Sales & Marketing

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How to speak to foreigners

7 Mins

Downton is an ex-Colonel of the Royal Marines, who now trains businesses across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. He says: "However technically brilliant your presentation might be, if you do not give thought to the importance of your English, body language, pauses, your audience’s cultural differences and level of understanding, you are opening yourself up to a cross-cultural catastrophe.”   Jack Downton’s advice for making winning presentations to a foreign audience include: Be aware of the level of English you use and grade it accordingly. The audience’s level of English may not be as good as yours. However, be careful not to patronise and never talk down to your audience.  Use body language to express meaning. Where words may not make sense, meaning can often be inferred by facial expressions, hand movements, gestures and eye contact.  Remember to pause. Pausing is more important than ever when listeners have to translate in their own minds the information you have presented.  Constantly check that your audience is following you and that you haven’t lost them. Look for feedback or ask questions to check comprehension. After each subject, give a summary of your main points to reinforce the meaning.  Be careful of humour. Although you don’t want to deliver a presentation as dry as a martini, much humour is based on culture and a lot of jokes simply don’t translate.  Keep the presentation short and simple. Go on for too long and you risk the audience switching off.  Tips on specific cultures FranceThe French have long grumbled at the fact that the world’s business language is English, to the extent that then-President Chirac famously stormed out of an EU summit back in 2006 when a fellow Frenchman chose to deliver his address in English. It often goes down well to say a few things in their language. This is true of all countries, but particularly France, where the protection of their language has been fought at the EU, UN and the Olympics. No one expects you to master the language, but introducing yourself and thanking them in their mother tongue will go a long way to endear them to you.     GermanyWhen presenting to German audiences, make sure you introduce yourself with assurances that you are qualified on your subject. Be sure to include more facts and figures than you might otherwise do to back up your statements. SpainUse titles such as Mr, Mrs or Miss followed by the surname, especially with older members of your audience, and especially in the south of Spain. Also be careful to use the correct surname as Spaniards have two: their father’s first surname and their mother’s first surname. Normally the father’s surname is used on its own.  Italy The Italians like to talk, use lots of hand movements, gestures and express their opinions. If your audience isn’t contributing, this isn’t a sign of politeness – they’re bored. Formal presentations feature much more in UK business than in Italy so aim for more interactive presentations or you will come across as old-fashioned and academic.  RussiaEnglish levels vary enormously across the country, from near-fluency amongst the young urbanites of Moscow to no foreign language skills at all in the more remote areas. Therefore check if an interpreter is needed before you travel out.  United Arab EmiratesYou may find yourself being asked highly personal questions very early on in your presentation. You may be asked about your personal wealth, your marital status, children and even your religious beliefs. Have stock answers prepared if you feel uncomfortable answering such questions. If possible, refrain from stating you are an atheist as this is something they will find hard to understand – this is a society in which the existence of a God is simply a given. Also maintain strong eye contact. Sincerity and honour are judged based on a man’s ability to look you in the eye.  India   English is spoken throughout India and businesspeople without an excellent command of English are rare indeed. Indians are also fond of small talk to establish relationships. You may be asked about your family, your background, your city. This is considered highly polite in India and serves as a way to open up dialogue. Take the time to take part in this and don’t move on to business too quickly. ChinaDon’t expect that much interaction from many East Asian nationalities. Many businessmen and women feel it is the speaker’s role to speak and for them to listen. Many also find strong eye contact uncomfortable. JapanThe Japanese often have very minimal body language, sitting in upright, formal postures, with little emotion or reaction. This isn’t a sign of boredom or disinterest, merely a cultural characteristic.  BritishFor foreign speakers presenting to a British audience, it is better to be self-deprecating than self-promotional. Those who are overtly-positive about their achievements, abilities and success may be ignored, disbelieved or even disliked. Modesty and understated confidence in your ability and achievements, supported by examples will have a much more powerful effect.

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