Article: Public speaking in your second language

Many of my 1 to 1 clients and corporate delegates come from other countries, where English is not the first language.

I’ve found that a lot of the same concerns pop up time and time again.

Clients and delegates have often made themselves anxious before we meet, because they’ve been telling themselves ‘I hope they understand what I’m saying … they probably won’t understand what I’m saying … they won’t understand what I’m saying … they’re going to hate me … ‘

Here are some top tips to remember if you’re speaking in your second language – whatever that may be.

Think positively instead. Tell yourself ‘this is really interesting … I’m really interested in this subject … they’re going to be really interested in the subject and what I have to say about it … and I’ve done a lot of preparation to make sure this is good!’

You already know you need to think very carefully about what you say if you’re speaking in a second language – this is an advantage, because so many speakers stand up, open their mouths and talk without thinking! That need to process your thoughts into another language will help you to structure your thinking before you speak.

You probably speak more slowly in English, because you’re thinking about translating your next sentence. Many public speakers talk far too quickly because of nerves and panicky breathing. That need to think up the next phrase in English will help slow you down to an understandable pace.

Yes, you sound different to the other speakers. Grab that as part of your personal brand. We’re immediately interested – and we like to be interested. So ensure you answer their inevitable mental question ‘where are you from?’ by telling them immediately. ‘Good morning, my name is xxx and I’m originally from Finland’ will make you even more interesting.

Wherever you come from, using clear, simple plain English is a great skill for any speaker. Aim for the familiar word and the shorter sentence – your audience will be comfortable, no matter how important they think they are.

Check the pronunciation of all words you’re not entirely sure about. Practice your presentation in front of someone who’ll give you honest, respectful and constructive feedback. Take their advice if you’re having difficulty pronouncing a word, or if you’ve just got one wrong.

This is a great opportunity – so prepare to enjoy it!

A Bit More Brit 1-1 coaching to help you improve

More about my confident public speaking corporate training and one-to-one coaching at

Philippa Hammond