Small- and medium-business owners learn effective business communication through U.S. Embassy-sponsored programs.
American trainer Dieter Bruhn worked with women entrepreneurs at the “Train-the-Trainer” workshop. (Photograph courtesy U.S. Consulate General Kolkata)
Indian entrepreneurs who create a small- or medium-sized company usually know their businesses inside and out. But, at times, they struggle to communicate about it. Everything—from pitching a proposal to investors to using the right tone when emailing suppliers or workers and engaging customers—requires effective communication. The challenge is, at times, bigger when they must do this in English.
In the world of business, the ability to communicate well in English is often considered key to building trust with clients and investors, and developing and sustaining international relationships. It helps increase access to resources and opportunities and, ultimately, boosts a company’s chances of succeeding.
Two programs sponsored by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office (RELO) helped entrepreneurs and mid-level professionals confront this challenge through English-language business communication training.
“A lot of RELO’s work is focused on helping people gain the English communication skills they need to succeed in professional contexts so that they have greater access to opportunity,” says Ruth Goode, Regional English Language Officer at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi. “In supporting women and the LGBTQI+ community in this way, we’re also supporting inclusivity and diversity.”
Train-the-Trainer, a five-day in-person workshop in partnership with the U.S. State Department’s Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), in Kolkata, Ranchi, Patna, Dimapur and Imphal was organized by the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata. Since 2019, AWE has empowered more than 16,000 women in 80 countries with the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses.
In each of the sessions, 18 female entrepreneurs worked with American trainer Dieter Bruhn to develop a curriculum. The entrepreneurs will share their learnings from the workshop with their peers.
The Train-the-Trainer workshops ended with a competition to see which participant could pitch the best business proposal. (Photograph courtesy U.S. Consulate General Kolkata)
The other program, Pitch Perfect, was organized in partnership with the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC). Around 113 participants— primarily entrepreneurs and mid-level professionals, and 80 transgender and women entrepreneurs from Tamil Nadu and Kerala—attended 20 hour-long virtual sessions over 10 weeks led by U.S. trainer Nick Reishus.
Keeping it short
“I am a first generation entrepreneur,” says Tasangkala Imchen, the owner of Expression Life, a company in Dimapur, Nagaland, that employs six artists making home decorations and gifts. “When I started my company, I thought having a business is all about making money, but I learned it’s also about how you communicate with people. When we were asked to introduce ourselves, it was very long and it was very difficult for us to explain our businesses. Dieter Bruhn taught us how to introduce ourselves in a short time. The training has really helped me.”
Imchen says Bruhn made sure that they had enough practice. “He’d stop us and say, ‘This is how you need to say it. Instead of saying it in 10 lines, just say it in one line.’ ”
This skill is important when entrepreneurs have to explain their businesses. When asked to do so, for example, by a bank officer considering a loan to the company, “we would beat about the bush and the listeners would lose interest,” says Imchen.
Both programs provided training on writing in English, which will help participants leverage their business in India and abroad. For instance, they learned how to write business emails that do not come across as harsh or demanding. “I had a very difficult time writing emails,” says Thiyagaraja Sathiyamoorthy, a senior engineer with Mel Systems and Services Limited, who participated in the IACC workshop. The Chennai-based company provides automation and robotics to other companies. “I used to write one-line emails. Some people, especially customers, may take that as rude. In training, we had to write a lot of emails and Nick gave us a lot of feedback.” They learned, among other things, “how to use more polite wording.”
Reishus says typical challenges participants showed included “speaking too quickly, and not taking pauses. In written communications, they made mistakes in punctuation, and maybe in tone too, though there’s a cultural aspect” to consider. “I asked them to make a request in a business email. They might overexplain or come across as harsh or demanding. The goal is finding the right balance.”
Making a pitch
The training programs taught participants how to make an elevator pitch, a concise project overview that may be delivered to a potential investor, partner or customer.
Bruhn says this is an especially challenging skill to develop. For most people, even introducing their business in a few minutes can be difficult. “They want to talk about everything,” he says.
“The purpose of a pitch is to go before an audience and in two to three minutes make them want to know more,” he says. “Usually, you’re describing a problem and how you solve it in a unique way. Maybe you’ll be invited to their company to give a longer presentation.”
The workshops helped participants see how little things can make a difference in the message they give. For example, says Reishus, people often rush through a presentation by speaking too quickly and not taking pauses. This can make it harder for the audience to follow what is being said and the presenter loses the chance to emphasize key points.
Sathiyamoorthy says Reishus showed participants where to pause and where to press on. “Instead of talking in a flat way, he showed us how to emphasize particular points,” he adds.
Imchen says she and her fellow small business leaders came away from their training feeling they had gained valuable insight into how to use the right language for different situations, and how to make their business conversations and pitches more effective. “Everyone was saying, ‘This is what I needed!’ ” she says. “We will now be influencers and help others do business better.”
Burton Bollag is a freelance journalist living in Washington, D.C.