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Chapter 17. Making Sure It's Not Greek t... > Develop Appropriate Material

Develop Appropriate Material

Presentation content must be understandable, accurate, and received positively. One need not look far for blatant language mistakes; they often are the source of humor or frustration, just like those easy-to-assemble instructions found in some manuals. It also pays to be aware of local sensitivities. For example, a team pursuing business in Saudi Arabia displayed on the repeated agenda chart a map showing the Persian Gulf. A consultant immediately spotted it as not real smart, noting that to the Saudis it's the Arabian Gulf.

  • Cover less material. I once coached a presenter heading for Japan. It was obvious he was trying to cover too much. Reporting back later, he said he'd cut a lot out, but he definitely should have cut more, since he failed to allow adequate time for questions, comments, and repetition.

  • Aim toward greater organizational simplicity than for standard presentations. Use plenty of direction signs and reiterations. Provide moving agenda charts to introduce each section, with names of all speakers spelled out in full. Summarize frequently.

  • Provide an up-front summary unless not appropriate for the culture. This enables both parties to see at the start just what the objectives and essence of this presentation are.

  • Eliminate references that will mean little to non-Americans. Avoid referring to game plans, Sixty Minutes, and Lone Star Beer (unless you're selling Lone Star Beer), and so forth.

  • Design visual aids with simplicity. Use photographs and relationship diagrams instead of busy word charts. Make them readable. Hold acronyms to a minimum, and spell out those that you do use. Use message titles to increase the ease of grasping the points.

  • Translate visuals if warranted. Graphics layouts may need to be changed. For example, English-language graph axes and flow-charts don't directly transform into Arabic, which moves from right to left. Where the audience is not familiar with English, translation of visual aids may be wise, but keep in mind that translating is tricky business. In the same language, many terms differ across dialects (e.g., Madrid Spanish versus Guadalajara Spanish; Hong Kong Cantonese versus Beijing Mandarin).

    Although native speakers can be helpful, there are potential risks. For example, a Puerto Rican doing a Spanish translation for an audience in Caracas may make serious mistakes (and vice versa).A person away from his or her native country for more than a few years can quickly lose touch with the language. A native speaker may be fluent in everyday usage but not proficient in technical language.

    Some words don't translate so well. Boeing discovered that its slogan for the 747—"the Queen of the Sky"—was precluded from use in several languages because it translated as the Virgin Mary.[9] Also be wary of literal translations, since some terms may have different meanings in different languages. For example, "short-term debt" is defined differently in the United States and Germany, so translating the term literally might create more confusion. If it is left in English, the Germans probably will know which definition to apply.

  • Provide paper copies of visual aids to start, but check first as to appropriateness. Executive Thomas Kurtz has given many international presentations. "I always gave them copies of my slides at the start so they could make notes on them in their own language as I talked. This worked out very well."[10] Howard Van Zandt recommends distributing copies of presentation material in Japan because this provides a test of sincerity, which Japanese value highly. "They feel that when a man is willing to put his case in print, where all may challenge what he has said, it is likely that he will be accurate so as not to lose face." He also advises this because oral statements are often misunderstood due to the heavy use of homonyms (words that sound the same but don't mean the same) in Japanese. He also suggests that presenters in Japan lend copies of visual aids to the Japanese for their use with other groups.[11]

  • Test out your presentation and all your speakers. This works best when the listeners are knowledgeable about the target country.

  • Rework your spoken message so it flows better. In coaching an executive for whom English was a second language, we identified several phrases he kept stumbling over. We replaced those phrases with words that were simpler to pronounce.

  • Allow time to meet with interpreters. Often interpreters are essential to conducting international business. According to advertising executive Robert Smith, who has had ample experience with interpreters, both in international marketing and as a conference leader for AMA International:

    The important thing is to go over the presentation in advance with the interpreter. Review the handouts, visuals, and anecdotes. Then remember to pace yourself so the interpreter can do his job, so the two of you can work as a team. This is especially critical for simultaneous translations.[12]

  • Learn a few words of the language. Cross-cultural expert Dr. Sondra Thiederman says that nothing else will win trust more. "And don't worry about doing it right—do the best you can. You show a certain leveling and vulnerability by trying to pronounce a few local words and sort of floundering, as long as you're not arrogant about it. You might also learn to say 'That's all I know,' in case they come rushing up and start to talk to you."[13]



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