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Technical Presentations in Other Cultures


English may be the world's ... can be considered an invasion of privacy in cultures found in Japan or the ... jokes, animated gestures and casual dress can ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Technical Presentations in Other Cultures

Technical Presentations in Other Cultures
  • Extracted and quoted freely from an article
  • Going Global
  • By Dave Zielinski

Its More Than Just Speaking English
  • English may be the world's quasi-official
    language, but that doesn't mean U.S.
    businesspeople or academics are off the hook when
    presenting in foreign cultures. Here's what it
    takes to be an effective and culturally correct
    speaker to international audiences.

In the Pacific RimFace Its a Big Thing
  • Loss of face happens in "collectivist" or
    group-oriented cultures in the Pacific Rim and
    elsewhere when individuals are singled out for
  • Face issues come into play, for instance, when an
    instructor randomly calls upon a student.
    Answering the question means a student risks
    showing up his fellow classmates, resulting in a
    collective loss of face.

Gaining Face is NOT COOL Either
  • People in these cultures don't want to gain face
    for themselves in a public setting because it
    contributes to others losing face.
  • Simmerman, who heads up the Performance
    Management Co. in Taylors, S.C., decided the best
    way to "face-proof" his highly interactive
    training method was to form small groups for
    discussion. He then asked each team to select one
    group leader to speak for the others during an
    end-of-class summary. But(surprise!)

But there was one problem
  • "When the group spokesperson got up to talk, he
    or she felt compelled to report every comment,
    perspective and thought their team members had
    contributed to the discussion," says Simmerman.
    "They didn't want any one person in their group
    to risk a loss of face. That was fine but the
    reports took 15 to 20 minutes each, which killed
    my schedule."

Finally, a Workable Solution
  • Not wanting to cut short any of the spokespeople
    himself, which you guessed it would present
    further loss-of-face issues, Simmerman solved the
    problem in later sessions by declaring that each
    group leader had three timed minutes to summarize

The Cost can be High
  • Botched international presentations can result in
    much more than misunderstanding and
    misinterpretation they can
  • cost millions in missed sales,
  • scuttle important relationship-building
    opportunities and
  • reduce the yield from international training

English is not English?
  • English is the most popular second language in
    the world, but
  • In most cases, for the American presenter, the
    challenge isn't to learn how to work more
    effectively with translators or interpreters, but
    how to communicate more effectively in English.

And Its Not Just a Pacific Rim Challenge
  • Even European audiences may understand your
    English, but still miss the point(s) you are
    trying to make because of cultural differences.
  • A Bedouin's oil wealth may buy him all the
    trappings of Western success, but underneath he
    may still have the conservative mores or customs
    of his father. In some Arab countries, a simple
    inquiry from a man about a colleague's wife can
    end a business relationship forever.

Tips for Successful Communication in Other
  • Simplify and clarify your content
  • Speak deliberatelybut dont yell
  • Screen out jargon, idiomatic expressions and
  • Limit U.S.-centric references and examples
  • Be aware of different lifestyles
  • Be sure your jokes are appropriate
  • Understand that body language is far from
  • Alter your eye-contact habits
  • Rethink audience participation techniques
  • Follow the formality protocol
  • Understand that icons aren't always icons
  • Visuals and handouts must correspond to cultural

Simplify and Clarify
  • English proficiency within a given audience can
    vary widely, so the best approach is to simplify
    and clarify content at every turn. That means
  • using simple sentences,
  • making clear transitions,
  • avoiding digressions,
  • reducing use of potentially confusing pronouns
  • restating key points.

Keep the Vocabulary Simple and Consistent
  • A varied vocabulary may stimulate American
    audiences, but it's likely to confuse those who
    don't speak English as their mother tongue. For
    example, you don't want to first talk about
    benefits, then later refer to them as advantages.

From Bill WeechAssociate Director of Leadership
Training for the U.S. Department of State
  • "With native speakers I may rephrase something
    once or twice, but with those who don't speak
    English as a first language, I'm consciously
    trying to restate my major points in the exact
    wording used before."
  • The tactic adds time to his classes but pays off
    in improved retention.

Speak Deliberately But Don't Yell
  • On the delivery side, non-native English speakers
    will retain much more of your presentation if
  • speak more slowly and deliberately (but not so
    slowly as to appear patronizing),
  • use more pauses,
  • enunciate clearly and
  • gesture to illustrate potentially vague terms.

Dont Yell!
  • This doesn't mean turning up your volume,
    something often done unconsciously by U.S.
    speakers. In his classic book Do's and Taboos
    Around the World, author Roger Axtell passes on
    this advice "Speak to the rest of the world as
    if answering a slightly deaf, very rich old
    auntie who just asked you how much to leave you
    in her will."

Tune in to Cultural Differences
  • Strong delivery also requires you to tune in to
    your audience's cultural idiosyncrasies.
  • One consultant was presenting in Finland for the
    first time. Throughout his speech the Finns sat
    expressionless, hands folded, moving nary an
    inch. The consultant figured he was doing
    horribly and sending them all off to sleepland,
    but found out later "this was their way of
    showing respect the absolute focused, dedicated
    listening to the expert.

Remove Jargon, Idiomatic Expressions And Acronyms
  • Familiar figures of speech can be confusing or
    even offensive in other cultures.
  • The word piggybacking can be inflammatory in
    Israel, where the pig is considered a despicable
  • If you pepper your speech with common American
    idioms such as "barking up the wrong tree,"
    "dog-and-pony show" or "shotgun approach," you're
    likely to be met with visible confusion or
    blank stares from audiences in New Delhi or

A Little More Homework
  • "When I'm dealing with non-native speakers, I
    find my language becomes pretty bland because I
    work to remove idioms and anything else
    potentially confusing or offensive," Weech says.
  • Avoid unpleasant surprises particularly in your
    first visit to a country by having your text
    and visuals pre-screened by someone intimate with
    the local language, norms and taboos. Skip this
    crucial step, and you risk disaster.

Limit U.S.-Centric References And Examples
  • American speakers need to be careful about
    self-congratulatory statements because of
    perceived U.S. arrogance in some parts of the
    world, says Bjorn Austraat, a software
    localization specialist and Web engineer for
    Berlitz Translation Services. "Any notion of
    superiority or 'We're No. 1' would rub, say, a
    French businessperson very much the wrong way."
  • Communications skills consultant Diana Booher
    also understands the hidden dangers. The first
    time she presented overseas, Booher sprinkled
    examples of model U.S. companies and leaders
    throughout her speech. Her consciousness was
    raised after the session when she received
    several comments from the audience about how
    "over here, we use examples from the entire
    world, not just the U.S."
  • Even if all the examples in your speech hail from
    the United States, you can still win points by
    being apologetic about it up front, acknowledging
    that the examples might as easily have come from
    Paris, Tel Aviv or Tokyo.

Be Aware Of Different Lifestyles
  • Beware of making points that assume the same
    values that exist in the United States. "American
    speakers might make a sarcastic remark about a
    manager having his whole family on the payroll,
    but in other cultures nepotism is very much
    accepted as the way to do business. That's what
    you do there you take care of your family."
  • U.S. speakers men in particular often try to
    export the same baseball, football or golf
    metaphors they use at home. But outside of a few
    countries, those sports aren't well known. If
    you're presenting in Brazil, France or Germany,
    for instance, try to relate any sports metaphors
    to World Cup soccer rather than the World Series.

Be Sure Your Jokes Are Appropriate
  • If you're really looking to dig a hole, tell an
    Irish joke when you're in Dublin. Most foreigners
    object to an outsider attempting to make jokes
    about their culture even if the same joke would
    result in hardy laughs when delivered by a local.
    Test any humor you intend to use on someone
    intimate with the country's language, culture and

Understand That Body Language Is Far From
  • Pointing with the index finger is considered
    impolite in most Middle Eastern and East Asian
    countries, where speakers use a fully extended
    hand or closed fist to indicate direction.
  • The American "OK" sign a circle formed with
    your index finger and thumb -- is considered
    obscene in Brazil.
  • The "thumbs up" is a rude gesture in Australia.
  • In Greece and Bulgaria, a head nod indicates no
    rather than yes.

More on Gestures
  • In places such as Northern Germany or Scandinavia
    where people tend to be more reserved,
    fist-pounding and other emphatic gestures don't
    go over well. "As soon as you do that, your
    credibility is impaired," says Berlitz's
    Austraat. "Rather than listening, people are now
    thinking how silly this American looks."
  • But with these and other exceptions, many about
    which you'll be warned, the non-verbals that
    serve you well in the States will do the same
    overseas perhaps even more so. For instance,
    spreading your hands apart to indicate height or
    width and gesturing for up and down can clear up
    uncertain language.

Alter Your Eye-contact Habits
  • Direct eye contact, a key to gaining credibility
    in the United States, can be considered an
    invasion of privacy in cultures found in Japan or
    the Philippines.
  • You might try sweeping your gaze across audiences
    in those cultures, rather than embarrassing
    individuals by looking at them for too long.

Rethink Audience Participation Techniques
  • Weech is upfront about his desire to keep
    sessions interactive. "I immediately tell my
    trainees that the only way I know to deliver the
    session is 'American style,' which means fairly
    participatory," he says. "But I have much more
    sensitivity with those from collectivist cultures
    like Guatemala. I almost never call on someone
    unless I get a strong signal from their body
    language they want to be called on."

Open Debate May Be Bad
  • U.S. trainers should also be careful about
    encouraging open debate in multicultural
    classrooms. In collectivist cultures, any kind of
    open disagreement ruins group harmony, so
    audience members are more willing to repress
    their objections.
  • Weech also modifies the way he asks for feedback
    on his performance from trainees outside the
    United States. Instead of asking point-blank if
    they've been following what he's been saying, he
    conducts periodic paper quizzes or other tests to
    get a more discreet measure of class

Follow The Formality Protocol
  • Presenters and instructors in other cultures have
    higher social standing than in the United States
    in Eastern Asia, they're often viewed as figures
    of absolute authority.
  • For this reason, jokes, animated gestures and
    casual dress can create a sense of unease.
  • Sharing a good laugh with your audience creates
    too much familiarity, and therefore discomfort.

Speak with Certainty and Authority
  • Another cultural phenomenon that ties into
    speaker behavior is "uncertainty avoidance."
  • Simply put, some cultures particularly in Latin
    America, Southern Europe and Japan are less
    comfortable with ambiguity than Americans are.
  • People in these cultures are conditioned to
    expect absolute truths and they prefer detailed
    instructions to broad guidelines.

Understand That Icons Aren't Always Icons
  • Photos, clip art, icons and other graphic symbols
    aren't always as obvious as they seem.
  • For example When subjects from Japan and Sweden
    were asked to identify the star symbol, Swedish
    subjects provided 20 different interpretations.
    Japanese subjects offered a dozen more one
    identified it as a sea urchin.

More Visual Presentation Tips
  • Limit words in favor of charts, graphs and
    pictures whenever possible.
  • Choosing colors for your presentation can be
    another potential minefield
  • An abundance of green connected to a humorous
    screen might be offensive in Islamic countries,
    where green is considered a religious color
  • Purple is the color of death and funerals in
    Brazil and Mexico.
  • The sweeping use of red still carries negative
    connotations in some Eastern European countries.

Visuals And Handouts Must Correspond To Cultural
  • Many foreign audiences have voracious appetites
    for handouts and other paper-based takeaways
    which is no big surprise, considering that
    reading proficiency for most non-native
    English-speakers is generally superior to
    listening comprehension.

More on Handouts
  • To aid non-native English-speakers, Weech always
    provides paper copies of his visuals in advance
    of foreign training sessions. "If I'm doing a
    workshop overseas, I send materials out before I
    get there," he says. "It gives them a chance to
    look up words they might not know and scan
    materials to get a head start." You'll also win
    points if you include a glossary of key terms and
    make handouts available in native languages as
    well as in English.

PowerPoint can Help
  • Weech also makes heavy use of PowerPoint's Notes
    feature, which creates a printout with three
    screen graphics on one side of a page and space
    for note-taking on the other. "It helps foreign
    groups follow along as I project images," he
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