Presentations Across Cultures

By June 5, 2014PowerPoint

Designing a presentation is hard enough, but if you do it for an international audience it becomes many times more difficult. Even if you don’t take into account translating into different languages. The best thing is to try to do a practice presentation to a person of the culture that makes up the audience, so that they can warn you of any pitfalls.

Language
Imagine that you are doing a presentation in English for an international audience. The first thing you have to do is write/speak in clear concise language. Avoid colloquialisms as the may not be understood by everybody. Also, jokes are much more likely to be misunderstood in a language that is not native to most of the audience. Speak slowly.

Numbers
For example if you say a billion, an American is going to think of 1000 million, but in the UK it would mean a million X a million. Not a small difference.
In Romania or Spain the number “1.455” means One thousand four hundred and fifty five, while in the UK this would mean One point four, five, five. Again, not a small difference.

Body Language
In some cultures showing the palms of your hands is a sign of sincerity; in others it’s quite rude.
Eye contact can make you seem direct and earnest in some places, or in others it seems an invasion of privacy.

The Audience
Americans may be very participative in the presentation, even clapping when they like a point. Japanese may close their eyes when they are listening. Europeans may show very little emotion. Learn to read the audience before doing the presentation and if possible do research.

An Interpreter
Using an interpreter has its own skills. You have to speak in short bursts or one or two sentences and then wait for the interpreter to translate your words. In question and answer sessions make sure the interpreter translates everything that is being said, otherwise it is easy to lose the thread. Some interpreters even answer the question themselves; this has to be stopped as it takes you out of the loop. A good interpreter can help you overcome cultural barriers and sometimes they can give you the advantage of time to think while they translate what is being said.

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.

Oscar Wilde

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