Going Global: How To Give A Presentation Internationally

by drjim on November 5, 2008

Giving A Presentation Internationally Requires Different Skills

Giving A Presentation Internationally Requires Different Skills

As if being a public speaker for a day wasn’t hard enough, just try taking yourself out of your home territory and plopping you down somewhere else in the world. Can you just image the amount of trouble that you could get yourself into quickly? We work hard to create a presentation that will capture the imagination of our audience and cause them to take some sort of action. However, as we are building our speech, we have a habit of imagining our audience as being like us. If we travel to somewhere else in the world and deliver a presentation, then all of a sudden this very basic assumption is no longer correct and we may find ourselves in hot water. Let’s see if there are some tips on how to handle international presentations…

Terri Morrison is an author who has written a couple of books on the topic of delivering international presentations and so she really knows her stuff. As with all speaking opportunities, the secret to your success is to study ahead of time. Here are three tips that will help make your international presentation a success:

  1. Careful With Names: We probably don’t spend that much time thinking about names in our everyday life. We get introduced to people and then we just start calling them by their first names: “Bob”, “Ann”, etc. Well it turns out that is exactly the wrong way to handle names when you are presenting internationally. In the rest of the world, names are treated with a great deal of respect. Often times a persons name has a lot of family history worked into it. Morrison points out that in many European cultures a person’s parent’s names are worked into their names – this means that you can easily insult more than just one person if you screw-up pronouncing their name. Assumptions will also trip you up. In China, the family name comes before the middle name which then comes before the last name. This means that the leader of China, Hu Jintao, would be addressed as Mr. Hu, NOT Mr. Jintao! In one of my favorite countries, Germany, people are very, very formal with their names. Basically, outside of the home you would never use someones first name to address them – you always refer to them as “Mr. Smith”, not “John”. Oh, and one more thing – get the pronunciation of the name correct. This just might be the most important thing that you do!
  2. Would You Like A Date?: This is a small point that can have a huge impact. In the U.S. we like to write the date in month, day, year format: 11/02/08. In Europe, the date is written in day, month, year format: 02/11/08. Just to make things really confusing, Morrison reports that in China and Hong Kong dates are written in year, month, day format: 08/11/02. How to prevent this from becoming a problem during your presentation? I suggest that you always write out dates: November, 2nd, 2008. This way there can be no confusion.
  3. Watch That Dancing: This may be the most difficult point of all. Non-verbal communication is a critical part of all of our presentations. However, just like spoken language, non-verbal communication differs in every part of the world. Lots of us like to use BIG gestures during our presentations so that the folks at the back of the room can see what we are doing. However, this can be the wrong move in countries like Japan. In Japan, subtlety is how communication is done and so it’s your little movements that the audience will be looking for, not the big over the top ones. Your best bet is to basically try to move as little as possible during your presentation so as to not inadvertently send the wrong signal to your audience.

Being asked to take your presentation on the road should be seen as a great complement. However, you need to be aware that you are not in Kansas anymore Dorothy. Your best bet for avoiding offending your audience and allowing your words to do your talking for you is to get a local mentor. This would be someone who understands where you are coming from and who understands your local audience. They can share with you the do’s and don’ts of how best to deliver an effective presentation … and isn’t that really why you are there?

Have you ever had a chance to deliver a presentation internationally? Where? Were there any local customs that you were / were not aware of before giving your presentation? How did the presentation go? If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Elizabeth November 6, 2008 at 10:54 pm

I completely agree on the first point – to be careful with names. I think names are so important. It is one of the first things you exchange and they are often filled with meaning and identity. I’ve launched a website – http://www.howtosaythatname.com — that has audio clips of names from all over the world.
Great article.

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