An improvisation exercise for English retourists

The purpose of this improvisation exercise is to help you consolidate your knowledge and active use of verbs, phrases and expressions meaning ‘begin’ and to give you an opportunity to improvise a short presentation in English similar to something you might hear in a real meeting. You can also use this exercise to practise your presentation skills and get some feedback on your use of English.

The whole improvisation exercise should take you a maximum of 30 minutes, unless you want to do extra research on a topic area of your choice. You can tailor the exercise to suit your ability level and vocabulary lacunae; I have given hints as to how to do this. Be creative and have fun with it!

If you need a little more help with finding suitable phrases (and the right register), scroll down to the part of the post that is BELOW the exercise, for lots of suggestions.

Instructions

Choose between Option 1 (a short presentation) and Option 2 (playing the role of the Chairman of a meeting).

Option 1: prepare a short presentation

Pick onePick 2 or more adjectivesPick 2 or more verbs or phrasesPick 3 or more adjectives
PRODUCT LAUNCH: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time. More info here: https://aira.io/

OR

CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for an app to find the best way to get from A to B. The app can search bus routes, find taxis, buy train tickets, automatically post on carsharing websites, find hire cars and calculate the cost of fuel, and calculate projected CO2 emissions for the trip.

OR

a product, service, initiative, project or campaign of your choice
delighted
thrilled
honoured
excited
pleased
optimistic
gratified
daunted
nervous
elated
overjoyed
ecstatic
tickled pink
break new ground
pave the way for
blaze a trail
breath of fresh air
pioneer
usher in
initiate
launch
embark on
begin
start
originate
set about
groundbreaking
innovative
ambitious
unique
unprecedented
revolutionary
cutting-edge
pioneering
tantalising
trendsetting
radical
original
experimental
inventive
ingenious
state-of-the-art
creative
imaginative
inspired
visionary

Your task is to take the elements of your choice (type of presentation, adjectives describing feelings, phrases relating to ‘beginning’, adjectives describing your product or service) and prepare a 5 minutes oral presentation to pitch your product.

It is up to you to decide who you are selling or presenting your product to: potential investors? An NGO or charity?

Your presentation will have the following format:

  1. Brief intro to address the audience and introduce yourself and use your ‘feeling’ adjectives, e.g. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I am thrilled to have been invited to this conference to present our brand new product. I am, of course, a touch nervous at addressing such a knowledgeable audience, but I’m also confident that I will be able to convince you of the real benefits that our product can offer partially sighted people.’
  2. your presentation of the product/service/campaign, using the idioms and descriptive adjectives you have chosen.
  3. A conclusion or call to action (e.g. please invest/here is our website for further information/please spread the word etc.)

If you need a helping hand with the English: do some extra research by choosing a real product or service and visiting the website to pick up more vocabulary.

If your retour is already advanced: choose an area that you’re not very familiar with, and take the opportunity to increase your vocabulary in that field (e.g. robotics, engineering, IT, medicine).

Option 2: act as Chairman of a meeting

Depending on your level of English and knowledge of conference vocabulary, you can choose to keep it quite general, or much more specific.

Pick EITHER agenda 1, OR agenda 2 plus EITHER the product launch OR the crowdfunding campaignPick 2 or more adjectivesPick 2 or more verbs or phrasesPick 3 or more adjectives
AGENDA 1:
General Session of the AFB Leadership Conference 2018 —How Leading Tech Companies Are Raising the Bar for Blind and Visually Impaired Users
Panelists: Sarah Herrlinger, Director, Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, Apple; Mark Lapole, Lead Product Developer, AIRA (assistive technologies for the blind); Megan Lawrence, Accessibility Technical Evangelist, Microsoft; and Jeffrey Wieland, Director of Accessibility, Facebook
Description: Representatives from the world’s leading technology companies will share their insights on how they operationalize accessibility, engage with assistive technology users, and improve opportunities for persons with visual impairments.

OR

Agenda 2:
Adoption of the agenda, Minutes of previous meeting, Item 1 (presentation by Mr Michael Miller followed by Q&A), Item 2 (recent developments in the industry).

PRODUCT LAUNCH: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time. More info here: https://aira.io/

OR

CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN for an app to find the best way to get from A to B. The app can search bus routes, find taxis, buy train tickets, automatically post on carsharing websites, find hire cars and calculate the cost of fuel, and calculate projected CO2 emissions for the trip.

OR

a product, service, initiative, project or campaign of your choice
delighted
thrilled
honoured
excited
pleased
optimistic
gratified
daunted
nervous
elated
overjoyed
ecstatic
tickled pink
break new ground
pave the way for
blaze a trail
breath of fresh air
pioneer
usher in
initiate
launch
embark on
begin
start
originate
set about
groundbreaking
innovative
ambitious
unique
unprecedented
revolutionary
cutting-edge
pioneering
tantalising
trendsetting
radical
original
experimental
inventive
ingenious
state-of-the-art
creative
imaginative
inspired
visionary

Your task is to chair the first five minutes of a meeting where an invited guest will be presenting an innovative new product/service/crowdfunding campaign.

If you chose Agenda 1:

You are the moderator of a general session at the AFB Leadership Conference (American Foundation for the Blind).

Your presentation will have the following format, but feel free to take liberties.

  1. Open the session
  2. Welcome panellists
  3. Introduce the first speaker, Michael Miller, CEO of the company that has created smartglasses for visually impaired people (more info here: https://aira.io/how-it-works or see below). Use your ‘feelings’ adjectives to describe how excited you are that he is here, and your idioms and other adjectives to say a few words about his product.
  4. Give Michael Miller the floor.

Description of the AIRA smart glasses: pair of smart glasses + smartphone app + trained assistants. Blind or visually impaired people wear the glasses and call an agent when they need help with everyday tasks (reading a recipe, separating laundry, buying an item in a cafe); the assistant can see what the blind person is seeing in real time.

If you chose Agenda 2:

  1. Decide what kind of meeting this is. You can keep it general, or be very specific (for example if you want to do some extra research and widen your vocabulary in a specific area).
  2. Start your oral presentation: go through the agenda as if you were in a real meeting (e.g. ask if the agenda can be adopted, ask if anyone has comments about the minutes of the previous meeting, maybe say a few words about how you intend to tackle items 1 and 2).
  3. Make a few housekeeping points of your own devising, for instance about timings of coffee breaks, colleagues who are absent, etc.
  4. Turn to Item 1, and introduce the first speaker, Michael Miller, who will be presenting the product of your choice (or the smart glasses or travel app). Use your ‘feelings’ adjectives to describe how excited you are that he is here, and your idioms and other adjectives to say a few words about his product/service/campaign.
  5. Give Michael Miller the floor.

4 ways to use your presentation:

  1. If there’s no-one at home who can listen to you, deliver your speech out loud to practise your delivery and presentation skills. Use a mirror or the camera on your smartphone!
  2. Record an audio file of yourself and post it in the RyR Facebook group. Ask other members for feedback on your use of English and delivery.
  3. Film yourself and put the speech on Speechpool for others to use as practice material.
  4. If you’re a member of a practice group with people who have an English C, give them the speech as practice material!

Extra help with vocab

Here are some suggestions to help you with the exercise.
Some of these phrases are very useful during meetings, e.g. when the chair takes the floor for the first time, or when a speaker is presenting a new proposal or project. You may know most or all of them already, but this way you have them all in one place!

Getting down to business

First, a few expressions a chairman might use first thing in the morning, when the meeting begins, to indicate a general readiness to start work.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s time to make a start.

It’s time to start today’s meeting.

Let’s begin the meeting.

Lower register and grumpy, verging on the rude and impatient, would be let’s get on with it.  Let’s get this show on the road! is idiomatic but rather conversational; you could perhaps use it if the speaker was being humorous or flamboyant. In most meetings, you wouldn’t get away with it’s showtime!

showtime

To show that his introduction or general remarks are done with, and it’s time to talk about the actual subject of the meeting, the chairman would use one of the following expressions (listed here in rough order of how specific they are).

Let’s get straight to it.

Let’s get down to business.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

Without further ado, let’s turn to today’s agenda.

Shall we turn to the first item on the agenda?

Let’s start with an item of other business.

Let’s get straight on with the main point on today’s agenda.

Before we get to the nitty gritty, I want to give the Commission the floor on an item of other business.

First things first, I have a few points of housekeeping to discuss, before we move on to the agenda proper.

And to make sure that the beginning is auspicious, the chairman might say:

Let’s start as we mean to go on, and limit ourselves to two minutes’ speaking time each.

Who’s going to make the first move?

Someone has to be the first to speak in a debate. Here are some options for you in these circumstances:

Who’s going to get the ball rolling? Who’s going to set the ball rolling?

Who’s willing to kick off our discussion? *NOTE that willing to does not mean the same thing as wanting to!

The floor is open for your comments. Who would like to take the floor first? Who would like to comment first?

Who’s going to open the discussion?

Who wants to be the first to speak on this point?

Who’s going to break the ice?

Who’s going to dive in?

Chairman, I want to jump in at this stage, to clear up a misunderstanding.

A few verbs

The verb begin has many synonyms. Let me try to give you some hints on usage and nuance, so that you can decide when to use begin, start, originate, set about, usher in, embark on, launch, inaugurate, initiate and commence.

  • Begin is the most general verb, and start is a near synonym. They are virtually interchangeable. You can use both of them with an object or without:

We’ve begun our analysis of the text. We’ve started our analysis of the text.

The lecture begins at 9 a.m. The lecture starts at 9 a.m.

  • In some contexts, you can use get underway (meaning begin to happen) as a synonym when begin or start are intransitive; however, it is less concise than begin/start.

The lecture got underway at 10 a.m. The project got underway in 2012. The festival gets underway on 20th August. The Party Conference gets underway tomorrow in Cardiff.

  • To talk about the origin or inspiration of a proposal or project, use originate (intransitive). Avoid using originate with an object (i.e. don’t say who originated this expression? but rather where did this expression originate? or who coined this expression?)

The disease was thought to originate in Africa. This technology originated in the US.

  • Initiate is a formal way of saying cause something to begin. It needs an object, and often collocates with words meaning conversation, discussion, negotiations, consultations, but also goes well with words meaning initiative. You can use it in the passive voice as well:

The peace talks were initiated by the special envoy.

Our company initiated talks with competitors last year.

Arsenal ‘have initiated talks’ to sign Lille striker Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The minister was credited with initiating a series of welfare reforms.

  • Commence is also a formal or technical way of saying begin, and can be used either with or without an object. Familiar contexts for commence are space travel (commencing countdown…) and military activities (commence firing!). You will see from the examples that it sounds stilted in normal conversation, and is chiefly used in contracts or on very formal occasions.

Construction work is expected to commence in two weeks.

Legal proceedings will commence immediately.

The policy will commence under the abovementioned conditions.

The wedding ceremony will commence at noon.

  • Set about means begin doing something and takes a gerund (the -ing form of a verb):

He set about cleaning out the garage.

  • Embark on means to start a project, the nuance being that it is likely to be time-consuming or complex. It collocates well with nouns that mean journey (metaphorically), project, or venture, e.g. adventure, endeavour, programme, pursuit, undertaking, experiment.

She embarked on a new career at the age of 40.

The company has embarked on a risky new venture.

  • Inaugurate takes an object, and suggests the beginning of a significant era or of some formality. Personally, I would use usher in rather than inaugurate in the sense of usher in a new era.

The new political regime was meant to inaugurate a new era of peace and prosperity.

The peace envoy helped to inaugurate the new round of peace talks.

  • Usher in collocates well with nouns meaning era, such as period, cycle, season, spell, or time.

The political reforms ushered in a period of economic prosperity.

  • Launch means to set in motion. It takes an object and implies a deliberate act (as opposed to a phenomenon that occurs spontaneously). Speaking literally, you would launch a vessel, such as a rocket or a ship; metaphorically, you could launch a career, a business/company, an initiative/campaign, a project/programme/scheme, a new radio station/TV station, a product or service, and finally an attack/assault. You can use almost any synonym of the nouns I have listed with the verb launch, which is very versatile.

Being innovative

So… finally you’ve got something started: a project, a campaign, whatever. But are you a leader or a follower? Here are some phrases that can help express the idea of being innovative.

The early bird catches the worm.

Our company is blazing a trail.

We are spearheading this campaign. – when it’s not used in a military sense (to spearhead in invasion), spearhead means ‘lead a course of action’ and collocates with nouns meaning campaign, initiative, project.

Our pioneering work will pave the way for others to follow.

Our product breaks new ground.

This market needs new blood. Our company is shaking things up.

This young start-up is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant market.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Our CEO pioneered this type of marketing.

Starting over

If you’re starting something all over again, you might be starting from scratch, starting over, going back to the drawing board (for example, when designing a product or drafting a text), or going back to square one.

These are all useful phrases in meetings if the proposal on the table is doesn’t suit the negotiating parties, for example.

If a person is beginning a new life or adopting a different attitude, they might be starting over, wiping the slate clean, starting afresh, turning over a new leaf (which implies behaving more responsibly), or making a clean break (cutting ties with bad influences, for instance, or moving on from a divorce).

Horses and races

A couple of idioms related to races:

We’re under starter’s orders means we are ready to perform a task. Here is an example from the news:

Potential buyers of a country house which boasts its own racing stables are under starter’s orders in an online auction which ends next month.

The starting gun/ the starting pistol has been fired, and we need to come up with a solution immediately.

The starting gun has been fired in a brutal leadership contest.

Hurrying up

There is a plethora of expressions meaning ‘hurry up’, many of which are fairly colloquial. The common theme here is that the speaker is urging someone to do something or go somewhere. These are generally unsuitable in a conference situation, either because of context (they don’t describe the act of beginning to examine a document, say) or register.

Let’s get moving!

Let’s get going!

Get a move on!

Shake a leg!

And something you might say to family members or your children: Get a wriggle on! Chop chop!

Here is an example of a suitable context for these phrases:

We have to leave the house before 5 o’clock, or we’ll be late for the show. Let’s get going! (or: Shake a leg! Get a wriggle on! etc.)

If you want to watch some TV this afternoon, you need to do your homework first. Get a move on!

Wow! That was epic! I hope this post has given you plenty of ready-made solutions to use in meetings.

Interested in more material like this to help you boost your retour? Why not join my monthly membership site, Rock your Retour, with tailor-made written materials and weekly live group classes (online)?

Interpreting Coach logo with strapline

Sophie Llewellyn Smith, writing as The Interpreting Coach, is a coach, interpreter trainer, conference interpreter, designer of online teaching materials, and creator of Speechpool. Follow the blog to pick up tips on how to improve your interpreting skills.

If you’re interested in personal coaching, why not book a free discovery call?

error

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close