Have you ever experienced a situation where you presented an idea or proposal to a person or group of people and you thought your presentation was clear and concise, easy to understand and persuasive, only to have your audience completely disengaged, totally confused or completely opposed to what you were presenting?
I think we have all experienced presentations like this at various times in our careers. This can be quite a common experience if the culture of your audience is different than yours or if the audience is a mix of cultures. In today’s global business world, this can describe almost every meeting or presentation we do!
The subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between our cultures can cause tremendous misunderstanding and misalignment in all aspects of our communication. If we want to be successful in today’s world of business, it is critical that we spend time to understand our audience and adjust our presentation and communication style to match those we are presenting to. Tony Jeary talks about this in his book Life is a Series of Presentations. In this book he lists eight Presentation Essentials. Number one on his list is “Know Your Audience”, number five is “Build Bridges” and number eight is “Flex for Success”. Essentially he is saying that you go into a presentation after researching your audience, use that knowledge to bridge culture and communication gaps and read the audience all the way through the presentation so that you can flex your presentation to what is resonating most with them.
This is all really good advice, but some of our cultures can be very different and how you pitch to an American will be different than a pitch to a Canadian, Singaporean, Malaysian, Norwegian, etc.
Recently I found a good source of cultural information that can be a big help when preparing for an important cross cultural presentation. British linguist Richard Lewis has done a lot of research on cultures around the globe and he has written a book called When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures. At a high level he places all the cultures in the world as a mix of;
- Linear-Actives – people who plan, schedule and organize in a linear fashion (Germans, Swiss)
- Multi-Actives – people who are lively, love to talk and do many things at the same time and priorities are based on what they enjoy most as opposed to efficiencies (Italians, Latin America).
- Reactives – people that put courtesy and respect as the top priority (Chinese, Japanese)
An excellent summary of this model can be found in an article entitled “The Lewis Model Explains Every Culture in the World“.
Lewis also defines leadership styles based on these culture definitions. A summary of twenty-four of these styles and diagrams of each can be found in the article “24 Charts of Leadership Style Around the World”
Lewis goes on to define and diagram negotiating styles of the different cultures. A good summary can be found at “These Diagrams Reveal How to Negotiate With people Around The World”
Although these sorts of models can be very valuable as you strive to understand your audience, you need to keep in mind that stereotyping can be dangerous and these sorts of “culture definitions” should be a guide only. Your audience will always be an interesting mix regardless of where you are presenting so you need to remember Tony Jeary’s Presentation Essential #8 “Flex for Success” – read your audience and adjust your presentation and communication style so that you resonate with your audience throughout your whole presentation.