“I realized my audience was not getting my point. They are more interested in understanding my ideas and the product I am demonstrating.” I was surprised to hear this from Rahul.
After 3 years of graduation, he joined his company as a junior from where he got promoted to an executive very soon. Like most other second-language learners of English, he was also focused on perfecting his English grammar by using better vocabulary and acquiring the most sophisticated words to make his presentation stand out. This was despite my efforts to get him to focus on communicating with the English he had. Like many non-native speakers of English, he too believed that in order to be taken seriously he needed to speak or write grammar perfect English and speak fluently without a single hitch.
Students of non-native English-speaking countries work hard to learn to speak English like a native. They spend a lot of money and put in a lot of hours on courses to master grammar to speak immaculately. I do agree that some training is required if you have no knowledge of the language or you cannot speak the language at all. But that is not something we have in our country. English language is a school subject and is taught pretty early to all our kids in India.
When we start our graduation studies we train ourselves better in the language as most college and universities have certain English training courses. Candidates graduate and join the corporate world. This brings them to a new world of continuous pressure and stiff competition. In addition to all these, is the demand to communicate in English at every step. To excel the candidates now focus on perfecting their grammar and gaining a stronger vocabulary. But all it does in most cases is erode the self-confidence of the candidate. How does this happen? Let’s trace the path followed by Rahul.
In the beginning, Rahul had to give many presentations to his co-workers. Like everybody, he too was eager to make a good impression with the content of his presentation as well as with the English he was using. He spent hours preparing every presentation and double checked the grammar he had used. He even tried using ornamented language to impress his audience. After a few such presentations, he was exhausted and he was far from impressing anyone. His message and ideas were not clear to anyone. They asked him many questions which became more and more challenging for him to answer. So what was going wrong?
Rahul analyzed and came to a conclusion. He had ignored his audience – the most important component of any communication whether spoken or written. His audience had varying levels of English competence and most of them were not native speakers. So they were not looking for flawless grammar or a dazzling vocabulary. They too made similar mistakes or had made them in the past. What they were looking for in Rahul is to understand his ideas or the products he was trying to build or market. Many of these audience, I am sure would be relieved that Rahul was making those grammar mistakes as it is something common among most non-native speakers.
To ensure that his message was understood Rahul started using plain and simple English and also started being concise in his messages. His presentations now focused on concepts and applications his industry was launching and his ideas regarding it. So he was now talking about the complex things of the business. This naturally calls for simple and concise language.
Therefore, the main point is to keep things simple. But we all know that it is not easy to keep everything simple. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
We need a plan to keep things simple as it requires to have a definite structure. The basic questions then we need answers to are:
- What your message is?
- Whom your message is for?
- What outcome you want to achieve?
- What language your audience needs to hear?
Here are 5 simple tricks that can be applied to achieve the desired simplicity.
- Plan 1: Need to Stop Comparing
Comparison with better speakers of English or with native English speakers can be harmful in a work environment. The only focus should be on self-improvement.
- Plan 2: Think of the audience and their needs
Awareness of his audience made him focus on the content of his message and how to make it simple for them to understand and emulate easily. This meant he needed to create small manageable sizes of his concepts and focus on highlighting the key points of his communication or presentation.
- Plan 3: Build an outline:
Rahul could now build an outline of his presentation and work with that without making use of sophisticated words and phrases he had done previously.
- Plan 4: Use the English you have
He kept his grammar simple. His only focus was on the timeline – past, present, and future. He knew that making a mistake here may change the message that he has to deliver.
- Plan 5: Practice, practice, practice
Rahul practiced by giving more and more presentations in the plan we worked out above. The more presentations he gave the more his confidence grew. He became more relaxed as his audience now asked engaging questions. There was no more demanding clarification. His audience directly actively participated.
By focusing on the need of his audience, planning his communication, keeping it simple and finally practicing, Rahul found support from his audience. This in return brought him positive business results as it made him more confident. This confidence allowed him to work on his English proficiency and become an efficient speaker.