Standing up to deliver your message is a lot easier if you remember Rule #1: Know your audience
At a consortium of eminent German venture capitalists, Herr Doktor Gregor Gold introduces the next speaker, an ambitious entrepreneur we’ll call Mr. Driver. As Mr. Driver strides confidently toward the podium, he smiles broadly, slides his left hand into his pants pocket, and says “Thank you, Greg, for that wonderful introduction… ”He’s itching to crack a scintillating joke before dazzling his audience with his brilliant business plan. Hopefully, Mr. Driver notices the eyebrows shooting up in the front row, and decides to forego the joke.
He’s already committed several faux pas in front of his Berlin audience. Business is serious here, and German executives do not generally bestow “winning” grins upon prospects from the podium. Neither do they insult people by keeping one hand in a pocket while speaking or greeting someone (like Bill Gates did with the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye – an image that made front pages throughout Asia). And in front of a crowd, they use formal titles and last names. Dropping Herr Docktor Gold’s first name in such distinguished company was presumptuous – even if they use their first names in private.
Luckily, Mr. Driver skips the quip, and goes on to deliver a thoroughly researched business plan. 100 slides, I rolled my eyes and told my associate, ‘This is going to be terrible - no one needs 100 slides! ’I just want to tell you, I wish you had more slides, and I want you to come and do this presentation at our global sales meeting.”
Why so many slides? Because I have hundreds of examples of global negotiating techniques, ethical viewpoints, gestures, gifts, communication styles etc., and all have corresponding slides. For example, there are countries that impose prohibitions on competitive or manipulative advertising. There are no Coke and Pepsi wars in much of the EU, and there are no “Call Now!” numbers in French ads. In Saudi Arabia you should avoid using pigs or dogs (no Porky Pig cartoons!), and never use the flag in any manner (Allah’s name is on it).
Whether you use one or a hundred PowerPoint slides, flipcharts or avatars on a big screen – know your audience! Be aware of the jobs, languages, business and social practices of the attendees. It will help you engage with them, and prevent you from delivering an embarrassing faux pas along with your brilliant presentation.
No Laughing Matter
Many presenters like to open their speeches with a witty line or two. But clearly, one joke does not fit all. Why does a funny story fly in Seattle and fall flat in Singapore or Shanghai? It’s not just the language barrier. As White and Jackson described in their article “What’s Funny?”( Psychology Today), joke content can be a reflection of broad cultural norms. For example, pornography is illegal in Singapore, so comedy with any type of sexual innuendo is not so funny. But on the other hand, slapstick or violence may get a laugh.
Besides inappropriate topics and bad translations, the entire concept of humor can differ globally. Americans often use jokes as a release valve to dispel anxiety and lift spirits. However, the Chinese don’t traditionally approach comedy as a coping mechanism. They historically use it to make a point, demonstrate a moral, or instruct someone while being entertaining.
It can also be disconcerting for Asians to see a figure in authority – an invited speaker – behaving informally by telling jokes or expecting attendees to laugh out loud. Instructors and speakers are held in high respect in China, Japan and much of Asia – and laughter is not expected during the proceedings. It can signal nervousness or embarrassment, not joy.
There is not generally a Q&A section at the end of Asian presentations either. Since class participation is not the norm in China, students (who turn into executives) are used to quietly listening to speeches at work. It could embarrass an entire room if one attendee grabbed the spotlight away from the speaker, just so he or she could pose a question.
But without your opening bon mot, or an interactive exercise, how do you grab your audience in the first few moments?
Elementary, My Dear Watson
In his excellent piece “How to Give a Killer Presentation”( Harvard Business Review), Chris Anderson describes coaching the speakers at TED Talks who have 18 minutes to deliver. He believes that“many of the best talks have a narrative structure that loosely follows a detective story. It has to be engaging. The quality of the idea, the narrative, and the passion of the speaker… is more important than… speaking style or multimedia pyrotechnics.
Some people despise PowerPoint slides. They correlate them to verbose, boring speakers. After my seminar at the ACTE (Association of Corporate Travel Executives) convention in NYC this year, a director at a large airline came up and said, “Terri, when you said that you had What’s your Cultural IQ? True or False? Besides How to Win Friends and Influence People, another Dale Carnegie classic is Public Speaking for Success.
E-mail your answer to Terri Morrison@ kissboworshakehands.com
A free copy of Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries and Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Sales & Marketing will be awarded to two correct respondents, courtesy of F&W Media and McGraw-Hill.
June’s Answer: True. Observant Muslim men do not generally wear gold jewelry.
Terri Morrison is a speaker, co-author of 9 books, and is working on her 10th. She is also editor of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Digital - available through McGraw-Hill. TerriMorrison@ kiss boworshake hands Twitter @Kiss Bow Author. Tel (610) 725-1040. BT
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