3 Public Speaking Tips for International Students

Stan Polit

Stan Polit, MA, is a nationally-recognized speaker and communication coach. As a three-time collegiate national champion public speaker and international championship winning coach, he uses his extensive experience to help individuals overcome their communication challenges. He currently teaches a public speaking workshop called 5X5 which teaches participants five tools that can allow them to become a more confident speaker in five minutes per day or less. In addition to his coaching, his research on message delivery strategies has been featured at numerous national and international conferences.

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We all know that language is powerful. However, when English is your second language, that feeling of empowerment can quickly transform into a bundle of nerves. If you are an international student, it’s likely that few tasks create more anxiety than having to present your ideas in English. How will others judge my accent? What if my peers can’t understand me? Will people view me as less qualified because of my English skills? All of these concerns can prevent you from maximizing your potential in the classroom, at an interview, and in the workplace.

Fortunately, international students already have the tools to become great public speakers. The key is pushing aside your perceptions about what makes an “excellent” speaker and focusing on the skills you already have. Here are three ways international students can improve their confidence when presenting in English.

  • Recognize that there is no such thing as “perfect”: A common concern among international students is that others will judge them if their English skills are not “perfect.” This pursuit for perfection creates the belief that less than perfect English skills will be a disadvantage in the classroom and the workplace.

To overcome this concern, focus less on the words you are saying, and more on the way you say them. Try to highlight your English skills by spending less time trying to sound “professional” and more time being conversational. This approach will help you become more comfortable speaking in English because you will start viewing communication as a relationship-building tool rather than a proficiency exam.

  • Say more by saying less: Another common misperception held by international students is that saying more is always better than saying less. Many students feel that they have to say as many words as possible to highlight their English skills. Unfortunately, this strategy often results in students speaking too quickly and having less time to find the right words to express their ideas.

Try speaking at a rate which allows you to see the next word you want to say in your head before you speak. By doing this exercise, you will instantly become more confident in your word choices. When you are confident in your words, you can’t help but feel more confident delivering them.

  • Volunteer to become a “speech coach”: It is said that it takes at least 2000 hours to master any skill. Learning English is no exception. Many international students view English as a skill they need only in professional settings. Therefore, they revert back to speaking in their native tongues when they are among their peers. This is completely understandable. We all naturally gravitate to the language that is most familiar. However, the best way to become confident presenting in a different language is to use that language in as many roles as possible.

Seek out opportunities to be an English language “speech coach” for your peers. Being in the role of speech coach, observer, and presenter allows you to practice your language skills in a supportive environment while also learning how to evaluate the language skills of others. With communication and feedback skills being so important in the workplace, this exercise allows you to build two essential skills at once.

Confidence is the cornerstone of all effective communication. For that reason, becoming a more confident speaker is a marathon rather than a sprint. Luckily, that does not mean you cannot quickly build your presentation confidence. By following some of these tricks, you can realize the skills you already have and use them as a catalyst to become an extremely effective communicator.

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