“How can I be confident when English is my 2nd/3rd language?”
Question: “English is not my first language, so I really want to make sure that my audience understands me. As a result, I often read my whole presentation from my notes so that my grammar and vocabulary is precise. However, this means that I’m not making eye contact with the audience, and I know that’s important as well. What should I focus on more — making sure that my content is grammatically correct, or looking at the audience?”
– Ling, Montreal, QC
Answer: It’s far more important for you to make eye contact with your audience. Technically, if you’re simply reading your content word for word, you’ve gone from being a ‘speaker’ to being a ‘reader.’ It’s the easier way out, and you’ll be assured that your grammar is correct, but there’s a much greater chance that you’ll lose your audience’s attention this way.
Try this exercise — imagine yourself in an audience where the speaker reads their full speech and doesn’t look up once to make eye contact with you (the “reader”). Then imagine yourself listening to a speaker who makes the occasional grammatical error or takes an extra second to search for the right words — but they are making the effort and really trying to connect with you (the “speaker”). Which one is more engaging? Which one would you rather listen to? Most people would choose the speaker, even if they have to put up with some errors. The truth is, audiences don’t expect a speaker to be perfect. But faced with a speaker who has put in some obvious preparation time and is clearly making an effort, versus a reader who hides behind their notes… I’d bet on the speaker every time.
That being said, you may have to put more time into speech preparation — and practice — to ensure that you’re comfortable with what you want to say and how you want to say it. But you’ll make a better impression every time.