French Executive Case Study
A French executive in Silicon Valley, Paul, gave frequent presentations, which were problematic. Not only did he present to customers, but his problems were also visible when he addressed senior executives in his own company.
Paul had received his education in a typical French school environment, which was heavy on written assignments and very light on oral engagement. Therefore his English grammar and vocabulary were excellent, but because of his heavy French accent, he was often misunderstood. In addition, he used so many gestures while speaking that it made him look over-excited and distracted listeners from what he was saying.
His presentations usually had a lot of bullet points – confusing, unclear, boring – instead of a clear graphic or image that people could easily understand.
In fact, unfortunately he relied on his PowerPoint to do the presentation for him instead of speaking freely and persuasively and engaging his audience. He committed a major sin by reading his text word for word, sometimes even with his back to his audience.
We began our coaching sessions and videotaped his presentations frequently. When he saw and heard himself on screen, he realized he had to move his hands a lot less while he was presenting, and, he also realized that his accent was much harder to understand than he had thought. Paul was pretty discouraged because he thought it would take him many months to learn better communication skills.
He made a list of the words and sentences he used the most in presentations and in informal speeches. Once I showed him the correct pronunciation and emphasis on the syllables to really reduce his accent, he was able to practice the materials by himself– here is a link to a video where I go over the most important points for executives to consider when they present, and are focusing on accent reduction at the same time.
Paul also practiced on leaving his hands quietly at his sides except when he wanted to emphasize some points [to not look stiff] keeping his movements controlled. And, he remembered to smile [which is important for a US audience]. Many times Europeans will seem to be too serious when they are speaking because Americans are used to US presenters smiling while presenting. I know this point can seem ridiculous to Europeans or Latin Americans, but smiling here makes you more “likable” and that’s important in this culture. So smile!
Paul and I also identified the main messages he wanted to focus on in his presentation and he completely re-wrote his PPT putting in graphs and images and one-liners. The rewrite let him show his expertise much better because now he could talk freely about his subject matter and didn’t rely on the text in his slides.
Paul was very satisfied with what he had learned about US communications in our coaching sessions and he was happy with how much he was able to change his accent in quite a short time. My work with him took about 2 and a half month weekly sessions which were only interrupted when Paul had to travel. His new skills gave him more self-confidence and now he was able to concentrate on what he said than worry about how he sounded.
He learned to outline his speeches and presentations with post-it notes and in plenty of time before he had to actually give them. Only once his ideas and most important points were clear to him did he open his computer and transfer the information to PPT.
When the presentation was edited, rewritten and re-edited, he ran through the PPT out loud about 6 times before he was satisfied with the results.
All in all he not only sounded clearer and more interesting, but it also took him a lot less time to prepare the written part giving him more practice time. His communication skills had definitely improved. In the end, Paul had learned to use PPT as a tool and not as a substitute.
And, since he had worked actively on the accent reduction part of our sessions, Paul now also spoke in a way that people no longer wanted him to repeat what he said.
Currently he is able to design presentations with slides that show mostly graphs and images letting him speak without consulting his notes and wow his audience with interesting examples and stories. The result is a good, professional presentation which he enjoys giving and which is well received.
Here is a video of another French executive and how working with him in accent reduction brought some amazing results to his accent. Click here to see the video