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Delivering Presentations to a Cross-Cultural Audience.

In this globalized world the interaction between people from different cultures is both commonplace and frequent. When delivering presentations to a homogeneous audience different from your own, or a mixed cultural group, understanding how different cultures react to and participate differently during presentations is critical to ensuring that interpersonal communication is successful.

One area within the business or international education environment in which cultural awareness is a necessity is in delivering presentations.

Business people and educators are frequently required to deliver presentations. However, when delivering a presentation to an audience from a different culture there are intercultural factors that can make the presentation a brilliant success or wretched failure.

Using the Lewis model of cultural Behaviour as our guide, we can identify differences both in how an audience may react during a presentation but also what will hit home and make a difference.

1. Language:

The language you use in a cross-cultural presentation is important.

Although the majority of the language that is used in a cross cultural presentation will be understood by an English speaking foreign audience, a speaker must be careful when it comes to slang, idioms or phrases. Even among native English speakers there could be confusion. For example, cricket parlance which many British often use, such as “bowled over” or “We’ll keep working until stumps”, may well confuse North Americans.

Furthermore, using plain English (or whatever language the presentation is in) reduces the chance that the audience will misunderstand and potential customers and clients see that business as transparent, and in re-active cultures for example, this leads to trust.

2. Body Language:

Multi-active cultures such as Southern Europeans or Latin Americans can be quite animated and will appreciate hand gestures and the expression of emotion through the body. Re-active cultures however, expect speakers to remain calm and would find such behaviour over the top.

The use of gestures is also an area one needs to be aware of. The thumbs is synonymous with ‘all good’ or “okey” in Anglo-Saxon cultures but in Brazil it’s offensive. Eye contact can also be a major intercultural difference. Some cultures consider strong eye contact a sign of sincerity, others find it overbearing and an invasion of privacy. The bottom line is do your homework first.

3. Time:

Be aware of different approaches to time across cultures.

Some cultures prefer a structured, timetabled approach to conducting business affairs, others are more casual. In most re-active and multi-active countries where a start time is considered a guide rather than a definite, allow time for networking or engage in some chit chat until others arrive. Oppositely, if you arrive late to a meeting in a punctual culture, expect some negative feedback.

4. Audience Participation:

Multi-active audiences may be very vocal during presentation but this shouldn’t be misinterpreted as offensive or argumentative. Linear-active participants may have lots of difficult questions, so you’ll need to come prepared.

Re-active cultures are generally unlikely to interrupt a presentation and will show great gentleness and courtesy. Japanese may even close their eyes during a presentation, not due to being sleepy, but in order to focus on the speaker’s words more intently.

5. Style of Presentation:

Different cultures learn and take in information in varying ways.

Re-Active cultures prefer want guidelines throughout a presentation and many would even like a copy of the presentation up front. More Linear-Active audiences such as North Europeans, prefer information to be presented in detail and in a way that sets down foundations that act as the support to a final argument or point. In such a presentation the speaker should gradually lead the audience, using a logical succession of points, to a conclusion.

However, some cultures, like the US and Australians aren’t interested in the finer details and want to get to the bottom line as soon as possible.


Just as with any audience from your culture, the details will vary, and each situation will be different when presenting across cultures. But by taking the time to understand the culture of your audience, you will deliver a better presentation with better outcomes for you and your audience.

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