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Chapter 17. Making Sure It's Not Greek t... > Plan Carefully, Drawing on Experts a...

Plan Carefully, Drawing on Experts and Experience

For presentation success across cultures and in foreign environments, the importance of careful planning cannot be overemphasized.

  • Learn all you can about your listeners and how they do business. Use the experts, such as the Department of Commerce, who know the specific country well. Consulates and embassies located in the United States can provide helpful background on their countries, as can U.S. government offices located overseas. AMA International, headquartered in New York and with centers in Europe, Canada, South America, and Mexico, can be an important contact as well.

    Figure 17-1. Apply these tips for winning international presentations, whether in your location or theirs. All are subject to tailoring for the specific group.
    • Know your audience, and consider cultural as well as business backgrounds in planning your presentation.

    • Consult experts to understand the audience better and to prevent faux pas.

    • Communicate with the host contact about any aspects to be aware of. Sort out the plan for the entire event, such as social meetings outside the conference room.

    • Understand details of shipping, travel, on-site arrangements, etc.

    • Clarify specific goals and the agenda.

    • Organize your talk so it can be easily followed, with moving agendas and mini-summaries.

    • Allow for extensive two-way communication (though it may not occur).

    • Emphasize simplicity and visualization in visual aids.

    • Prepare speakers to consider language and cultural problem areas.

    • Rehearse with someone familiar with the audience's culture and language.

    • Know how to pronounce key words.

    • Speak clearly and probably slower than your standard. Gauge understanding.

    • Make sure the spoken word closely follows the visual aids.

    • Be careful with acronyms, jargon, and colloquial references.

    • Use standard international business terminology.

    • Be aware of body language differences, both yours and theirs.

    The "do" list could identify protocol requirements, often more significant in other countries than in the United States; considerations related to timing and form of presentation, even including giving no presentation; meeting procedures; and probable desires of the audience.

    Use the "no-no" list to surface taboos. Talking about "boiling pots of water" will not get your presentation off to a good start in Africa. Making reference to Montezuma's revenge is not the way to endear oneself to a Mexican, as President Carter discovered during a well-publicized visit to that country. Referring to women or animals is not wise when speaking to Arabs. And knowing that many Asians have strong feelings about lucky and unlucky colors may prevent some serious mistakes on visuals or brochures.

  • Give special attention to how cultural differences might affect style of presentation and strategy. Howard Van Zandt provides this example about doing business in Japan:

    In making a presentation, it should be remembered that Japanese and Americans have different objectives in doing business. The former continually stress growth, steady jobs for their own employees, full employment in the nation as a whole, and superiority over competitors. Profit, as a motive, falls behind these needs. But U.S. executives are motivated only by profit—or, at least, that is the way Japanese businessmen see it. . . . Since the Japanese prefer a low-pressure sales approach and value sincerity so highly, Westerners are advised to build up their case a step at a time, using modest language rather than making extravagant claims.[5]

  • Be rigorous and precise in your arrangements planning. If you do not have previous experience with the country in which you are presenting, or an established, reliable base there, call in the experts early. Organizations specializing in international meetings or meeting managers of international hotel chains can provide valuable consulting and handle arrangements in other countries. The experience of other businesspeople in the country may be of value. Many countries today have sophisticated facilities and considerable experience in audiovisual presentations. The main thing to remember, however, is that paperwork, power requirements, terminology, equipment, and common practices may all be different there.

    Schedule all elements carefully, including support needs such as delivery of gadgetry or slide brochures. Do not take anything for granted that has to be provided, delivered, shipped, or carried. Customs delays can be unpredictable and often lengthy.

  • Discuss fully with the key contact person at the other end the main aspects of the meeting. Be sure to cover the following: purpose; desires of both parties; incidentals, such as arrival times and hotels; agenda for the day, such as tours or private visits; and the presentation itself. Identify as fully as possible the exact names, titles, and backgrounds of the audience members. Obtain phonetic spellings of the names. Maintain a dialogue with your key contact to stay abreast of current information and to ensure that both parties are clear and in agreement on the purpose of the meeting and the presentations.

  • Provide as much assistance and information as possible to smooth the way for the other parties. If they are in your environment, it will be strange to them, and they will probably appreciate any help to make them comfortable and to avert gaffes. They will have as much trouble with your names as you will have with theirs. You may want to provide a list of attendees' names (speakers plus audience) and their titles, which are often used, as well as name place markers.

  • Consider differences in hospitality. Do not overlook the simple things, such as refreshments during breaks or lunch. For example, for an important competition, my firm had linked with two major European companies. The kickoff meeting included morning fare typical for an important meeting. Later the head of the Dutch company asked me: "Did you notice no one from our team ate anything?" I had not. "In the Netherlands sweet rolls and donuts are not something we would ever eat for a morning meeting."

  • Allow private time and space. In planning agendas and facilities, consider that the audience members may wish some time to meet separately.

  • Select your speakers carefully. Be aware of potential problems certain types of speakers may present. A hard-charging, fender-slapping salesperson may not go over well with some audiences. A person with too many rough edges may create a poor impression with sophisticated listeners. If the listeners have a limited knowledge of English, it may be wise to screen out speakers who are hard to understand.

  • Prepare your speakers. They should know how to pronounce any foreign names that are in the presentation. If you're trying to get business in Saudi Arabia, all your team members should know where Riyadh is located, that it is the capital city, and how to pronounce it. They should know key people and agencies involved. As an example, after about fifteen minutes into the presentation by a team seeking to win a contract in Hawaii, one reviewer stood up and emphatically said she'd heard enough. The team's program manager was startled and asked her why. "Because if you don't even know how to pronounce the name of our town, I'm certainly not going to give you our business."

  • Orient presenters to audience culture and style. Many speakers are heading into an environment with which they may have little experience. Jay Carson has had many technical and managerial assignments in several mid-East countries. For one program, he said, the U.S. prime contractor hurt itself badly on customer presentations in Saudi Arabia: "They would come in with arrogant attitudes, assuming they were experts. They'd want to get right to the heart of the matter and tell them what to do versus persuading them. After they left, they would be cut apart within an hour. Over there, if you're prideful and arrogant, you won't get anywhere."[6]

    Paul Sullivan is no stranger to the international environment. "When I travel I make a point of staying in the hotel of the country (versus the large chains with the same hotels in the United States). I want to understand the culture, the nature, the thinking of the people. You won't get that so well in the other hotels." Here is his favorite example:

    On my first trip to Korea, I came across an article noting there were fifty-eight universities there. The night before my meeting, I sat down to dinner. At the next table was an American who'd come over on the same plane as I did. He was having dinner with a Korean client, and I heard him ask, "Are there any universities in Korea?" Can you imagine that? The Korean client responded politely.[7]

  • Try to find nuances. Business executive and professional speaker Somers White has spoken widely to audiences around the world. He says it can be valuable to learn about local events and interests, such as government, population makeup, policies, and local hot issues. "In the Philippines, I spoke to a group about various financial topics. A man asked a question about investing in Philippine art. I was able to answer knowledgeably about the current status of why Philippine art has not been a good investment for the last six months. What did that do for my credibility?"[8]

  • Consider how other attendees can be of help. One company has employees who are natives of the audience country attend its international presentations. Being familiar with both the company and the visitor's country and language, they have helped make the audience comfortable as well as assisted with explanations.



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