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How to overcome the challenges of PSL (Presenting in a Second Language)

Presenting in a second or third language can be extremely challenging. There’s often that gap between the agility, fluency and confidence we have in our native language and “other” languages.

Anyone living or working abroad will know about this and also can relate to how it feels. That sensation when you are looking for the right word and it’s just not there. Or not immediately, even if you consider your language skills to be at least upper-intermediate or even advanced.

This concept of directly translating in verbal contexts can be very energy-consuming and often not even possible when dealing with expressions and set phrases. Clients often say to me they feel they lose their flow in spontaneous conversations. It becomes more evident and slightly painful when talking in public or in meetings where our reputation is on the line.

The good news is that when preparing for presentations, we don’t need to improvise or act as simultaneous translators in our heads. We can prepare all this beforehand and regain power and use those cool expressions to bring back the flow.

In case you missed the guide on how to structure your presentations, you can download it below.

When English is not your first language, the amount of vocabulary and the use of language is definitely an extra factor to consider when building this presentation or a message to deliver to the audience.

Does this mean double the work? Yes, for me most of the time it does.

I also feel the pain and do the extra work when preparing for my speeches, workshops, or meetings.

I live a trilingual life and work in bilingual environments. English is my native language for work even though

Finnish is my mother tongue. Spanish is my second working language and when I work in Spanish, I’d dare to say I have about 15% less confidence because of this gap.

So how have I managed to handle this gap and work on my flow?

Firstly, by simplifying my message. By this, I mean the complexity of the words I use. I don’t try to directly translate, I recreate the idea with the vocabulary and expressions I have in my toolbox for that language right now.

Yes, it can be frustrating as you feel you want to nail it in the same way you would in your mother tongue and have the audience love your speech, meeting or comment.

I’d argue that our styles change with the languages. I feel mine does for sure. When delivering a workshop in English it’s not the same as in Spanish, even if the content was the same. I for sure don’t feel the same. Unless I’d deliver the same workshop 10 or 20 times. Expressions here can be learned for sure and naturally, the confidence builds up.

Secondly, since I know that I feel a little insecure about the content, my delivery on how to communicate the emotion that I feel in another language, I write the script. Then I practice, practice and practice. My rule of thumb is 3 full dress rehearsals filmed. Maybe more if needed. Not to mention the meditations and visualizations that come as part of the practice process.

Winging it is NEVER an option for me. It’s an insult to my audience. I want to give something they can take away, not make a fool of myself. It’s my way of coping with the uncertainty and facing my fears. Maybe you share some of the same ones, fear of messing up, fear of stumbling, fear of not being liked and the list goes on.

Lastly, whichever topic, new or old, regardless of the language, I always work through the 7 core steps to build my story for speaking in public.

  1. Planning
  2. Structure
  3. Materials
  4. Practice
  5. Body language
  6. 3 connectors with the audience
  7. Review and feedback

For more information on these 7 steps, you can read the full article here. 7 easy steps to improve your public speaking

So in a nutshell, don’t underestimate the time it takes to prepare for a meeting, presentation, conference or conversation in a second language. Whatever form of speaking in public is, it needs preparation.

Secret Recipe for PSL = RESP

  1. Recreate your message by simplifying
  2. Look for 3-5 new Expressions/words that you feel comfortable with
  3. Write Script
  4. Practice, practice, practice

So I invite you to test the recipe and I would love to hear your feedback in the comments if you liked my recipe.

For more information on one-to-one sessions, check out the SERVICES page here.


Founder of Version 2 of ME Communication
Delivering Public Speaking Solutions to Tech Professionals in Barcelona, Zurich, Helsinki and online

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