Lost in Translation
October 17, 2011, PowerPoint Design, Presentation Delivery, Presentation Development, Presentation Preparation
In today’s hyper-connected world, more and more businesses are going global. And, so are their presentations. As with all business communications, it is important to tailor your presentation to the audience. When you go international, there is an added provision: sensitivity to the culture of the group you will be presenting to.
Successful presenters need to account for the cultural differences of the audience when planning presentations. Otherwise, audience members could be offended by the simplest of actions: a word or phrase, an image, or body language.
Here are a few quick tips:
- Say my name… correctly. Take the time to learn how to properly pronounce your host’s name. If you’re not sure, find someone who will know or call your host’s assistant. In the Far East name order is reversed – surname, middle/generational name, then a given name. Calling Mr. Shu Qui Yan of Shanghai “Mr. Yan” would be like calling Mr. James Foster Williams of Liverpool “Mr. James”. Be mindful of your level of formality. In Germany, let’s say that your host Dr. Helmut Jahn formally introduces you to his distinguished guests. Graciously you respond, “Thank you very much, Helmut, for that kind introduction. It is an honor and a pleasure to be here!” This is too informal. Correct protocol mandates that you say the doctor’s title(s) and last name in public.
- Watch your words. When working with different languages, words can carry an entirely different meaning to the native speaker. Have a great translator that understands how words are interpreted cognitively in the other country. Pepsi’s slogan “Come Alive with Pepsi” directly translated into Chinese meant, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” Accents can be a problem even for an audience that speaks English. Check with locals to see if you can be easily understood. You may have to adjust your normal delivery pace slightly. People from most other countries will not relate easily if you mention miles per gallon or miles per hour. South of the border people don’t like us to refer to ourselves as Americans – we’re not the only ones!
- Make your move… wisely. Some familiar gestures may have totally different meanings to other cultures. In the U.S. “A-OK!” signifies that “all’s well!” In France it means “zero”; in Japan it can mean “money”, and in Brazil, Guatemala and Paraguay, it is obscene. Pointing at a person with your index finger is considered rude. A thumb’s up is rude in the Middle East, it’s obscene in parts of Africa, and may mean you want five items in Japan! Don’t curl your index finger upwards to beckon someone. This gesture is exceedingly bad manners in many parts of the world - that is how you summon an animal. Instead, turn your palm down and wave your fingers, or whole hand, in a scooping motion.
- Careful content. Visuals may be your saving grace if language is a barrier, but remember to tailor the content to the audience. Even watching the colors used in your presentation are critical. In Japan, white symbolizes death. In some Latin countries, yellow has negative connotations. Using a green background for a humorous quote might be considered offensive in some Islamic countries, and purple is strongly associated with death and mourning in Brazil and Mexico. When in doubt, use emotionally neutral colors.
These are only a few tips, and there are many others to take into consideration. Review every part of your presentation carefully before delivering it to a foreign audience. If you are not an expert on the audience’s culture, find someone who is. What works in the United States, does not necessarily translate to the rest of the world.