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Presenting Across Cultures . . . Russia

Business presenting offers challenges across cultures
Despite superficial similarities, great differences can exist across cultures with regard to business presenting

The universalities of presenting to business audiences are actually large in number.

But . . . and it’s a big but . . . differences can be great across cultures, and these differences mainly are manifested in the speaker-audience dynamic.

My last week lecturing in Russia was punctuated with many talks in front of college student and business audiences, both at Udmurt State University and at the Izhevsk Business Incubator.

My prior experience told me to hold a bit of circumspection in the corner of my eye as a kind of third-eye view; to perceive the situation as an observer might, so that I might be aware of disjuncture between my message, delivery, and its receipt by my Russian guests.

Complications Galore

Complicating the affair was the presence of a superb interpreter, with whom I’ve worked many times in past years.  She participated half the time as my talks were mixed Russian and English, which the audience seemed to appreciate for extra clarity.

Moreover, much of my presentation material had been translated into Russian on the screen behind me, with no concurrent English writing to offer me cues.  Consequently, I was compelled to internalize my Russian bullet points and pass them back into English.

This made for, occasionally, a less-fluid talk than what I like.

Different Nonverbal Cues

The biggest difference for me as a speaker to this particular foreign audience was the lack of nonverbal audience cues.  Or, should I say, the presence of perhaps a different set of cues.

The general nonverbal cues that we all search for in an audience seemed largely absent.  The signs that we are connecting with an audience simply are not there.

By this, I don’t mean that my listeners were unreceptive, uninterested, or rude.  I mean that their demeanor was what we might call . . . stolid.  My third-eye view told me to overlook this lack of nonverbal communication and to seek other cues to responsiveness.

I found them in a more aggressive interaction pattern.

I turned up the “cold call” technique and began to call on particular listeners for feedback on certain points.  An exercise in competitive intelligence was helpful in one talk as I turned the tables and asked for generation of hypotheses from what seemed a tough audience at first.

In the end, familiarity with one of my audiences over several days and several hours of presenting eroded the barriers that had inhibited audience feedback.

The lessons for me are plain – cultivation of a keener analysis of expected audience behavior in my preparation and the inclusion of short exercises designed to remove cultural barriers early-on.

As well, a healthy humility and a searching, open mind provide the most useful tools for presenting to a foreign audience.

Many verities of business presenting carry over from culture to culture, so have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to catalog a few of them.