Today the internet discussed a speech given in English by Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun. He spoke for about three minutes to an audience in India launching a new product. If you haven’t seen the video you can view it here.
In basic English he made some introductory remarks, announced a gift for the audience and then posed for photos.
A discussion erupted in China around several questions. Should he have spoken in English if his English was so bad? Did he lose respect because of this speech? Was this a brave or stupid decision?
There were a lot of answers to these questions. Some thought Mr Jun should not have spoken, as his English was so poor. Others applauded the risk he took and said this is what makes him a good entrepreneur.
I agree that Mr. Jun’s English was not good enough to give a full presentation in English, but does that mean he shouldn’t try?
What matters when you are giving a presentation is what the audience thinks. You might think that you gave the best presentation ever, but if the audience was bored and confused then it wasn’t a successful presentation.
If you listen to the audience’s reaction in Mr. Jun’s speech, they seem pretty excited to be there. This was probably because Mr. Jun was also excited and spoke with passion. When he says, ‘Are you ok?’ The audience responds with cheers. Using a question to get the audience involved is a great speaking technique.
By speaking a language that his Indian customers understood, Mr. Jun could connect on a more personal level than if he had spoken a Chinese dialect or if he had not spoken at all. It was far from perfect, but he got the message out and even became a viral sensation.
Do people expect more from a speech given in English compared to other languages when it’s the speaker’s second language?
Personally, I think all speakers that give a presentation in a foreign language should be applauded. It is difficult for most people to speak in public in their first language and that much harder to do it in a second language.
No one expects CEOs to be able to speak all the languages of countries where they operate, however, knowing a few words can be a sign of respect for the other person’s culture and language.
Global business is now largely conducted in English, so people expect that if you are going to give a business presentation in a second language that language should be English. It is becoming not just an extra element to add to your CV, but English language skills are an essential requirement to work in some international firms.
Mr. Jun later acknowledged on his Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that perhaps he should improve his English as his company grows more internationally.
All of this demonstrates not only how important English is becoming, but how important English is for presentations, especially in global business.