Communications Insight For More Inspiring Leaders How To Speak In Public In Your Second Language - With Jakub Pawlowski

How To Speak In Public In Your Second Language - With Jakub Pawlowski

 22nd Apr 2012

Each year, 26,000 speakers around the world enter the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking Contest.

Comprising six ‘knock-out rounds’, starting at club level in February, the contest culminates in the World Final at the Toastmasters International Convention, held in August each year – usually in the USA.

Jakub Pawlowski is the 2012 winner of the London Final (Round 3). He will compete in the GB & All-Ireland ‘District Final’ (Round 4) in Wexford, Ireland on Saturday 12th May 2012. The winner in Wexford will go forward to represent both nations in the World Championship Semi-Finals (Round 5) in Orlando, Florida USA.

Fortunately, Simon was able to catch up with him for a quick chat…

So Jakub, tell us why you decided to take up public speaking?
I was always a very shy person but I soon realised that to progress my career, public speaking is a skill I would need. I moved to the UK five years ago and then joined a Toastmasters Club about 18 months ago.

[Editor’s Note: if you’re also based in or near London and would like to find out more about public speaking clubs near you, check out]  

Where did you start out?
The first club I joined is called ‘Polish Your Polish’ – a Polish speaking club here in London. It was really good because I could focus on public speaking skills first, without getting too concerned about the language barrier.

What have been the benefits?
What I’ve found is that public speaking has helped the way I communicate with people in general – not just in front of an audience.

I’m a software engineer, so it’s obviously helped with my meetings at work. I find I can express myself in a better way than before. But I also pay more attention to what others are saying. One of the things about public speaking – you may become a better speaker, but you also have to become a better listener!

Outside work too, doing things like networking, I feel much more confident than before. I’m no longer afraid to talk to a complete stranger and to engage them.

How many languages do you speak?
Six. Polish, English, French, Spanish, Russian and German…

Yikes! What’s your experience been like with English here in the UK?
I really struggled with spoken English – especially when I started out here. But after being a member of Polish Your Polish for a while, my mentor advised me to join an English-speaking club – London Corinthians.

How did you prepare for delivering your first speech in English?
First, I delivered the speech in Polish. I found this easier, because once I knew how to deliver it in Polish, it was easier for me to focus on the words when speaking in the English club.

What advice would you give to people who worry about how they come across in their 2nd/3rd or even 4th language?
Well, I definitely made a lot of blunders! But if you don’t try, you’ll never improve. With new idioms or words, I would look them up and then find a way to use them as quickly as possible. That’s the only way to make the phrase stick, I find. You have to use it!

Also, many people commented on my pronunciation. So, I decided to take elocution classes. I can highly recommend this to any non-native speaker struggling with pronunciation.

Finally, everyone I’ve met has been very tolerant.  So long as they could understand me, that was the most important thing.

How are you feeling about the upcoming GB & All-Ireland Final?
I’m really looking forward to it. A lot of people say I’ve got a chance to do really well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity. I definitely intend to do my best.

How is the contest benefiting you?
It’s making me a better speaker. Never before have I worked so much on an individual speech. Sometimes in my club, I’d even deliver a speech written on the same day! But after the second round, I spent a lot of time rewriting the speech and I delivered it in three different clubs to get as much feedback as possible.

What I found was that no matter how good I thought the speech was, I could always make it better. I tried out some things people suggested and when I compared, I could notice the difference. While pursuing excellence, rewriting, practising the speech over and over again may be really tiring, it has made me already a much better speaker and I wouldn’t trade that for anything else!

Which communicators do you admire?
Zig Ziglar & Tony Robbins.

I do a lot of running so I always have headphones on, often listening to some good speakers talking to me. This helped me to improve a lot!

Which book are you reading at the moment?
‘7 Minutes To Win’ – by Malachi Talabi, winner of the GB & All-Ireland contest in 2011.

Simon led by example and provided clear tips on structure, inserting words, leading with stories and stance. Now I can sense the distinct uptick in engagement in a room of diverse nationalities and backgrounds... prepare more comfortably around my key messages and theme.


Tarun Varma | Pershing Square Scholar, University of Oxford, 1+1 MBA, MSc Child Development and Education Fellow 2011, Teach for India

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