“I feel okay speaking in English when I’m talking to friends, but my confidence seems to disappear when I go into meetings with colleagues or clients at work. I just can’t seem to find the right words to express myself clearly and confidently!”
Can you relate to this?
You certainly aren’t alone! This is something we hear from women all around the world! In fact, improving English confidence and communication for work is one of the most common reasons women join Hey Lady!
No matter how experienced women may be in their chosen career, when it comes to collaborating with colleagues, communicating clearly in meetings, or giving presentations in English, the fear of making speaking mistakes can take over and stop them from participating fully, or putting their best foot forward in meetings at work.
With this in mind, I’m sharing 5 simple but effective tips to help you build the confidence you need to express yourself in these professional settings.
Preparation can’t be stressed enough, and it is worth every minute you spend on it!
- Know who is coming to the meeting, and what their role in the company is.
- Make sure you have studied the agenda and the minutes (notes) from previous meetings.
- Write down any key points or questions you might have (it’s just too easy to forget under pressure!).
You can also practise what you want to say before the meeting, or rehearse different scenarios, which will definitely help you to feel more confident from the outset.
By studying the agenda, you will not only familiarise yourself with the content of the meeting, you can also predict what kind of language you will hear, or may need to use yourself.
For example, are there items on the agenda which might cause a debate? In that case, revising language to agree and disagree (politely and professionally!) and practising it in context would be the ideal way to prepare. This is an invaluable skill (for work and for life!) and is something we practise quite often in our conversation events inside Hey Lady!
2. Stick to the agenda
This is excellent advice for ANY business meeting, but it is particularly important if English is your second language; and if you are hosting the meeting.
Have you ever felt ‘stuck’ in an English conversation? You know, when you just can’t come up with the word or phrase you need? Or those awful moments when you lose your train of thought while you are speaking! This is the worst in business meetings; when we’re trying to appear professional and all eyes are upon us!
A sure way to avoid this stressful situation is to keep your attention focussed strictly on the topic at hand, and don’t be afraid to look down at your notes when you need a prompt! It’s better to use your notes to help you stay on track!
3. Practise public speaking outside the workplace
The best way to build your confidence and develop your skills is to practise speaking English in more relaxed environments, where it’s okay to make mistakes. Understandably, not many of us feel comfortable experimenting and taking language risks in business meetings, right?
However, making mistakes is such an important part of language learning! It really is essential to find a safe place to improve your skills. In a supportive community like Hey Lady!, you can start small by attending workshops which focus on specific functional language (like the agree/disagree workshop mentioned in Tip 1). From there, you can practise your presentation and public speaking skills by hosting your own small online events. We learn best by ‘doing’, so this type of ‘hands on’ practice is invaluable!
4. Practise active listening
OK, so what exactly is active listening and why is it important? Active listening is when you are fully engaged with the speaker with no distractions. You’re able to give them your full focus and attention so you have the best chance of understanding and fully participating in the discussion. Here are some tips for active listening:
- Put your phone away, and if you are using your laptop, make sure all other programs are closed
- Take notes, or even record the meeting if it’s being hosted online (just make sure you check with the other participants if they are comfortable with this - if you let them know it’s to help you improve your English, they are likely to understand!)
- Later, look up any words or expressions you didn’t understand
- Position yourself in the meeting so that you have a clear view of the speaker, and can make eye-contact. Here’s why this is important: besides making it easier for you to follow what the speaker is saying, creating eye contact will show you are interested, and listening intently. If the speaker can see you nod in agreement or understanding, they will appreciate you and your interest. They’ll also know that any questions you have are because you are interested, or need clarification, not because you weren’t paying attention.
5. Learn the lingo!
We need to know what to say, (and what not to say!) in professional settings. This knowledge not only enhances your ability to communicate appropriately in a business situation, and helps you to put your best foot forward. Check out the below mmmEnglish video, “10 Business English expressions you need to know”.
Feeling nervous or flustered when you meet with someone for the first time or need to present something important is normal… In fact, this can be true for native English speakers too! But, with these 5 tips, I hope you can feel more confident walking into any meeting, with any colleague or client, and express yourself clearly and confidently!