I've had the opportunity to deliver, coach and witness numerous international presentations. This experience all points to one lesson—in addition to the careful preparation required for any presentation, those for an international audience demand extra attention.
In any presentation, one of the keys to success remains a focus on the audience's frame of reference. However, when that audience is international, you'll need to step out of your own frame of reference and focus on making the presentation salient for your target group.
When in Rome, you should definitely do as the Romans do. The goal is to “localize.” Here are five key areas to think about:
1. Language. Even if most members of your audience speak English, it may not be their first language. Avoid using clichés, slang and acronyms; they may have meaning in your own culture, but not theirs.
Remember that even in English-speaking countries there are a number of differences. An “elevator” in the US is a “lift” in the UK. Spelling also differs. “Center” in US English becomes “centre” in British English. “Judgment” is “judgement,” and “organize” is “organise.”
Some countries in Southeast Asia use the American spellings, whereas others use the British spellings. In the preparation for your presentation, find out what the accepted practice for your venue is and adapt both oral and written materials.
2. Measurement. I once attended a meeting in Manila where German publishing company presenters talked about cost-benefit analysis solely in terms of deutschmarks. It made little sense to the Filipinos, who had infrequent experience with this currency.
It's always a good idea to translate monetary units into the currency of the host country. This shows sensitivity to the culture as well as respect. If your audience contains people of several nationalities, the US dollar is widely understood and usually provides an effective way to express monetary units.
Unlike the US, the rest of the world uses the metric system for measurement. Use the measurement system that your audience understands. For example, if you're talking about the amount of land needed to erect a new building, they will probably understand “four hectares” more easily than “10 acres.” If you're talking about distance, “480 kilometers” will make more sense than “300 miles.”
The same is true with measuring temperature in Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. There are several good conversion programs you can download to your computer or handheld device. They make translating information into different frameworks quick and effective. You'll find several at www.onlinecalculators.net.
3. Visuals. Visuals often transcend cultural differences because they rely on proportion, balance and quantity. Use visuals that are truly “visual” in nature—don't simply read from a series of text-heavy slides. The strategic use of visuals may also help compensate for language problems. Be sure to pay attention to details, however.
At a seminar where the national flags of participants were to be displayed as a sign of courtesy, I noticed that the Indian flag was hanging upside-down. It was an easy mistake to make, since the orientation of most flags with tricolor horizontal bands isn't obvious. Had it not been corrected in time, it would have been a serious insult to the Indian participants. Small details can have big consequences.
4. Equipment. Presenting in a different country can introduce various technical difficulties. There are different types of plugs, different voltage requirements and different video formats.
In the US, the standard video format is NTSC. In many Asian countries, the format is PAL. If you are showing a video, it means you must have a monitor, VCR and videotape that are all compatible. Outside the US, “multisystem” equipment that will play both formats is common, but request it before you arrive. Also, make certain you have the appropriate conversion plugs and adaptors for all your electrical equipment.
5. Support materials. Baseball, basketball and football may be fertile ground for sports analogies when speaking to an American audience. But soccer is probably more appropriate for many international audiences.
Try to use examples that are geographically close, stories that have cultural relevance and expert opinion that has credibility with your audience. Humor is a risky proposition even at home, so be doubly cautious when using it in front of an international audience. Be sure to test its effectiveness with a small sample before the presentation.
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Remember, the more you are able to localize your presentation, the greater your chances for achieving results. When you focus on the audiences' own frames of reference, you are acknowledging their importance. Apply that principle in these five areas, and you'll be on your way to becoming an international success.
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