(A short article to help with common mistakes in meetings and presentations with potential clients)
For the last ten years, I have been preparing my business english students for meetings and presentations with companies/clients overseas. Below are five things to avoid misunderstandings in English and to build confidence with people in English.
Avoid using the words YES or NO when speaking about terms and conditions.
This may be obvious for most people, but a mixture of higher than normal stress and less confidence (due to speaking in a second language) makes this point more important. While you want to make sure that your english speaking clients understand the possibilities that are available, you don’t want to either limit the opportunity for work, or guarantee something that you are not sure you can provide. You might be a bit nervous and you may not realise you have misunderstood something. I encourage the use of the following sentences:
This sounds like a good/great idea.
I think this could work, but let me check and get back to you.
I’m not sure if this is possible, but I will find out for you.
Can I confirm these points later on today/this week?
These sentences are good for being able to express that you care about the needs of the client, while avoiding using language that could potentially push the client away, before the relationship has even started.
Make sure you clearly pronounce positives and negatives (Can/Can’TTTTT).
Because of the number of different english accents, there are a number of different pronunciations for words like ‘can’ and ‘can’t’. A lot of misunderstandings happen because we don’t want to sound silly in a meeting. It’s better to sound a little silly with over pronunciation, than to confuse the client. If you are still not at the level of confidence you need with your pronunciation, try to use words like ‘possible’ instead.
Keep your sentences short.
A lot of people want to show confidence or ability with a language by trying to use complex sentences. This normally gets you in more trouble because the client may not understand, due to one missing preposition (yes we love prepositions don’t we) or incorrect use of past and present. The ability to explain something complex in a short sentence, shows your understanding of that subject.
Make sure you breathe after every sentence.
This will help you space out your sentences and also, give you more energy to produce the pronunciation you need, while reducing anxiety. It’s extremely important to be understood clearly and also, to make sure you control your stress well which will be higher speaking in a second language.
Make sure to embrace your mistakes with a smile and don’t apologise every five seconds.
When a mistake is made while speaking English, don’t apologise. Apologising after every mistake is something typical of someone speaking in a second language. Not all of us do it, but it’s something that a large majority do. This can give the client the wrong message about your ability to work in English confidently and while the British may apologise a lot, the business world is very different at a high level. Instead:
Oh that’s right!
Ah yes, (repeat correction here)
Oh, yes I meant (enter correction here
Make mistakes! Own up to them and don’t apologize. This will show your confidence in general and they will be engaging in business with your company because of you. don’t forget this!