These questions and more burst through my mind as I prepared for my presentation at the Japan-America Society of Georgia last week. The more questions I asked myself, the more came. Soon, I was in a happy frenzy of double checking my work. I loved that process, and it was a good thing I did. When it comes to cross-cultural presentations, the stakes are high. One can easily offend, damage credibility, or lose a client. I prefer, however, to think about all the good will we can generate by doing it right!
When designing a presentation for an audience of mixed cultures, the main skill needed is attention to detail. We must keep probing and asking ourselves to dig deeper.
One of the first things to consider is the approach to presentation style among the cultures in your audience. For example, in the US, people tend to enjoy presentations with less text, simpler designs, and “bottom line” points (though this is not always followed!) In Germany, more detail and analysis is expected. With mixed audiences, a combination of these styles may be appropriate. When I introduce my presentation, I often call attention to these differences by pointing out that each person may perceive the style of my talk through their cultural lens. We can use those observations as points of learning.
Next, check your presentation for jargon, idioms, and acronyms. Are terms clearly defined? Have you provided a combination of visual and verbal content? If your audience has non-native speakers of your presentation language, check each slide or handout to make sure you are using “global language” – language that is simplified, contains summaries and pauses, and is free of region-specific slang. If your audience has limited skills in the presentation language, consider having the main points translated and placed on a handout given to participants at the beginning of the talk.
Now comes the fun part, in my opinion. Once you’ve done the basics, you can show commitment and respect by considering other details. For example, to display an international theme, I have flags from around the globe running down the side of my PowerPoint slides. When presenting to the Japan-America Society, I checked each flag to ensure that both Japan and the US currently had good relationships with those countries. I also added the flag of a small island that enjoys an excellent partnership with Japan.
Next, check with your host or research the following about your audiences’ cultures:
- What symbols are considered positive or negative?
- What numbers and/or colors are considered lucky or unlucky?
- What phrases could you learn in their native language that would be most respectful?
- How should you introduce yourself? First name? Last name? Title?
- Should you downplay or highlight your accomplishments and background?
- How should you dress for the presentation?
- If you are giving gifts to other presenters, what gifts would be culturally appropriate? (I once saw an executive from a large global company present a clock wrapped in white to Chinese panelists. This gift was a symbol of death wrapped in a funeral color!
You may not get every detail right, but the attempt alone will demonstrate your cultural intelligence and respect. New business tends to come when clients or partners feel trust with you, the trust of competence and caring.
In cross-cultural presentations, it’s the little things that count – and it’s a big reward that comes from your efforts.
What tips would you offer in creating cross-cultural presentations?