Don't Let Your Accent Steal the Show

Chade-Meng Tan, better known as Meng, Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow,” is one of Google’s earliest engineers and a very engaging and effective presenter.

Meng is a great case study to illustrate how presenters — whose first language is not English — can nail a presentation and connect with an audience…  without letting their anxiety or accent steal the show.  And that’s something every presenter can also learn from.

His popular TED Talk, Everyday Compassion at Googlemodels three lessons that can help us improve the clarity and effectiveness of our presentations:

First: Think Conversation

A conversational approach helps lower presentation anxiety — the main culprit behind our tendency to speak too fast — and lack of clarity. Meng models how a presentation can come across as a friendly conversation by slowing down, making eye contact, and letting one’s personality show up.

Second: Think Story

Story structure and stories engage the audience’s senses in ways that abstract information can’t. Meng’s presentation illustrates how a foreign accent can become almost invisible when a presentation is driven by a story and good storytelling.

Remember:  your presentation as a whole should tell a story — one that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.  And don’t forget to follow Meng’s example:  guide your audience through the story with effective transitions between main points and subpoints.

Third: Enunciate, Enunciate

A common cause for poor enunciation is the tendency to “mumble” by barely opening the mouth when speaking.  Meng is not afraid to exaggerate his mouth movements; the result is clear speech.

You, too, can improve your enunciation by following this advice from Catherine Welborn, editor for the American Speakers Forum:

Practice speaking with exaggerated movements of your lips and tongue.  Open your mouth extra wide for vowel sounds.  “Spit” out consonants like B, D, P and T.  When you are comfortable using your whole mouth, tone down that clown-like exaggeration but make sure you open your mouth wide enough to speak without mumbling.

Applying these key lessons can help us all connect with our audiences better — whether English is our native language or not.


Do you have employees who speak English as a second language and are apprehensive about presenting? Do you speak English as a second language and want to increase your confidence level when presenting to US business audiences?

Give us a call and learn more about our ESL Presentation Skills workshop designed specifically for employees who speak English as a second language.  This hands-on, one-day program is designed to help ESL presenters understand what US business audiences want and how to develop and deliver presentations that get results.

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