Book Review – Presenting Across Cultures

Presenting Across CulturesOne of the great things about Linkedin are the professional group discussion boards. Recently, on one of these boards, I came across a suggestion from an intercultural expert on a new book named “Presenting Across Cultures” by Ruben A. Hernandez.

This is a very handy book for anyone who is preparing to give presentations internationally. Amazingly, Hernandez’s book looks to be one of the first books out there that is specifically focused on the cross-cultural communication styles within the confines of presentations. It’s about time somebody wrote something like this!

The book looks at presentations in the following cultures and regions:

  • The Arab World
  • Brazil
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • The Netherlands
  • Russia
  • Scandinavian Countries
  • South Korea
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Internationally Mixed Audience

Hernandez provides us a with a profile for each of these. (2,200 words/10 pages on average). In each section, he breaks his profile into the following sections:

  • Profile Graph – Looks at a 13 different cultural dimensions (see below) & gives us a distribution curve along a continuum. This is all explained at the beginning of the book, and only takes a few minutes to understand. Once you are familiar with the system and the concepts behind these cultural dimensions, these graphs are extremely helpful.
  • First things first – introduction to the culture & important background information in regards to culture and business.
  • The PresentationThe speaker
  • The PresentationOpening structure
  • The Presentation Content and points of persuasion
  • The PresentationThe summary
  • The Presentation Q&A
  • The PresentationFinal points
  • Do’s and Don’ts – Quick list of suggested tips

The point is smartly made at the beginning of the book that:

“Of course, an individual’s unique personality and experience can supersede the cultural profiles described in this book. Audiences will also differ within a given culture – depending on their special areas of expertise or interest. That’s why it’s important to distinguish between what an individual might do actively when giving a presentation and what that same individual will understand, filtered through cultural reference points, when listening to one. We will be looking at those shared cultural reference points which make listening to a presentation comprehensible on a broad level within a culture.”

He also writes that:

” Getting to the point with an international audience requires, first, that we understand what the point is that we should be getting to. It requires the knowledge and ability to adapt to their listening expectations which, as this book will point out, differ from culture to culture.”

I am very familiar with three particular countries that are covered in this book, having lived and worked in all three: Italy, Germany, and the United States. As I read these three sections I found myself nodding in agreement to the comments and insights given. The author, who is the founder of the International Presentation Academy, and an expert on presentation skills, notes that he used the following to generate his information:

  • Observations of over 700 international participants on presentation seminars.
  • Nearly 130 interviews with internationally-active business people & trainers.
  • Research and own expertise.

For the Native English Speakers

As this blog is focused on raising language awareness internationally, I specifically found the following paragraphs interesting in the section on “Presenting to an Internationally Mixed Audience”.

On language:

“If the language used for the presentation is English, then it should be “international English”, a special imperative for native-speakers. Though there is not yet a consensus as to what a standardized international version of English would be, it is commonly understood that the language should be free of slang, localisms, and most idiomatic expressions. For example, rather than say, “We will leave no stone unturned in our search for an equitable solution”, which even proficient non-native speakers would have trouble with, it would be easier for most international audiences if it were rephrased to, “We will work very hard to find a fair solution”.

On the presenter’s delivery:

“…… Nearly every culture can follow a speaker who is authentic and “talks” with interest and sincerity…. It is a “natural” style where the speaker appears almost to be recounting a personal story to the audience. He enunciates clearly, speaks at a medium tempo and pitch, makes eye contact (though not prolonger with Asians), stresses important words or phrases andpauses intermittently to allow the audience to process what was said. This style of speaking, especially with pauses, is of great practical benefit for non-native English speakers who start off at a disadvantage with the language. It allows them to translate the talk into manageable chunks. It also conforms to a style that is not completely unfamiliar to them.”

These are all great points, and it’s a compliment to the author that he did not ignore them as something that Native English speakers inherently should know. In fact, if I were suggesting an additional page or two in a future addition of this book, I would offer up the idea of including a short section on this point exclusively, as there are many quick “reminders” that one could include for the Native Speaker. In fact, as most Native Speakers are unaware of the challenges they often present, these may be more than reminders…

After all, even if a speaker follows the pages of wonderful advice in this book on “Presenting Across Cultures”, if he or she can not adapt their language enough to be understood, communication is going to breakdown. 🙂

Cultural Dimensions in the Profiles

For those interested, the 13 cultural dimensions included on the presentation profile are:

  • Task vs Relationship
  • Extensive background content vs Limited background content
  • Problem analysis vs Solution focused
  • Product focused vs Market focused
  • Individual vs Group
  • Low context (direct communication) vs High context (indirect communication)
  • Engaging vs Neutral
  • Figurative vs Rational
  • Deductive vs Inductive
  • Risk inclined vs Risk averse
  • Formal vs Informal
  • Use of humor vs Serious
  • Time fixed vs Time fluid

All of these dimensions are explained in further details in the opening chapter of the book. The thing that I especially liked about these dimensions is that they are focused specifically on the context of participating in presentations – which brought them out of deeper theory and made them much more practical and easier to understand for the everyday businessperson.

Ruben Hernandez mentions that he would like to include additional countries, regions, and cultures in future additions of this book. So in the spirit of helping out, let me encourage anyone from cultures not represented in the list above to contact the author at welcome@ip-academy.de

 

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