing on with practice even when it seems like you’ve done enough,” writes Grayson Riegel. “This will help your presentation to become embedded in your long-term memory and therefore less susceptible to the effects of stress. It will also help you speak spontaneously, if you can trust that your core content is safely stored (and able to be retrieved) from your long-term memory.”

Speak slowly: As a non-native speaker of English, you may be self-conscious about your accent. You’re not alone. Even native speakers can have heavy regional dialects that make them self-conscious during presentations. However, it’s important to keep in mind that pronounced accents and dialects can impede an audience’s ability to understand you. But don’t worry— you can help solve this problem simply by slowing down. 

“By slowing down your speaking pace, you help your audience to better manage the barriers to really hearing and understanding you,” states Grayson Riegel. The key is to make sure you take your time pronouncing your words to improve clarity. As the crowd becomes accustomed to your accent, they will be able to more easily understand you.

Take frequent pauses: When standing before an audience, it’s normal to get nervous. As such, you may feel a need to speed through your presentation. However, doing this will further impede your audience’s ability to understand you. In addition to talking slowly, be sure to take frequent pauses. Not only will this give your audience more time to process what you are saying, it will also give you a mental break to gather your thoughts, look at notes, and observe your audience’s faces. “You can also use a pause to build rapport with your audience by checking with them about your pace and pronunciation by saying something like, “Let me pause for a  moment here. I know that I am making complete sense to myself in [Spanish/French/Japanese/Hindi/your native language]. How am I doing in English?” Grayson Riegel writes. Not only does this help you through audience feedback, but it also gives you the chance to take a break. 

While you can certainly improve your presentation skills with these tips, taking courses specifically designed to improve technical English for non-native speakers can help you improve even more.

Improve Your Technical English

Available on IEEE Xplore and the IEEE Learning Network, IEEE English for Technical Professionals is an online learning program that uses real-life interactive scenarios to provide non-native speakers with a working knowledge of English techniques and vocabulary that are essential for today’s technical workplace. Designed to help learners master essential English skills, this mobile-friendly program is ideal for both working professionals, as well as students who are preparing to enter the field.

Enable technical professionals whose first language is not English to improve their language skills in a way that fits the needs and priorities of working adults in technical fields. Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about this program and how to get access to it for your organization.

Interested in the program for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network.


Riegel, Deborah Grayson. (6 April 2018). 3 Tips for Presenting in English When You’re Not a Native Speaker. Harvard Business Review.

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