- Sylvia Gonner
Speaker Guidelines for Addressing International Audiences
Updated: Jan 4
Quick tips for speakers with international audiences:
Speak slower than usual, and use simpler words and shorter sentences, particularly if your language isn’t everybody's first language.
Avoid using local expressions, idioms, and slang.
Remove all sports analogies from your presentation as they aren’t universally understood.
Limit the use acronyms, abbreviations, internal lingo, and industry jargon unless previously described/explained.
Skip telling jokes! These are rarely universal and can either be misunderstood, or worse offensive, in a different cultural context. Feel free to use humor, preferably at your expense or about something all could relate to, but pay close attention to the audience. Are they laughing when you think they should be? If they are, thank your good fortune. If they’re not, immediately start cutting back. Either the humor does not “translate” or just isn’t working culturally.
Know your audience and adapt to their knowledge of location-based events. When you’re the one visiting an area, do not speak about local politics, controversial news and conflicts you may know little about. If you’re home and your audience is foreign, avoid speaking about local events, personalities and social issues that may be unfamiliar to some.
Adapt all geographically variant measurements and influences (such as seasons, distances, weights, currencies, etc.) to the situation - unless the differences are important to the discussion.
Make your presentations timeless by removing references such as “good morning,” “last week” or “this afternoon” for virtual session being broadcast across different time-zones as well as those being recorded.
Include global diversity rather than country-specific examples and images (example: flags, monuments, maps, money, celebrities, etc.)
Review all images for cultural sensitivities, particularly anything that could be suggestive, offensive, or cause embarrassment.
Seek information from the local contact in advance to review all protocol and formalities involved. Adapt to the level of formality in the country/audience in terms of dress code, use of first/last names, introductions, greetings, and recognitions. Be sure to learn in advance to pronounce people’s names properly.
If your session did not start at the published time, verify with the local organizers if you should use the original time allotted for your presentation or end according to the original schedule. Always be prepared to shorten/lengthen.
Make every attempt to learn more about your audience, their culture and preferred learning style. This will help you interpret their non-verbal response to your presentation and verbal feedback during a question-and-answer session. Consider these examples:
In India, don’t worry if they shake their head. Rather remember this means they approve/agree.
In Japan, don’t be concerned you’re putting your audience to sleep if they occasionally close their eyes; they are concentrating/contemplating.
In Finland, don't be surprised if you get no audience feedback. Rather expect stony silence even when they love you.
In the Netherlands, expect to be challenged during/after your talk. The Dutch value debate even when they agree with you.
These are generalizations, of course, but if you do some research on the local culture and customs and you will be prepared.
ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES FOR PRESENTATIONS WITH TRANSLATION
Provide translators/interpreters in advance with copy of the presentation or script, and any available translation glossary.
If possible, meet your interpreters prior to speaking to ask/answer any questions. Review and verify understanding of any unique concepts, terminology, especially technical lingo from your industry.
Find out if the verbal interpretation will be simultaneous or consecutive.
If consecutive, break up your statements in short segments and allow the interpreters some time to translate after each statement. Ensure you groups concepts into logical segments to maintain the flow of thought as you stop and start throughout the presentation. Consider that it will take twice or three times as long to deliver the full presentation so adapt your accordingly.
If simultaneous, find out from your translators if the language(s) they will be translating into are longer or shorter than your language so you will know if they will require more or less time to interpret what you said.
Always be prepared to speak slower than usual, and in some cases a lot slower.