Making presentations can make even the most seasoned executive nervous. Presenting to people of different cultures can positively make their knees shake.
In addition to a potential language barrier, it’s almost certain there are significant differences in culture between presentation styles, expectations and experiences.
In some cultures, audiences remain silent until the presentation is over, and even then, only senior executives are allowed to ask questions. In others, audience members pepper the speaker with questions from beginning to end. Applause can represent approval. It other countries, it may be rapping their knuckles on a table.
Here are some suggestions that can help get your message across anywhere:
Take the time to research your audience and what it expects
Formal cultural training is clearly the most effective way to know your audiences and meet their expectations. Formal training can prepare you faster, more efficiently and more effectively. If that’s not possible, you can collect a lot of information online about your audience and habits.
Avoid slang and humor
Your home audience may appreciate a good joke, but it’s highly unlikely it’s going to play well with a foreign audience. In fact, it’s very possible you may insult someone. Single, simple declarative sentences work best.
Pacing is important
There are differences in various cultures how a presentation should proceed. Some regions (North America, for example) want presenters to get to the point right away, making conclusions and recommendations at the beginning, particularly what the content means to them and their businesses. In other parts of the world, executives prefer a more methodical, almost linear presentation, building up to a point.
There are schedules, and then there are schedules
In some cultures, people are punctual to the second; but, don’t be insulted if some members of your audiences are late. It may be frustrating to you, but totally acceptable in some cultures. Sometimes this gives others a chance to size you up.
Body language can matter as much as the language you use.
Non-verbal communication can make or break a presentation. It can also derail a business deal. A “thumbs up” gesture means approval in one country, but can be insulting, or even obscene, in another.
Another example, in Japan, business cards are presented with great formality, and always read in detail before moving on. It’s also a plus if your card is printed in Japanese on one side. In other cultures, cards are often just dropped on a table or stuffed in a pocket.