Communication in Presentations


For many of us, delivering a presentation can be a nerve-wracking experience. Now imagine doing this in another language and culture. How should you prepare the presentation? Should you present data that culminates in a conclusion, or should you first explain the theory behind a point? Should your slides include diagrams and graphs or just a few bullet points? Will your audience find it too sparse and vague, or will they be overwhelmed with too much information?

Let me give you the example of a British company that was acquired by a US firm. Executives from both companies delivered a presentation giving an overview of the company. The British presentation built up with detail and culminated in a conclusion. The US presentation consisted of bullet points and began with a conclusion and followed with an explanation of that conclusion. Both presentations delivered similar content and details, but the participants had trouble following the opposite team’s presentation. Just because both teams were native English speakers did not prevent misunderstandings.

Now imagine delivering a presentation in another language! There are different challenges: What behavior should you expect during your presentation? What if you get interrupted? In some cultures there is a stronger reliance on explicit and precise communication, so if someone has a question they will ask it. In other cultures, there is a much stronger preference for implicit communication, so such a direct way of speaking would appear rude and inappropriate, especially if a senior person is presenting.

These are all things to take into consideration when planning a presentation with an audience from a different culture. With the proper preparation, your presentation can get across the points you intended rather than confusing – or even alienating – your audience.

Anne-Marie Salmon