Have you ever really thought about the ways in which you describe yourself and your work? Have you ever thought about how you can adapt your presentation to get better results?
You surely have heard about the concept of the first impression and the impact it has on how other people perceive you. This is no different across cultures. Wherever you go, the way you present and introduce yourself in the beginning elicits certain responses in the people you are speaking with.
Now, although you are talking with the best intentions, the same presentation can be perceived differently around the world.
Imagine you are to give a presentation on a topic you know much about. For the sake of illustrating the example let it be a physical product.
You have been preparing for a long time and of course you want to be perceived positively by your audience. You’ve prepared a great story-based presentation describing your experiences, how it influenced yours and other users’ lives, the effects the product has, the vision of how it can impact the market.
When you presented in the US, it was a huge success, so that gave you some extra courage for the upcoming presentation in Germany. In Germany though, something unexpected happened.
The audience started asking very thorough questions, including ones about the technical features, how it compares to other similar products in the market, the research and testing behind it. But also about your expertise, education and experience, as if they were checking if you are qualified enough to even talk about it.
And you were completely unprepared for that.
What happened there?
It is not to say that all Germans are fans of statistics and research. But going there you will very quickly see that your education, degrees, experience have to be well documented and are of value. They support the perception of you as an expert. If you are making a presentation to a German audience, statistically speaking, there is a great chance that you will be asked more specific questions about the topic or product that you are describing and a successful presentation would be less focused on the emotions and stories.
The above situation can easily be reversed. Say that you have presented this very thorough fact-based presentation and you are speaking to an American audience. The follow up questions that come up will likely be more around “what’s in it for me?”. I’m sure the thorough preparation and data would not go unnoticed, but you might potentially lose some of the audience’s focus along the way if your presentation is not engaging them on an emotional level well enough.
Useful articles to expand your knowledge:
How to introduce yourself across cultures?
There is also another way to look at it. The way in which you introduce yourself can impact your overall success abroad and how you build trust and relationships. It can not only impact the way you are perceived by others, but also how you feel about yourself!
The nature of my work is that I connect with a lot of teams and colleagues around the world. Often the initial calls start with a bit of introduction to understand what we do, who we are, how long we have been in the company. I always try to be mindful of the cultural differences and personal preference of people I’m talking with.
I have the pleasure of working with the colleagues from German offices quite often. If I connect with them for the first time, I tend to talk more about how long I’ve been with the firm, where I studied, what my previous and current roles are, and I try to keep it concise and factual. I rarely ever mention family or relationships if not asked directly. Majority of the German colleagues do the same. Only with time, after working with them for a while we would mention the wives, boyfriends, children or anything else personal. Again, it’s not the case with every single person, but majority of my interactions were like that.
In one case, I found out that a person has kids after more than half a year of working with them! Only because there was an emergency related to them that the person needed to attend to and couldn’t join out meeting because of that. They haven’t mentioned them before, but now occasionally when we have time we do share the latest about our families a bit more often.
When I start working with, say, colleagues from UAE, I am always more mindful of the timings of the calls and also that in terms of building trust, this culture is much more relationship-based rather than task-based. So we don’t schedule calls for the Fridays, even if the majority of the team is not based in UAE, or Thursday afternoons, to let the UAE teams finish off their tasks before the weekend and taking the time differences into the account.
When introducing myself, I would say the usual stuff, but I would add relational bits to my story. So instead of just saying that I moved to the UK in 2015, I would add that I moved to the UK with my boyfriend. Little things like that can make the conversation more relatable. They would also more often than not mention their children, families or experiences related for example to where I said I’m from. The introductions would generally take slightly longer.
The above of course massively depends on the situation. There is no need to do such big adjustments for just a one-off concrete conversation, but if you are going to work with the teams from other locations for a longer period of time or do a project together, it is definitely worth exploring the cultural differences to ensure you have them at the back of your head when any misunderstandings occur.
Key cultural dimensions you need to be aware of when presenting across cultures
If you were to take away any next steps from this article, I would encourage you to read about the below dimensions to make sure you understand how they might impact the way you can present yourself and/or your products or services to people from different parts of the world.
Deciding, Persuading and Trust scales are I think the most important to consider and have in mind when you are first starting to work with someone from a different cultural background. Similarly, if you are presenting to an audience from a different cultural background.
The adjustments in your communication style and language you use do not need to be massive at all! Sometimes just showing the understanding and a different choice of words or facts can have a big difference to the success of your international and cross-cultural work.