Updated: Oct 16, 2022
One of the most common perceived challenges that comes up when I’m consulting with potential clients, particularly at the executive level, is that they feel they lack general vocabulary and grammar skills and if they could just find the right course, their problems would be solved. Here’s why that’s unlikely.
The actual challenge is much more straightforward and significant. In most cases, what’s really happening is this: You have reached an extraordinary level of success in your field because you’ve worked toward your professional goals with intensity and focus, but you haven’t taken the opportunity to strengthen your English skills with the same forcefulness. The reasons for the lack of consistency aren’t nearly as important as the realization that it has now become a dilemma. Why? Because English is indisputably the international language of commerce and having command of it is expected.
You’re definitely not alone. Like many others, you might have tried to solve this problem by signing up for general English classes that take a comprehensive approach to learning (not that there’s anything wrong with that, and it would be appropriate for beginners just starting out in their English language journey). In your case, however, repeatedly taking ready-made English courses designed to appeal to the masses isn’t going to address your needs—it will just prompt you to repeat what you already know.
This approach presents a challenge for a very clear reason. Think back on the steps you needed to take to reach the level of success you’ve currently achieved. You probably undertook a specialized course of study. That process typically requires instruction addressing issues specifically relating to your field. For example, if you are working as a portfolio manager, you would have needed to take courses teaching you how to deal with particular assets. Or, if you are an ethics and compliance specialist, you would have had corporate ethics training so you could do your job properly. If you’re the GM of a hotel, a hospitality degree would have been indispensable.
The same approach applies in upskilling your executive language skills. The successful response to your challenge is much more streamlined and powerful than general English lessons. It’s also much more refined. What you really want is a program designed just for you—not a take-it-or-leave-it course intended to appeal to the masses.
For you to raise your English level to match your professional level, the most effective approach you can take is to follow a structured program, with clear objectives, tailored to your specific needs that includes the following steps:
Step 1: Build your confidence so that your verbal communication flows effortlessly and fluently.
During this step, you spend time with an experienced and patient coach who will encourage you to build up the vocabulary that allows you to use business idioms, expressions, and phrases to better express yourself.
I cannot emphasize enough how important this type of vocabulary is. Native speakers use it constantly and we don’t even think about it. With the right approach and some practice, so can you. Trust me—you want to be able to understand this type of vocabulary even if you have no intention of ever using it. It is essential information and it allows you to understand the conversation taking place right in front of you. For example, let’s say you’re attending a meeting where English is being spoken by several native speakers and one of them starts out by saying, “let’s chew the fat until everyone gets here”. What?! Yuck! If you don’t know that what he’s really suggesting is a casual conversation until all the attendees arrive, that’s all your brain is going to focus on and you’ll miss out on what comes next. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (a small part of the problem) because there are about 25,000 idioms in the English language. We love them.
Step 2: Improve your verbal English clarity so your colleagues and clients (both native and non-native speakers) can understand you clearly.
This step builds on the previous one by putting content into action. The English language has many spoken characteristics which, if practiced, allow the listener to hear and understand you more efficiently.
You will master the components of linkage, stress, intonation, and vowel and consonant pronunciation in ways that sound more natural and spontaneous.
This can be a very tricky skill to master because many times a sentence can have different meanings depending on which word or words receive the most stress. For instance, consider this sentence: “I had that report.” It only has four words, but depending on which word you emphasize, it can actually have four different meanings. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
Step 3: Develop the mindset and skills that allow you to be comfortable and confident while making presentations in English.
In this step, we face something that many people find challenging, even when presenting in their native language. Do you wish you could develop the savvy and confidence to present with such reliability and engagement that your colleagues will look forward to hearing from you?
All it takes is the proper coaching and some practice. If you take away only one thing I say here, let it be this: If you can be the person in the room that jumps into making professional presentations willingly, effortlessly, and spontaneously, you will establish and solidify your status as a leader.
Sometimes, clients tell me how they’re looking forward to the program, but they’re not convinced they’ll ever be able to handle public speaking or even manage a meeting. I don’t argue with them, but just take a wait-and-see approach and they, quite honestly, never fail.
One young woman, in particular, comes to mind. She was part of a group presentation course I delivered several years ago in Dubai. She was terribly shy about her pronunciation and, to be honest, she was difficult to understand in the beginning, but we kept at it relentlessly over the 12 weeks we worked together. At the conclusion of the course, everyone had to give a short presentation. She was terrified when it was her turn and you could tell that her course mates were agonizing for her out of sympathy. Once she stood up and started speaking, though, everyone (including me) was mesmerized. She was brilliant. She captivated everyone’s hearts. It was one of the most engaging demonstrations of hard work and determination that I’ve ever witnessed. But even more importantly, she was thrilled with how she felt at the end; the entire room erupted with applause and shouts of her name. I think we were all crying by then. Those are the moments that make my efforts worthwhile.
I love what I do. I’ve worked with people from more than 90 different countries in improving their English communication, pronunciation, writing, and presentation skills. Please feel free to send me a message if you would like to learn how my tailored executive English programs can help you.