Interview with Ruben Hernandez

Tips for the Native English speaking presenter: An Interview with Ruben Hernandez

A few months ago I posted a review of a newly published book entitled Presenting Across Culturesby Ruben Hernandez. With some luck and a few emails I managed to get into contact with the author… a friendly fellow Californian who currently lives in Germany. He has been a presentation trainer in Europe, Asia, North America and North Africa for over 20 years.  I recently asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the blog about Native English speakers and international presentations. Who better to ask than a presentation trainer who works with international groups on a weekly basis? (Check out his bio at the bottom of this page… it’s quite interesting!)

Luckily for us all, he took a little bit of his own time and agreed to a quick interview about Native English speakers and communicating clearly when giving presentations.

So without further ado… here is the interview:

Matt: First, thanks for taking the time to share your expertise with us! 🙂 You work on improving communication and presentation skills with groups of participants from around the world. In your opinion, what challenges do Native English speakers present for the audience when giving presentations?

RubenHernandezRuben Hernandez: One challenge is to clean up their English of slang, idiomatic expressions or low frequency words for non-native English speakers (e.g. “we need to substantiate that claim” is more difficult than, “we need to see if what they claim is true”). This presents a few other parallel challenges.

First, many native-English speakers are not cognizant of what in their language repertoire is slang or idiomatic. 

They’ve never had to reflect on how they use their own language in ways that may be difficult for non-English speakers. So, knowing literally where to make these changes (which would include softening some strong regional accents) would help a great deal. 

A second challenge is to avoid going to the other extreme, of speaking too slowly, of enunciating to the point where one almost sounds intoxicated. It comes off as patronizing and may turn off the audience more than not making any adjustment at all.

In the end, you need also to be able to read the subtle expressions in the faces and body language of your foreign audience. They will often try, through their expressions, to let you know they’re having difficulty. But you do need the antenna to read those faces.

Matt: Apart from intercultural differences, do you believe that Native Speakers need to be more aware of their language when speaking internationally?

Ruben: Yes. As mentioned above, “awareness” is the key. Without that you won’t be able to work on the next step of adjusting your language. Even then it may take some practice and numerous occasions before shifting to a clear level of international English. 

Matt: If you could give Native English speakers a few tips about their language before they stepped up in front of a group or before they took part in an international meeting, what would they be?

Presenting Across CulturesRuben: There’s nothing like practicing under realistic conditions. If you can speak to non-native speakers (recent arrivals) who have a pretty good level of fluency in English but have not yet learned to speak native-like, then that would help. I used to teach a mixed international group of ESL students for about 6 months at Santa Monica College many years ago. It was for my teaching practicum while working on my Master’s in Education. Just in the first few encounters I could see I needed to adjust my language considerably. In time, it became easy. Later, when I moved to Europe people told me that I was easier to understand than most native-English speakers. 

Matt: You currently run presentation seminars through the “International Presentation Academy near to Munich. Do you ever have seminar groups that are entirely made up of Native English speakers? 

Ruben: That is seldom the case here in Germany. Most of the group composition is either entirely German or a mix of German and internationals. I do have clients in the UK, Ireland and the U.S. but they are usually speaking to other native-English speakers. 

Matt: Do you find Native English speakers resistant to advice about speaking “clearly” internationally?

Ruben: I wouldn’t say resistant. There are cases where they agree with the need to “speak clearly”, but sometimes are not able to do so straight away. It’s a skill…and it simply needs time to hone that skill. 

Matt: Finally – you’re an expert on presentation skills… if there is one thing a Native English speaking businessperson should remember before taking the microphone in front of an international audience, what would it be?

Ruben: For native-speakers it would be the advice given above in the first question. I would also add, for non-native English speakers as well, to get away from using text slides. This is the one biggest problem with presentations I can think of.  This may seem counter-intuitive, especially when presenting to non-native English speakers who can read better than they speak, but text slides will most likely sabotage your presentation for them as well.

 It forces the audience into 3 different cognitive processing speeds (watching, listening and reading) which the mind simply cannot do. Audience members simply try to concentrate on only one key task at a time (listening or reading).  But they don’t do the remaining chosen task very effectively either, because of the distraction the “eliminated” task still presents by simply being their (the brightly projected text or the background noise of someone speaking). In the end, overall comprehension is severely diminished. Diagrams, graphs and pictures, however, are universally understood around the world and fairly easy for everyone to process. Reading and comprehending fragmented bits of a presentation in a time-frame determined by the speaker, is not easy – even for native speakers.

Matt: Thanks for your time and for sharing your thoughts!

Ruben Hernandez (American) has been a presentation trainer in Europe, Asia, North America and North Africa for over 20 years. He is also an experienced speaker and speech writer. His focus has been on creating simple but effective methods to train others in the skill of making clear and powerful presentations –which led to the development of the Intensive Iterative Method. A parallel focus of his has been in teaching others how to adapt their presentations to different cultures, and their listening expectations, around the world. Ruben’s experience also includes work in the theatre – as a stage director, and in radio – as a writer and announcer. A graduate of UCLA, he holds an M.A. in Education and an MBA from the OUBS in England. Here is a link to the International Presentation Academy, where you can find more about the various seminars he and his team run.

YouTube Video by Ruben Hernandez – The Sad Decline of Presentations


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