True or false: The successful presentation you just delivered in your home country will be equally successful when you deliver it to an international audience next month.
I wish the answer to this question were a resounding ‘True!’ Achieving success while presenting to international audiences requires you to analyze your current presentation and make adjustments for language, culture and style.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been living and working outside my home country, Canada, for over 20 years. And I’ve spent the last 13 of those years living in Europe and training and coaching professionals from over 30 countries. That gives me an advantage.
I learned by doing, and making lots of mistakes along the way. But after a while, it became second nature to write and present for international audiences. Do I still work at it? Yes, every single day.
What happens when you don’t do your research, reassess your presentation, and make the required adjustments? If you’re lucky, someone will take you aside and share their observations and feedback with you so you can do better next time. If you’re not lucky, those observations get shared with everyone EXCEPT you. Are they whispering statements like these?
- ‘Tracie, we had a colleague here from America, and she spoke so fast, we had no idea what she was saying most of the time.’
- ‘His style was so pushy. We don’t like that here.’
- ‘She talked like she had food in her mouth!’
- ‘The presentation was good, but when we invited him for dinner, he said he was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. We won’t do business with him.’
Will a direct, hard-selling style work the same in China, Germany and the U.S? What about the level of detail in your presentation… too much or too little? Are you using the same vocabulary abroad as you would at home? Are the images in your slides appropriate for this international audience? Is your style too informal?
While you reflect on these questions, here’s a list of strategies and techniques you can use when preparing for your next presentation:
Non-native speakers tend to have a smaller vocabulary than native English speakers. They also tend to put more value in the actual words you say rather than in the underlying meaning… reading between the lines is a huge challenge unless your audience is fluent in English.
- Grade your language. Get rid of all the complex words and long sentences. Choose language that a sixth grader would understand. If you do, you’ll be on safer ground.
- Speak slowly. There’s nothing worse than a native English speaker giving a presentation in English in a foreign country, at the same speed of delivery as they would at home. S-l-o-w d-o-w-n.
- Illustrate concepts with images. Pictures actually do paint a thousand words, and when presenting to non-native speakers of English, images can really help your audience understand a concept. So choose images that represent your ideas clearly and that resonate – in a positive way – with your international audience
- Avoid idioms, metaphors, slang, and jargon. If you’re lucky, ‘killing two birds with one stone’ might translate into the native language of your audience. If not, it just sounds as if you are good at killing small animals with hard objects, which is NOT the impression you want to give.
- Signpost for structure. Ease your audience’s journey by taking them by the hand with your language. ‘My next topic is …’. ‘That takes us to my third point, which is …’.
Adjusting your delivery beyond language will also increase your results. Research your audience, the organization and the region/country to make sure you cover your bases, including culture and style.
- Stop talking. Pausing is widely accepted as a technique to add emphasis in a presentation. It also gives your audience a moment to take in and process what you have just said.
- Enunciate clearly. Avoid mumbling, mispronouncing, or speaking too fast by articulating your words clearly.
- Tread carefully with humor. Unless you are very certain the joke will make sense to that particular audience in those particular circumstances, avoid jokes. Causing offense can kill the business partnership before you even sit down at the negotiating table.
- Avoid sarcasm and irony. It doesn’t translate well and may not even be recognized by your international partner. Awkward!
- Repeat key concepts in different words. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Because of language barriers, repetition can help ensure that your audience is on the same page regarding your main points.
These techniques and strategies should be applied taking into account context: If you are speaking to a room of non-native English PhD graduates who are all very knowledgeable about your topic in English, chances are you don’t have to grade your language very much. You might still want to slow down your delivery though.
You’ll also need to take into account whether you’re speaking to a diverse audience from around the world rather than an audience from one country. If the audience is diverse, the ‘middle road’ of polite and professional is a good guide.
Whatever your particular situation, do your research and analysis, and adapt accordingly so that you can deliver a successful presentation and achieve amazing results for both you and your international audience.
P.S. Did you miss my FREE 1-hour webinar “Optimizing Your Audit Findings”? If so, you can get instant access on the replay. Enjoy!