Delivering Presentations Across Cultures


Delivering a presentation can be a nerve-wracking experience. But when doing so in a different country while speaking a second language, it can be even more challenging. After all, there are not only linguistic, but also cultural, differences between the presenter and audience to take into account. This can affect the presenter’s confidence, their delivery, and how successfully they convey their message, ending with them not getting the results they were aiming for.

Successfully delivering a presentation has a lot to do with the culture of the presenter and the audience. Before speaking in front of a foreign audience, presenters should ask themselves what makes a good presentation. Should it be interactive? Dynamic? Should they just stick to the facts? Should the presenter bring up their recommendations and then support them with facts, or vice versa? Should audience members be able to ask questions throughout the presentation?

While both personal and corporate cultures definitely come into play in the answers to these questions, the local culture is also a large factor. Take the case of a US American attempting to give a talk to potential business partners in Mexico. Although many in Latin America see Mexico as being very culturally similar to the US, presentation styles in Mexico do not much resemble those of their American neighbors. What if the American presenter literally translates his presentation into Spanish and uses the same protocol and sequence as he would in New York? What if he continues to use the Spanish translations of the words “maybe,” “probably,” “I think,” and “perhaps” when trying to persuade his audience? While this works in his native culture and language, his Mexican audience members could consider it doubtful language and come to the conclusion that he does not have a lot of confidence in his pitch. Changing the word choice to reflect these cultural differences would lead to much quicker buy-in from the Mexican team.

Another point to consider during presentations is how to effectively handle a Q&A session. To continue with the US-Mexican case from above, in Mexico it is very uncommon for anyone besides the most high-ranking person in the audience to ask a question of the presenter; lower-ranked employees usually wait until after the session ends and ask the presenter in private. The American presenter might misinterpret the Mexican team’s silence as unanimous agreement, when in fact they are simply allowing him to save face by avoiding questioning him in public.

With Berlitz|TMC’s combined language and cultural training approach, professionals are given the skills they need to communicate effectively across linguistic and cultural differences. They can be better prepared to navigate difficult situations like presentations more successfully, which benefits them, their teams, and their companies as a whole.

Karen Walch