Speak Business English with Confidence

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Brenda de Jong-Pauley, The English Center of Amsterdam, 19 January 2021

Business English with confidence sounds good, but is feeling and sounding confident as important as being accurate and correct?

As a Business English teacher, I often tell clients that spoken fluency and confidence is more important than accuracy. Why? Because listeners prefer fluid, confident speakers over speakers who are accurate but anxious. It is the “Don Draper” effect. (Mad Men is an acclaimed AMC series).

Simply stated, we are attracted to confident people. Nervous people make us nervous, too. Or at least a bit uncomfortable. And whether we feel empathetic or critical, we all prefer to work with confident colleagues.

Consider Don Draper. And just in case you’ve never watched Mad Men, Don Draper (played by John Hamm) is the ridiculously handsome and consummately confident advertising executive who gets all the girls and closes every deal. Don exudes confidence. He (almost) never breaks a sweat. He always knows what to say, and he always looks cool saying it. His character is so confident that he has become a pop culture icon. While Don is, of course, speaking his native language, we can still learn something from him.

1. Speaking business English with confidence is not so much about what you say, it’s about how you say it.

Don is a “golden boy,” and he can teach us something about verbal communication. When you speak fluently, in a relaxed, confident manner, you are entering a confidence circle.

2. The “confidence circle” begins with coherent units of meaning spoken in a fluent manner.

Most listeners will understand you despite a few grammar mistakes. And when you see your “audience” understanding you, you will feel good.

3. When you feel good, you will have more confidence, which will support your business English flow.

At that point, you have completed one feedback loop in the circle of fluent speech > success > confidence > more fluency > more success > even more confidence.

4. Anxiety is the enemy. Confidence is the goal.

Anxiety interferes with your brain’s access to words and structures. ESL (English as a Second Language) experts call this the anxiety filter.

5. Why do colleagues and bosses tolerate mistakes better than hesitation?

Why do we prefer a fluent speaker to a grammatically accurate speaker? Because we are social, empathetic creatures. When we listen to someone hesitate and look for words, and we see their discomfort, we feel uncomfortable, too.

6. Contrast that to the confident Business English speaker.

The confident speaker can carry on, looking like their grammar mistakes are just no big deal. We like that person! Because they are relaxed, we are relaxed.

7. So the goal of spoken business English training is not perfection, it is confidence and flow (fluency).

Learn to speak business English with confidence with lots of practice and the support of a coach/teacher who will build you up to become as fluent and confident in English as you are in your native language. Of course, errors can and should be corrected, but not at the expense of flow. A good teacher balances fluency and accuracy.

8. But what about your accent?

If you have significant pronunciation errors, that should be addressed. Pronunciation errors can make it hard for listeners to decode what you say and that can really damage your confidence when you see the confused look on the listener’s face. A very successful client once told me that people thought his accent was cute. Funny. Adorable. He was a CEO of a major international company, and he wanted respect, not giggles.

In conclusion…

Be wary of spoken business English courses that emphasize grammar and accuracy. Improving grammar accuracy is good, but accuracy alone will not make your listeners happy.

Because our teachers train businesspeople for real world encounters – NOT high school grammar tests – our primary goal is to give speakers good flow. Of course, we correct errors, but providing learners with the structure and vocabulary to keep speaking – finishing spoken sentences and thoughts fluidly – is job 1! Contact us to learn more. We are happy to help you speak confident English.

If you prefer to focus on written English, be prepared to study more grammar, but we will keep it focused and in context, I promise.

More resources to help you speak business English with confidence

Additional reading: How to be More Confident: 5 Research Backed Methods (Time magazine online)

See the trailer for Mad Men.

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