How Can You Give A Speech That Works Across Cultures?

Speakers need to understand that their meaning is in how they say it
Speakers need to understand that their meaning is in how they say it
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Let’s face it, giving a speech is hard work. You decide what message you want to convey to your audience, you write out a speech, you practice it, and then on the big day you summon up your courage and, because you realize the importance of public speaking, you deliver it as best you can. This is all fine and good as long as you are going to be talking to an audience of people who are just like you. However, if you find yourself in a cross cultural situation where your audience is not like you, what is a speaker to do then?

Solving The Cross Cultural Puzzle

As speakers, there are no shortage of lists and guides for how we can improve our speaking ability. There is one fundamental problem with all of these guides: they assume that we’ll be making our presentation to people of our own culture. When we don’t, then everything seems to fall apart. A good example of this is that in the West, if you tell a self-effacing story it can help you to build credibility with your audience. However, in different parts of the world telling such a story will actually erode your credibility.

When we give a speech, we have to be able to account for the diversity of our audience while at the same time being able to be seen as being a credible speaker. In order to make this happen, it all starts with you being willing to adapt to speaking in a cross cultural situation. There will be challenges and conflicts that arise as you attempt to create a message that will work in this environment, are you going to have both the determination and the drive to be able to accomplish it? What you are going to have to develop is called “cultural intelligence”.

When you find yourself called on to make a presentation to an audience that is not from your own culture, you need to pause and spend some time thinking about what you are going to be doing. First off, you need to realize that the culture of the audience that you will be addressing is different from your own. This means that you are going to have to customize your speech to meet their needs. You need to ask yourself if you fully understand how the culture of your audience shapes their behavior and how they think? You don’t have know everything about the other culture, you just have to understand the variations on key cultural values.

How To Work In A Culturally Diverse Situation

If you are going to want to be able to give a speech that is effect to an audience that comes from another culture, then you are going to have to start by really caring to find out about their culture. Once you understand this, you can then take the time to strategize how you want to create your speech. One part of this includes understanding that there are broad brush tendencies that exist among members of given culture that we can use as a starting point (Germans like to understand the theory behind an idea, Indians prefer a top-down approach, etc.). No, these generalizations don’t apply to everyone, but they do give you a good place to start from.

The big question that you’ll be facing is if you can adapt to addressing an audience from another culture. The speech that you will be giving needs to be adapted to meet the expectations of the audience that you’ll be delivering it to. A great example of adapting your speech to meet the needs of your audience has to do with how fast you talk. Here in the U.S., your audience generally expects you to show enthusiasm and speak rapidly. However, if you find yourself speaking to an Asian audience you’ll want to slow things down. However, if you slow down too much you may come across as being insulting.

Many of us have a tendency to include a self-effacing story at the start of a speech in order to attempt to connect with our audience. When we are dealing with a cross cultural situation, we need to be careful about doing this. In some cultures, such a story would be seen as an affront to the people who invited us to give a speech. The good news about our cultural intelligence is that this is something that can be learned. Becoming better at it will allow us to do a better job of addressing audiences when we are not at home. It will also help us to do a better job of addressing the audiences that we meet at home that are made up of a mix of different cultures.

What All Of This Means For You

The goal of any speech that we give is to find a way to connect with our audience and share with them the benefits of public speaking. If the audience that we are addressing is similar to us, then this task is hard enough. If the audience that we’ll be addressing is part of another culture then all of a sudden things get a bit more difficult. We need to find ways to bridge the distance between our culture and their culture if we want to be able to give an effective speech.

What we need to do is to develop our cultural intelligence. We want to be able to come across as being a credible speaker. This means that you are going to have to be willing to adapt your speech and speaking style to speaking in a cross-cultural situation. This will take determination and drive. As part of your planning you need to fully understand how the culture of your audience shapes how their behavior and how they think. Not everyone from a given culture is the same, but we can start out the adaption of our speech by making some general assumptions about them. To meet the needs of your audience, you are going to have to adapt your speech. We can learn cultural intelligence and when we do it will help us both when we are away from home and when we are speaking at home also.

The world in which we live keeps getting smaller and smaller. Our opportunities to address cultures that are not our own will only increase over time. It sure seems like it would be time well spent if we made the effort to develop our cultural intelligence. Having the ability to connect with and influence multiple types of audiences will allow us to do an even better job of getting our message out to the world.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: What do you think is the best way to find out about the details of the culture of an audience that you will be addressing?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

For some odd and strange reason, people seem to think that just because we can do a good job of giving a speech we’d also be able to moderate a panel discussion. You know what I’m talking about: one of those events where you get a group of people up on a stage and have them talk about something that the audience is interested in. What you may not have realized is that each one of these events has someone running the show – they kick it off, keep the speakers on track, and then wrap things up when times up. If you get asked, that person is going to be you – will you be ready?