How to prepare for meetings with your international audience. Part 3: Business presentations.
Good preparation is the key to successful relations with your international business partners and customers. The right use of language and knowledge of cultural differences will help you avoid confusion and solve many challenges. In Part 1 we looked at the most common time perspectives across the cultures to help you prepare for business with foreign partners. Part 2 outlined tips and tricks for non-verbal communication. Now, let’s have a look at strategies and steps you can take to adjust your presentation content to multilingual and multicultural audiences.
Before you start drafting your presentation for an international audience ask yourself these three questions:
Why are you speaking?
Why your audience should be listening to you?
Are there any cultural norms or habits that can influence the behavior of your audience?
Every audience may have different expectations and the cultural background plays an important role. So, to adjust your content to your business partners and customers find out how much they know about your industry or whether they have any background knowledge about your products and services. This will help you determine how detailed your presentation should be. But this is just the beginning. Consider the cultural impact or a typical attitude of business people that you’ll be talking to. Does your audience have a direct and focus-oriented approach? Do they expect to hear a good story, sprinkled with humour? Will they treat you with distance and shy away from asking questions? Maybe they will prefer a dialogue rather than a monologue? The attitude and expectations of your audience are to some extent influenced by their culture and experience. For example, in most cases your American audience will expect you to start with a joke and deliver a very charismatic speech. Your German, Dutch or Finnish audience will prefer a more serious attitude with many details and facts.
Once you know what to expect from your audience and are aware of what your audience might expect from you, it’s time to consider reactions of you listeners. In some cultures it’s not customary to engage with the speaker and ask plenty of questions (for example in Poland or Japan), but your listeners may come back to you after your talk and ask for more details in a private conversation.
In some cultures asking questions may not be considered polite or necessary, so don’t be surprised and don’t take it as a sign of disrespect if no one follows up directly after your speech. On the other hand, some cultures, for example Brits and Americans are very likely to engage with the speaker, ask for clarifications and opinions. The Japanese audience will probably welcome your presentation with silence or ask a few questions to be polite.
Multicultural or monocultural?
Things can get more complicated if you’re about to deliver a presentation to a multicultural audience. Your listeners may have different language skills, different expectations and different cultural backgrounds. The best approach would be to talk to someone who knows the members of your audience or to your audience directly. If it’s an international conference you may ask the organisers about their visitors: where they are from and what their professions are. To please all types of listeners, both with cold and warm attitude, with a preference towards factual and emotional content, you’ll need to find the right strategy to make sure your diverse audience is satisfied. What about adapting some part of your presentation to the cultural features of the host country? Maybe you can find out where the majority of your audience comes from to try to adjust the communication style to their expectations? You can’t please everyone, but you can try to find the right balance between the serious versus funny style and direct versus indirect approach, and observe the reactions of your listeners to adjust to them on the go.
If you and your listeners communicate in the same language, for example English, it doesn’t mean that the communication will go fast and smooth. Your audience may speak English with a different accent or they might have problems understating your non-native language. For this reason, language used in the intercultural settings should be free of colloquialisms or technical jargon. Use wordings and phrases that are plain and straightforward to make sure your message will be understood. Finally, consider rehearsing your talk if you’re going to present in your non-native language.
Researching and preparing for your cross-cultural presentation may require a lot of work. But if you’re well prepared and your content is adjusted to the culture and expectations of your target audience, you’ll be more likely to gain respect and attention of your listeners. Remember to follow the local rules related to greetings or addressing your audience to enhance the value of your talk and earn some extra trust points for your business.
Dorota Pawlak is the owner and managing director of Polish Localisation. She is passionate about cultures, languages and technology.
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