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Calling senior business leaders who think their English isn't good enough to appear in the media

News   •   Aug 07, 2018 14:42 +08

Each week until October 31, 2018, we are shortlisting a local corporate figure from Singapore and Malaysia who has demonstrated excellence in a media appearance, in the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards 2018.

One of the objections senior business leaders raise to appearing in the media is that their English is not good enough.

But our shortlisted candidate for the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards 2018 this week disproves this - if not in person, then in the topic of her presentation.

Isabel Kum laid out her premise that good English skills are in fact a barrier to creativity in multilingual countries where English is the dominant language, at a recent TEDx event (you might be surprised at the answer!).

She displayed some key traits for stage presenters, while making an interesting point for media shy executives to consider. She opened by asking her audience of PSB Academy students several questions, gave descriptive details of her examples, and stuck to the allocated time.

Read on below for my premise for shortlisting her for Best Conference Presentation for the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards 2018.


The Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards 2018 is well into our second round of nominations in Singapore and Malaysia in these categories:

  • Best Broadcast Interview
  • Best Online Interview, in association with Shootsta
  • Best Conference Presentation
  • Best Live Webcast

We launched the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards to recognise senior local leaders for their communications skills, and to showcase authentic and credible home-grown communicators.

These are shining examples for other local business leaders to follow, and to build a culture of excellence in communication, to maximise the potential of Asian companies in the Asian Century.

Each week until October 31, 2018, we are shortlisting a local corporate figure who has demonstrated excellence in a media appearance for the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards 2018.

Click on the link below to enter yourself or another Senior Business Leader.


  1. Questions, questions, questions - Kum started with several questions, which got her audience to think. There is an art to this. "How many of you understand English?" might be a bit obvious, but she soon moved on to "How many of you believe that to be successful in life, you have to be good at speaking English?"
    Critically, she acknowledged her audience's answer. Presenters (and moderators) who ask their audience questions but dismiss the answers are a pet peeve of mine. If you ask a question from the stage, wait for the response! Something we discuss comprehensively in our Executive Presence workshops.
  2. Descriptive details - In asking questions, she gave examples in the second person to help the audience relate to her point. Hard to do, but critical to their effectiveness.
  3. Stage presence - I concede she looked frequently at her palm cards, and glanced back often at her (fairly basic) PowerPoint slides. But she still spoke with confidence and empathy for her audience. Her messages were concise, and she paraphrased herself to repeat them and drill them home. Again, an art that deserves further exploration and some practice.

Of course, it's not lost on me that here is someone who clearly speaks excellent English pointing out the creative disadvantage of native English skills.

There are plenty of examples - including two speakers who we have shortlisted for the Hong Bao Media Savvy Awards before (links below) - of senior business leaders who communicate with gusto, are persuasive, and have a commanding presence.

Your first language might not be English, and you might speak with an accent. But as Kum points out, the same applies to three-quarters of your audience.