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How to Express Yourself Confidently in Meetings When English is Not Your First Language

You are educated, experienced, and motivated, but English is not your first language and you work in an anglophone environment. Your writing and reading skills are great, but when it comes time to publicly speak English you instantly freeze up. How can you reduce this English-speaking anxiety and participate in meetings with ease?

Express Yourself Confidently in Meetings

The following tips are easy to apply yet incredibly useful. Implement them and tell us your personal advice in the comments below.

#1 Recognize That Speaking Up Is Vital To Your Advancement

You know that voice in your head that tells you speaking up will make you look foolish? It is wrong and you should silence it. In reality, not speaking up will hurt your career more than speaking up ever will. If you know what you are talking about and have a valuable contribution to make, those in charge will notice the value more than the delivery. Staying quiet also runs the risk of someone else getting credit for your insights. Use the expressions to speak up ad express your opinion during a meeting.

Expressing opinion sentences

  • I think that it's better to take the bus than the train. 
  • Personally, I think that professional athletes are paid too much. 
  • I believe that hospital staff are underpaid.
  • In my opinion, computer games have a bad influence on children.
  • I feel that he gap between rich and poor is growing.
  • To be honest, I think we watch too much television.
  • I’m fairly confident that it will be much faster to get to London by train.
  • In my view, professional athletes are paid too much.
  • All things considered, hospital staff are underpaid.
  • If you ask me, computer games have a bad influence on children.
  • To my mind, I think we watch too much television.
  • Honestly, I think we watch too much television.
  • I could be wrong, but...
  • After much thought, I feel that we need to update our WFH policy.
  • My initial reaction is to reach out to all team leads.
  • I am of the opinion that employees should be accountable for their wins and losses.
  • I tend to think that having so many project managers slows everything down.
  • With some reservations, I believe that everyone should work from home for the next years.

#2 Use The Meeting Agenda As Your Prep Guide

Most companies send out an agenda before a meeting that outlines what will be discussed. If you notice a topic of discussion you want to talk about, write out what you would like to say in advance and practice saying the words out loud. This will help you feel comfortable with clarity, speed, and pronunciation. You don’t need to read directly off your paper during the actual meeting. The point of this exercise is to build confidence so that you’ll know what you want to say and how to say it when you’re in front of your peers.

#3 Ask Questions

If you’ve missed something during the meeting, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarification. People will not see it as a nuisance. In fact, meetings are so full of people eager to talk over others that your colleagues will be pleased when you seek clarification on an idea they had. A couple of polite ways to do this are saying:

  • “That’s an interesting idea. Would you repeat those last few points?”
  • “That’s helpful advice. Could you reiterate the steps you outlined so I can quickly write them down?”

Showing interest and making the effort to pay attention not only helps you stay in the loop, it also demonstrates to your colleagues that you respect what they have to say. And asking questions is viewed as contributing to the discussion, so even if you don’t have something specific to add, it’s clear to everyone that you are actively engaged in the conversation.

Additional phrases to ask for clarification

  • That’s an interesting idea. Would you repeat those last few points?
  • Sorry, what exactly do you mean by that?
  • Sorry, could you go over that again?
  • Could you please expand on that?
  • That’s helpful advice. Could you reiterate the steps you outlined so I can quickly write them down?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • Do you mean...?
  • So are you saying...?
  • You’re saying, then, that...
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but do you mean...?
  • Sorry, I'm not sure if I got that. Are you saying...?
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#4 Take Notes And Send Follow Up Messages

Always bring a pen and paper, whether you’re attending a simple budget meeting or an important strategy session. This shows engagement when you aren’t speaking and it allows you to jot down your thoughts if you want to add to what someone says. Most importantly, taking notes during your meeting means you can contribute even after the meeting is over. If something comes to you later while reviewing your notes, you can quickly shoot your manager an email outlining your ideas.

#5 Watch Videos of People Giving Presentations

Watch an instructional video or unwind with a TEDTalk on YouTube so you can pick up the rhythm and the flow of public speaking. This kind of prep can help you with pronunciation, presenting your ideas clearly, and feeling comfortable speaking in front of a group of people.

Additionally, listening to podcasts in English to help you interiorize phrases and intonation patterns. Check out Talaera Talks (business English podcast for non-native English professionals) or find the podcast that best fits your interests.

#6 Take Your Time

When we feel nervous or self-conscious, we tend to speed up, forget our point, and ramble. And if you notice that your audience is lost, you’ll only feel worse. Take a deep breath and speak slowly. Give people the chance to follow along so that they can appreciate the value of your words.

#7 Know Your Stuff

If you can’t find the right English word for what you want to say every now and again, it’s no big deal. But if you don’t know what you’re talking about that’s a recipe for disaster. The trick is to know your job and know it well. Expertise gives you the confidence you need to express yourself regularly in team environments.

Keep improving your communication skills for the workplace

Continue improving your communication skills for professional situations - get in touch with Talaera. If you wish to take your professional English communication skills to the next level, here are some valuable resources:

English Training Solution for Global Teams

For any additional information or questions, you can also reach out at info@talaera.com. Interested in getting the best offers and receiving free content on Business English communication? Subscribe to our newsletter and we will keep you in the loop with offers, free events, and development materials! 

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[Note: This article was originally published in August, 2019, and updated in December, 2021]

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