Giving a presentation in any language can be scary, but when you have to present to people you don’t know, in a language you might not dominate (or even if you are fluent), it can be downright terrifying. However, as an experienced presenter in Spanish—read here and here about how I did my entire degree abroad—I am here to tell you that you can do it! And it doesn’t have to be as scary as you initially think. Here are my top tips for getting through your presentations in a foreign language:
Prepare your notes:
Even if you are able to make things up as you go along in English, you should be aware that it is more difficult to control a topic in a non-native language. Therefore, take the extra hour or two to make sure you know what you want to say and how you want to say it. I know a lot of people—from all different backgrounds alike—who don’t bother to take the time to truly prepare their presentations and you can tell when they present. In addition, it will make life easier if you properly organize the content before you start preparing the presentation because then you will have you bases covered.
Pro-tip: If you’ve already prepared an assignment or paper around the topic, use this as your guide (even if it is in English). This will help you feel comfortable that you say what you have to say.
Prepare your slides:
Once you know what you want to say and how you want to say it, you can start to prepare the visual part of your presentation (whether it be a PowerPoint, Prezi, or other tool). Make sure that the visual cues you give yourself help your words flow. My personal preference is to use a little bit of text and let your words speak for themselves (you don’t want people reading the slides instead of listening to you). Consider using keywords or photos that you can connect to your content instead of reading directly off the slide. At the same time, make sure you know what works for you and prepare accordingly.
Think about it this way: Your slides should act as an outline for what you want to say, helping your listeners follow along or jot down key points. However,if you need notes, consider bringing them along separately.
While you may feel stupid talking to yourself (maybe in front of a mirror) or practicing with your housemate, the first time through a presentation always feels harder than the second or third. If you have time to practice a time or two before you get in front of your final crowd, you can make sure you feel your way around words that you don’t feel comfortable with (potentially switching them out for others) and confirm that your presentation makes sense.
Pro-tip: if possible, try to rehearse with a native Spanish speaker who can help you figure out if what you say is clear or not. And remember that constructive criticism in your practice moments is a good option in comparison to your professor not understanding you during the presentation.
Relax and Smile:
A big part of the quality of the presentation is how comfortable you are with yourself. Even if you don’t feel like you really know the content or you are worried about presenting in front of your class, your attitude will affect the perception the audience has of your knowledge. If you are able to get up in front of everyone and act in a calm, collected way (despite the fact that you are shaking inside), that will go a long way towards a good presentation.
Try it: I found the video below that talks about about how body posture impacts our perception of a situation and I have never gone back—before every presentation you can find me in superhero pose!
It’s not the end of the world:
I just want to remind you that, at the end of the day, if your presentation is terrible it is not the end of the world. Honestly, as someone who has been there, it is commendable that you are potentially getting up in front of a whole class of native speakers to give a presentation in a language that you are only more or less comfortable with. Personally, the most important thing is to notice how you feel during the presentation and figure out ways that you can ‘do it better’ next time. Like anything, practice makes it easier, but sometimes we have to fall before we can fly.
We would love to hear about your presentation experiences while abroad. Are you a nervous presenter or are you as cool as a cucumber? Let us know!
P.S. I would just like you all to know that while I am a good presenter, I am not always (read almost never) comfortable when presenting, I am just good at hiding it. It has allowed me to ace presentations—not only at school but also in front of other crowds—and job interviews. Therefore, I believe it is a skill worth developing.