Presentation challenges for speakers of English as a Second Language (ESLs) are at their root cross cultural. With much already written on this topic of cross cultural business communication (check out these powerful insights from Google book “Intercultural Communication for Business”, here), we’ll be talking about three key areas of American business presentations which are most challenging for ESL speakers—linearity, hard sell, and eye contact.
1. Linearity- Whether verbally or in writing, the progression of an idea to its full development is approached with vast differences cross culturally. Much to your own perplexity as an ESL, you may have been told at some point to “get to the point” when you’ve only gotten halfway through. Americans prefer a linear approach to communication, with a case presented, steps detailed in logical or chronological order and an outcome stated at the end. This is often the case in business writing. Try the following framework to communicate ideas simply:
-C.A.R. (Challenge, action, results)—order your information accordingly, internalize, share in this simple format. You should be able to use this with ANYthing!
2. Hard Sell- Perhaps it seems weird to present a conclusion or business case upfront, go through the details, then share the recommendations. After all—can’t the audience draw their own conclusions? Try to imagine, however, that your busy decision maker only has half the allotted time to sit in on your presentation. If this were the case, you might never get to present good stuff at the end, or you would have to awkwardly rush to get there.
A conclusions-first style is accepted American business practice for many presentations. Run it by your American friends and mentors, then try it on for size. Your audience’s approval should give you enough confidence to validate this new approach.
3. Eye Contact- A common complaint (from your American peers) is sustained eye contact—at the slides! To connect with your audience at an emotional level, person to person, you must sustain eye contact with everyone in the room for most of the time. This level of direct communicating is expected in American business presentations; anything less can be met with scrutiny, distrust, or questions as to your credibility. In order to do this effectively, you would have to prepare and internalize your material beforehand (we’ll talk more on this in our next post).
On many of these areas of presentation, we agree it’s a war of wills. It often boils down to: understanding it as a norm, accepting it as a norm, and embracing it for yourself so that it’s absolutely normal. Practice makes perfect.
Stay tuned as we continue on this topic in our next post! To get you thinking ahead of time, please prepare by asking yourself the following: How much time do I prepare before a presentation?
A. The 5 minutes in the elevator on the way to the meeting.
B. One hour before in my hotel room.
C. Over the weekend, for a few hours here and there.
D. A week ahead, with intermittent practice.