I Have a Few Choice Words For You…

I work with members of Israel’s entertainment industry, often in preparation for international film festivals and awards ceremonies around the globe. Israel has produced quality films, as well as quality actors. When an Israeli film is released internationally, and when it competes in an international film festival in Cannes, Berlin, or Toronto, I am so proud of the talent we have to share with the world. With the challenge to represent their film, their art, and their country, actors prepare with me for interviews and press conferences.

I’m not an expert on their films, although I often become one. I don’t tell the actors what to say. As I often say to them, they’re “the star of the show.”  What I do when we work together is interview them. I ask them all kinds of questions they are likely to face on the road. And together we prepare what it is they want to express. Where I come in is helping them say it intelligently and clearly, with the right choice of words. The right choice of words serves to polish the presentation.

With the amount of ingenuity in Israel, we know that our stars are not only the ones in the performing arts. Our best and brightest can be found in the sectors of high tech, pharmaceuticals, and other industries.

Have you come out with the next big thing that will change the face of your industry? Have you been given the opportunity to represent your company or your company’s product abroad? You have the professional expertise to have developed this product, but how do you explain it to the world?

I remember when I began a new job. I was trying to fax a letter (you can tell this was a while ago) and must have forgotten to dial 9 before dialing the fax number. My supervisor brought me the fax and said, “You screwed up the fax.” As a manager the best thing you can do is empower your staff to feel good, to feel motivated, and to learn and grow. (At least I hope this is true.) I’ll never forget what my supervisor said to me that day. I was new on the job, and her choice of words gave me a strong message of the kind of person she was. I was her subordinate, so I wasn’t in a position to hire her or to enter into a business deal with her. But what happens when a representative of an Israeli start-up goes to the U.S. to meet with potential investors? And our choice of words affects the outcome of the meeting? To whom can we turn to ensure we’re using the right words?

When you are expected to present in English, and it isn’t your first language, it can be hard to sound as intelligent in English as you do in your native language. You may have beautiful English, but it isn’t as polished as you’d like it to be. Or it doesn’t sound as conversational and natural as you would like it to sound. What can you do?

First, prepare what you want to say. You have something important to share, and you deserve to be heard. That should be your thinking. Otherwise, why bother? If you really believe your message is important, put it down in words. Write it. If you need to write it first in your native language, do it- formulate the messages, which are driving this presentation or meeting. Find your direction. Without this you won’t know where to go.

Now that you have your main points, try to translate it to English. Although you may have a good command of the language, perhaps you feel that the passion, importance, or impact is missing from the English version. Does it lose your personality when translated? If you can’t do it yourself, then hire a translator. But the project is not complete with only translation. After translation, you need to then “make it your own.” Here I mean that you should put your personality or the company’s soul back into it.

Ask for help. If you know a native English speaker, someone you find to be articulate and expressive, ask to run the speech by him. While people are busy, most are often flattered when asked for their input and happy to help. Being able to ask for help does not show weakness. It actually indicates strength. Asking for help means that you are invested in this endeavor. You care about it and want to get it right.

There’s a hardware store near my home in Jerusalem, and the two and only English words on the storefront read:

Biulding Meterials

Only two words, both spelled wrong. True, it’s a hardware store, and if you need some paint or nails, those two misspelled words won’t stop you from buying supplies there. But now think of your own company. Is your English written material perfect? Does the copy on your website spell success? And when you present in English, can you choose the words that will make the deal? Sometimes, it can be as easy as asking someone.

There’s a new upscale mall where I live. The stores are designer, and the architecture is a marvel. Millions of dollars were spent to create an elegant and worldly shopping experience. But the sign for wheelchair access was translated from Hebrew to English to read:

Beyond Disabled      (from the Hebrew: מעבר לנכים)

You cannot rely only on automated translation programs. What I often do with clients is to speak to them about the goals and messages of a presentation or written material. And together we create the text. What I also do, and this is what makes the difference, is build a sense of understanding with my clients. We discuss the soul of the piece. How do they want the presentation to come off? How do they want the written piece to be read? We discuss not only what messages we want to transmit, but what emotions and mood we want to create.

Working together, we find the words which will best portray the company’s essence, or the speaker’s personality. Together, we build a performance, with the right words, as well as the soul, acting in concert. You may be the artist, but having someone fine tune what you say may help your speech to sing.

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