Presenting to International Audiences

This summer I traveled to Austria, The Czech Republic, and Germany with my family. Though we were on vacation, I couldn’t help but continue to notice people and their behaviors through my work as a global communications consultant.  In addition to language differences, the people in each country communicated with a unique style and approach.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that people around the world are becoming more like Americans as businesses ‘go global.’ This perception is actually far from the reality.  In order to successfully sell your ideas to an international audience, you should focus on your audience’s specific cultural and business preferences.  But, how can you accomplish this?

Analyze Your Audience

If you are interacting with a cultural group that is unfamiliar to you, find someone who can inform you about the culture and their communication preferences.  If your audience is multicultural, determine who is the primary influencer or buyer.  Then, focus mainly on their cultural preferences and their priorities as you prepare for your business presentation.

Many cultures look for you to build a relationship on a personal level before you do business.  I coached an American executive on her cross-cultural skills after she delivered a presentation to a group in China.  She thought everything went well.   However, this executive failed to realize that by turning down an invitation to join her Chinese colleagues for dinner that evening, she lost the business opportunity.  The Chinese refused to continue the conversation with her because they felt insulted. Don’t underestimate the influence of culture in business!

Deliver Your Content

Organize and deliver your content according to your audience’s business communication preferences.

A) For audiences that are more direct in their communication style, place your main message at the beginning of the presentation to give a clear purpose and structure.   Direct communication works well in North America, many countries in Europe, places like Hong Kong and Singapore, and in global business settings.   For audiences that tend to be more indirect in their style, set the tone by introducing some context or background before stating your message.  For example, many Asian countries, such as Japan, prefer a more indirect approach.

B) The level of detail you include in your presentation should also be based on your audience.  North Americans tend to want the bottom line information with very little filler.  The Germans and German-speaking Swiss want more detail because of their cultural tendencies toward precision, process, and a longer-term orientation.  Italians may care about your level of creativity because this is how they think about business.

C) Your delivery approach may vary with different groups.  Colorful and shorter presentations work well in the US.  Some cultural groups, like the British, are fine with spreadsheets if you are incorporating data into your presentation.  For audiences where English is a second language, visual imagery is very helpful.  Know your purpose and find out what your audience is expecting.

D) Finally, translate your presentation into the audience’s preferred vocabulary.  If using currencies, dates, and time, adjust to the local terminology and format.  For instance, many countries write the date with the day first, the month second, and then the year (example: 16/9/13).  Your international audiences will appreciate your effort to localize some of the information.

Prepare for Questions and Answers

Question and answer sessions may look very different across cultures.  Americans are used to people openly asking questions during and after presentations.  However, some audiences find it disrespectful to ask questions of the presenter.  They want to acknowledge the presenter as the expert and may refrain from asking questions in front of a group. This is the case with many Asian countries, including India.  Other cultures, such as the French, may challenge you with their questions because they value logic and debate.

With a multicultural group, be prepared for different scenarios and let the group know you are open to taking questions. You may want to leave extra time for some individuals to speak to you privately.

Presenting to international audiences has its set of challenges; and yet can be rewarding and fun.  Follow these tips and investigate each cultural group before you present to them. You will get your business ideas sold faster if you are prepared and willing to adapt!

Dianne McGuire is a member of Exec-Comm’s faculty and consultant at Transcultural Communications, an alliance partner with Exec-Comm. Visit her corporate bio or LinkedIn profile for more information.

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One Response to Presenting to International Audiences

  1. I really enjoyed reading and learning on presenting to different cultures. Thank you! Could you give some tips on presenting to those women who are living here in North America and are Hispanic or Latinos. It would help me when I present Mary Kay products and services as well as the Mary Kay business opportunity?

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