How to make a good impression when presenting across cultures
Many a business traveler has fallen foul of local culture when presenting across cultures. The speaker who rattled through a talk in Japan, emoting, trying to encourage audience participation and hoping to wow the Japanese with a flashy sales pitch. The sales person whose slick, flashy presentation that was all hype and no fact left a German audience stony-faced. The executive whose attempt to steamroller a French audience with projections and forecasts but failed in his talk to address the process. The nervous speaker in West Africa who relied on PowerPoint as a prop and was left gasping like a fish out of water when the power failed.
Your message may be the same when presenting across cultures but in order to get the best out of an audience, a presentation needs to be tailored – and delivered – in such a way that local executives will engage with it, and you. Here are some quick tips:
Keep it formal. Have a senior person introduce you; relationships are important. Cut the hype and speak slowly. Use a lot of visuals and pack them with facts and information. Treat your handouts with respect; don’t just leave them in a pile. Give them out instead. The onus is on you, as the presenter, to catch the eye of people who want to ask questions at the end as most Japanese won’t put their hand up; they’ll just look at you.
Emphasise groups and cooperation. Show pictures of your company headquarters and your setup back home. Pack slides with information and don’t be offended when the Chinese read them, word for word. These signs will be in the appropriate Chinese language, of course. Don’t be distracted if people take calls on their mobile phones; this is not considered rude. Remember to cite Chinese social networks in your data if you are discussing social media; a lot of the Western networks are blocked in China.
USA and Canada
Keep it pacey and bear in mind that the audience will appreciate an engaging speaker. Tell them before you start what you’re going to discuss and sum up at the end. Focus on the bottom line. Put less emphasis on process or conceptual ideas; the how, not the why. Provide practical examples and case studies.
Start with an agenda. Forget about telling jokes and do not attempt to make the presentation personal other than by discussing your professional credentials. Germans like hard fact and technical data. Flashy slides are not as important as detail and the presentation needs to be logical and carefully thought through. At the end, the audience may ask questions but may also criticize your thought process.
Cut the hype; Australians are instantly suspicious of a showman or woman. It’s fine to be entertaining and engaging; self-effacing humor is better than humor at the expense of another individual. Hard fact, the bottom line and technical competence are appreciated.
United Arab Emirates
This applies to Arab cultures generally, although individual countries have their own cultural characteristics, of course. Broadly speaking, focus on the past and your track record as Arabs are past-orientated. Use imagery, analogy, repetition and graphics rather than just talking and tell success stories to illustrate your point. Focus on the human benefits to your proposal, like job creation. Dress smartly and mix with the audience before and after the presentation. Expect questions; no questions suggests that the audience doesn’t care.
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