5 Tips for Presenting Internationally

Have you ever been asked to present internationally? To head overseas and deliver training or a user conference presentation? I have and here are a few tips I’ve learned about presenting internationally along the way.

Over the years, as a Sales Engineer and as a Product Marketing Director, I have had the opportunity to travel internationally for work and pleasure. Back in the day, when face to face sales training was more common, I made two ‘around the world’ trips. We would head East and week one would be in Europe, stopping in 3 different cities (normally Munich, Paris and London). Then we would continue Eastward over the weekend and week two would be two cities spread across Japan, South Korea, Singapore or Hong Kong. 

In addition to delivering sales training, I have had the opportunity to deliver keynotes and presentations at industry conferences and user group meetings in different countries. As part of this activity I’d often find myself doing regional press and analyst interviews. Plus I always had the opportunity to go on sales calls with the local sales teams. As a result, I’ve had a lot of experience with foreign language audiences and presenting internationally.

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Presenting Internationally

Depending on the country or city I was in, or the size of the audience, the level of English proficiency would vary. In some countries, even in the larger cities English proficiency could vary wildly. As a public speaker, that meant I had to adjust my presentation and speaking style to meet the needs of my audience. You cannot expect your audience to adapt to you. You are there to get your message and point across in the most effective manner possible.

In a small group, like a product training session or on a sales call, one of the local office team members may act as a translator when needed. At various points of a presentation or a discussion, I would be asked to pause while they emphasized a point or put something into a context that was more understandable in the local language. I have seen 10 minute discussions happen for what seemed like a rather small point. I think that is why I always found this scene in Lost in Translation rather funny.   For large audiences like a keynote speech, or for press interviews, it was not unusual to work with a professional translator. We will talk more about working with translators later. 

My examples and tips are based on me being a native English speaker working with audiences where English is a secondary language. That being said, I do not think it would be much different if you were a native speaker of any language working with a non-native speaking audience. I think these tips are universal across any language and can help anyone who finds themselves presenting internationally.

Speaking Tip One – Speak Slowly and Clearly

When you are presenting to a non-native speaking audience, it is important to slow down your rate of speech. While the audience may have a level of proficiency in your language, it will vary. It may take a moment or two for the audience members to capture and comprehend the meaning of what you are saying. By slowing your speech pattern down just a little bit, it gives the audience that added time to process what you are saying. 

Speaking Tip Two – Lose the Jokes

Humor doesn’t translate well. My simplest advice is, lose the jokes. If you Google “how well does humor translate” you will find a number of articles and blogs on the topic. They all come to essentially the same conclusion, it is very difficult to get humor to cross languages. Different words, sentence lengths and cultural norms all contribute to the challenge. You run the risk of getting a blank stare from your audience if you kick off your presentation with a joke.  

Speaking Tip Three – Slang is Local or Cultural

Slang faces a lot of the problems that humor does, it can be cultural and very localized. Even between English speaking countries, slang varies widely.

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Ask any Aussie, Kiwi, Brit or American if they have been baffled by the others slang. Now change the language on top of the slang. Good luck getting your point across.  

Speaking Tip Four – Face Your Audience

This tip is more appropriate to small audiences, where you are in a conference room or in a training class. As you speak, try to face your audience. It is much easier for someone to understand and comprehend your point if they can see your face and your mouth movements. If you have your hands in front of your mouth, or you are facing a white board with your back turned, your speech will be muffled and difficult to understand. 

Speaking Tip Five – Working with Translators

I have had the opportunity to work with professional translators on multiple occasions. With any type of translation, the translator will usually want to do a preparation session. During this session they will want  to review your materials, identify any words or phrases that are unclear and ensure they know how to present your material in the clearest way. They will discuss the style of translation that will be used. There are two styles of translation you may experience when working with a professional. The first I will just call traditional translation, the second is simultaneous translation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_interpretation

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Traditional translation is something I have experienced in press interviews and other one on one or small group settings. I would present 3 or 4 sentences of my material, maybe one slide, and the presenter would then translate. I would then go to the next 3 or 4 sentences, pause and wait for the translation. This back and forth was done until we had covered all the material.

Simultaneous translation is a more interesting experience. This is similar to what you see at the United Nations or other large conferences. One or more translators sit in sound proof booths in the back of the room. Your audience members all have small headsets and as you speak, the translator is translating your speech in real time. What I did not realize the first time I did simultaneous translation is, I would also have a headset. Why did I need a headset? So I could hear the translation as well and time my speech appropriately. I would listen for my pauses, words I had emphasized and sentence endings and try to time my speech to allow the translator to keep pace. (See Tip One above!) 

Closing

We operate in a global economy today. With the internet and social media, the world is a smaller place than it used to be. But language is a funny thing. If you speak multiple languages, then you already know this. 

Translation is not a one to one exercise. A 3 word sentence in one language may not be 3 words in another language. A phrase or concept you want to use may not exist in another language. You may have to use a different phrase that is more descriptive in the other language. The key is to be adaptable. At the end of the day, you want to ensure your message is received and understood and you have brought value to your audience. 

If you have presented in multiple languages, I would love to hear your experiences. Send a note through our contact page or leave a comment below. 

Safe travels and good selling!

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