Nobody's Perfect - Präsentationen Sei kein Sprechroboter

Einkaufslisten schreiben, tagträumen, auf dem Smartphone klimpern: Öde Präsentationen lassen viel Zeit für schöne oder nützliche Dinge. Was tun, damit kein Zuhörer ins Powerpoint-Koma fällt? Unser Lieblingsbrite Ian McMaster präsentiert gute Tipps - and now let's switch to English.


Which of the following do you do when someone is giving a presentation at work?

  • Listen with your full concentration.
  • Make notes.
  • Listen to most of what is being said but occasionally daydream.
  • Daydream most of the time but occasionally listen.
  • Read and answer your emails.
  • Write out your shopping list and other "to-do" lists.
  • Fantasize about a new life.
  • Sleep.

I plead guilty to all the above at various times. Which of them I do depends on three main factors, in reverse order of importance: how stressed I am; how tired I am; and how engaging the speaker is. The topic itself plays only a minor role in attracting and maintaining my attention.

Presentations are a key part of business life - whether formal, frontal speeches to large groups at conferences, or informal presentations to smaller groups of colleagues or business partners. Yet most people receive no training in how to give a presentation in their own language. And in many cases the results are disastrous.

Foreign-language learners are sometimes luckier: presentation skills may be part of a course they are taking. And books such as Dynamic Presentations, by business English trainer and writer Mark Powell, provide many useful tips. Powell himself is an excellent presenter. He is engaging, entertaining and informative. And he often breaks the classic rules for presentations. For an example, see here.

So, how does Powell do it? Well, I've just used one technique he employs: the rhetorical question. Powell also doesn't overload his slides with text. "You shouldn't put on your slides the information you are going to talk about", he says. This is perhaps the biggest mistake that presenters make and it comes in a number of horrible variations:

  • The presenters who put lots of facts and figures on their slides and then talk about them in detail. In most cases, this is guaranteed to get people to write shopping lists or fall asleep.
  • The presenters who put lots of information on their slides and say, "You probably won't be able to read that, but I'll tell you what it says". Well, sorry, if we can't read it, don't show it to us!
  • The presenters who put lots of text on the slides and then read it out. This is normally pointless - except for people who are blind or partially sighted - because the audience can read faster than a presenter can speak. It is also as boring as hell.
  • The presenters who give the audience hand-outs of their slides at the start and then still read all the information out… Oh, dear! Right, I need six eggs, bananas, milk, toilet paper…

Instead of lots of text, Mark Powell suggests using strong images or keywords that grab people's attention and then telling your story. It works. By the way, there's another useful technique: varying long and short sentences. And here's another technique: ………. Pauses, you see, can help to get the audience's attention. Sad but true: as soon as we stop talking, people tend to start listening.

Try not to sound like a trained robot

"But, but…," I can hear you protesting. Surely, it is sometimes necessary to present lots of information or facts and figures. Well, maybe, but this brings us to two other important points:

  • Are you clear about your objectives? Why are you giving the presentation at all? Is it simply to communicate information? Is it to stimulate a discussion? Is it to persuade and convince people? Is it to boost your ego? Or all of those?
  • Are you clear about the audience's objectives? Do they want to receive information, discuss, disagree, etc.? Do they even want to be there at all? Have you ever considered that? The key point is that the audience's objectives may not be the same as your own. How are you going to solve that dilemma?

Germanic presentations are often full of details and organized chronologically, possibly reflecting the fact that competence is equated with thoroughness and structure. But is that what your audience wants? If so, fine. But are you sure? Often, less is more.


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Expertentipps: So gelingt die Präsentation auf Englisch
When giving a talk in a foreign language, you might find it helpful to follow some standard tips, in order to give your talk structure. One common rule is: "Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and finally tell them what you have told them." In other words: introduce-speak-summarize. If this tip works for you, use it.

You might also find it helpful to use some standard phrases, such as these.

- Good morning, everyone, I'd like to get started.
- The topic of today's presentation is...
- I've divided my presentation into three parts.
- First, I'll talk about... Second, I'll look at… And finally, I'll draw some conclusions.
- If you have any questions, please feel free to interrupt me.
- So, to begin, I'd like to look at...
- If there are no questions, I'll move on.
- As you can see on this slide…
- And here on the next slide, we have…
- I'd now like to turn to...
- I'd like to draw your attention to...
- OK, let me come back to the main point.
- Now I would like to move on to look at...
-Finally, let's consider...

It is important, however, not to overuse these phrases. Otherwise you will sound like a trained robot. And it really doesn't matter if the phrases don't come out perfectly. Your audience will normally be impressed by the fact that you are talking in a foreign language. And linguistic mistakes are often charming.

Dont' forget the "f-word": feedback

It is much more important to feel comfortable and to engage with your listeners. For example, why not start with a surprising fact from the present, rather than a complete history of your company that begins in 1765. For example:

"First the good news: we lost 20,000 customers last year."

Of course, you would then have to explain why that is indeed good news.

It is also important to finish your presentations well. The first aspect of this is finishing on time - or, even better, early (your audience will love you for this). You should also aim to finish on a high note. So, rather than finishing with a question and answer session - which can often result in irrelevant or unanswerable questions - wrap your talk up by summarizing the main points and thanking the audience. For example:

"OK, that brings me to the end of my presentation. But before I finish, I'd like to summarize the main points again. We've looked at… Thank you very much."

Finally, don't forget the "f-word": feedback. If you get the opportunity, record your presentations and watch them. Do you speak too quickly or too slowly? What is your body language like? How is your intonation? A trusted colleague once told me that my voice fell away at the end of sentences, making it sound as though I wasn't convinced that what I was saying was right.

So, who is going to give you honest, helpful feedback on your presentations? Ask for it each time, for example with a simple question, such as, "What could I have done differently/better?" Because if you don't get this feedback and start to improve, you may spend your next presentation watching people writing shopping lists - or sleeping.

Zum Autor
  • Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von "Business Spotlight", des alle zwei Monate erscheinenden Magazins für Wirtschaftsenglisch. Er ist Brite, lebt seit 1989 in München, ist ausgebildeter Lehrer für Wirtschaftsenglisch und Co-Autor des Buches "Effective International Business Communication" (Collins).
  • Sprachmagazin "Business Spotlight"

insgesamt 12 Beiträge
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defycgn 25.10.2012
1. Und wer will das auf Englisch jetzt lesen?
Ich nicht...
nymousano 25.10.2012
2. Wer?
Ich. Sind paar gute Anregungen dabei.
madmaharaja 25.10.2012
3. Ich ...
... hab's gerade auf Englisch gelesen.
mooreea 25.10.2012
4. Englisch lesen macht aufmerksam ...
... und um Aufmerksamkeit geht es ja in Präsentationen. Wer es nicht liest ist selbst schuld ^^
mooreea 25.10.2012
5. Englisch lesen macht aufmerksam ...
... und um Aufmerksamkeit geht es ja in Präsentationen. Wer es nicht liest ist selbst schuld ^^
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