Corporate Eye

Creating Business Presentations For An International Audience

Many of you work in multinational companies, and so are likely to need to present to audiences of different nationalities, whether it is an internal or an external presentation.

I invited Cathy Wellings of Communicaid to share some of her advice in a guest post today; of course, much of what Cathy discusses is also relevant to the presentation of your corporate website.

Over to you, Cathy!

Challenging and daunting, yet rewarding and at times enormously satisfying, delivering a presentation is a task most professionals will have to undertake at some stage during their careers. Good presenters require the ability to captivate, inform and engage with an audience to elicit a positive response. Presenting to your home audience can be demanding but creating and delivering international presentations can cause global headaches, no matter the state and proficiency of your presentation skills.

Language barriers and differences in cross-cultural presentation styles and expectations mean that ensuring understanding when creating international presentations takes a little extra flexibility, preparation and consideration. Getting it wrong can cause offence or misunderstanding, but with a little forethought and development of international presentation skills, you can gain the confidence not only to create presentations tailored to international audiences, but also to deliver them with effective impact.

Be Aware of Cultural Differences

When preparing a business presentation for an international audience, it’s important to remember that the rules are slightly different. Before jumping straight into creating a presentation using an approach tried and tested on a home audience, consider the adaptations you may need to make when facing an audience with differing cultural values, social approaches or language.

Assuming that ‘as you present well at home, you’ll be received well abroad’ can be fatal; it’s important to readdress even your most basic skills before moving on to more elaborate techniques. For example, have you thought about how your sense of humour or presentation style may be perceived by your audience? Are you too laid back? Or have you considered the basic format you intend to present in? Some cultures such as Scandinavian and other north European nationalities may value a well-structured, timed, precise and informative presentation with a serious approach, whereas those from Asian or Latino regions may prefer a more flexible style. Taking an international presentation skills course may help you to understand, judge and adapt to such cultural differences and enable you to deliver a better adapted, more culturally aware presentation.

Be well prepared: Consider and understand your audience

The first stage in creating an international presentation should be detailed preparation and audience analysis.

As part of your preparation, you should always consider your audience and their expectations. What is likely to appeal to them and not? What are they looking to learn from you? This is important even when facing predictable and familiar audiences, but with international groups, addressing additional linguistic, cultural and communication challenges are key to prevent loss of face, confusion and wasted efforts.

  • Have a detailed strategy and plan. Though important for any presentation, if you are speaking to a nationality likely to ask very detailed questions expecting additional information you should know your subject inside out
  • Consider your appearance. Different cultures value the strictures of business dress in different ways. As what you look like forms impressions way ahead of your presentation itself, knowing business dress formalities and cultural expectations is of great importance to avoid offence. Gender appropriate dress considerations should also be taken into account, as values and expectations can be incredibly varied
  • Prepare for technical or practical difficulties. This may be relevant if you plan to present in a different country with different electrical adaptors or voltage
  • Appreciate linguistic differences. Consider your use of language; are you planning to present to one particular nationality, or to a mixed nationality group? Will you need a translator, and if so, will your points translate correctly? Metaphors and anecdotes may not translate well, and using humour in a business context may not be appreciated or appropriate in say Germany or Japan. A cross cultural or intercultural presentation course would help you understand these nuances and address such issues.

Keep it simple

Lastly, after researching your topic and audience in depth, you’ll be ready to create a presentation to suit the needs of your audience.

Whether through a structured and informative PowerPoint, or a more free and informal approach, ensure you are received in the way you want to be, and without cultural miscommunication by keeping things plain and simple:

  • Speak clearly and slowly
  • Repeat key terms and messages where necessary
  • Be careful when using humour, easily mistaken metaphors or anecdotes
  • Avoid slang

Ultimately, creating business presentations for an international audience requires adaptability and a little innovation. In showing effort and consideration in adapting your approach, your audience is sure to recognise and respond positively to your message, whatever your subject matter. And as you are still creating a business presentation, normal content considerations still apply – just as long you are willing to make the nuanced changes to suit the varied international market.

Cathy Wellings is Head of Communication Skills at Communicaid, a communication skills consultancy offering business writing courses and other business communication training.

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