How do Americans deliver convincing and spontaneous presentations ? Practice makes perfect!
“Darn it !” says my 13 year old daughter as she glances at the timer on her iPhone. “I still had 45 seconds left …”. She attends a public high school in Los Angeles and is standing in her room, practicing a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation on a major report. All of the students in her class are preparing themselves in the same way and carefully following the 20 evaluation criteria the teacher has submitted to them beforehand: « makes eye contact regularly with the audience », « does not read the slides », « ends with a compelling conclusion, not « that’s it, any questions ? ». Parents must sign a paper certifying that their child has practiced the whole presentation, from beginning to end, several times, in their presence.
Americans view public speaking as an essential skill. They are generally good at it. Very good at it. Speaking in front of people is not always easy. But things get even trickier when you have to express yourself in a foreign language. If you are not good with public speaking, your discomfort will be interpreted as a lack of self-confidence and professionalism. You run the risk of quickly losing your audience which will end up being detrimental to both your ideas and fulfilling your dreams. The French are often not well prepared to public speaking. French criteria for the evaluation of presentations are much less challenging than American ones. This means that as a French person, you are in danger of “not even realizing how much you don’t realize” that your presentations need to be perfected.
If you need to improve in that field, you will be able to find lots of material on the Internet. You could also film yourself with your smartphone, use a timer or practice in front of colleagues. Another possibility could be to consult with American presentation experts. Public speaking is not a gift. It is a skill that can be learned, worked on and practiced !
Manuelle Charbonneau, Ph.D.