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Presentations in English

Vorwort

Präsentationen vor Publikum sind bereits in der eigenen Sprache eine Herausforderung. Ungleich stärker steigt der Adrenalinspiegel, wenn man das sichere Terrain seiner Muttersprache verlässt und auf Englisch präsentiert: Ist mein Englisch gut genug? Was, wenn ich nicht auf das richtige Wort komme? Was, wenn meine Zuhörer mich nicht verstehen – oder ich sie nicht? Das sind nur die ersten Hürden, die viele bei einem Vortrag auf Englisch sehen.

Mit diesem TaschenGuide werden Sie nicht nur diese Hürden überwinden. Sie finden Werkzeuge, mit denen Sie Ihren gesamten Vortrag meistern – von der Vorbereitung, über die Begrüßung, die Präsentation selbst, bis zur Verabschiedung des Publikums. Auch auf die Diskussion mit Ihren Zuhörern können Sie sich gezielt vorbereiten – und dadurch sicher in die Präsentation gehen. Ich zeige Ihnen, worauf es beim Vortragen auf Englisch ankommt, und stelle Ihnen zahlreiche sprachliche Techniken und Beispiele vor. Ganz nebenbei eignen Sie sich nützliche Sätze, Wendungen und Key Words an.

Die Sprache ist das eine, die Herkunft Ihres Publikums das andere – und nicht weniger wichtig. Denn die kulturellen Unterschiede in der Art zu kommunizieren, sind groß. Und der beste Vortrag nützt nichts, wenn man seine Zuhörer schon bei der Begrüßung vor den Kopf stößt. Ich zeige Ihnen, wie Sie sich auf Ihr internationales Publikum einstellen und es so für sich gewinnen.

Jaquie Mary Thomas, Dipl.-Sozialpädagogin

Preparation

Whether you have five minutes, five hours or five months to prepare, these are the most important points:

  • developing an international viewpoint,

  • preparing yourself, the person,

  • putting yourself in your audience's shoes,

  • organising facilities,

  • your presentation structure,

  • preparing good slides.

Developing an international viewpoint

You have to do a presentation in English, maybe abroad or in your home country. Your audience may be from another country, or from many. What will they be like? What will they expect?

Things can be different

You want to do a good (or at least reasonable) presentation. You know your own idea of a good presentation but what's their idea of a good presentation? From an international viewpoint, a great many things can be different to presenting to a „home“ audience. These can include:

  • timing,

  • content detail,

  • how people listen,

  • how / if they ask questions,

  • eye contact (if any),

  • conversation making,

  • clothing,

  • body language or

  • even the question of whether a presentation is at all suitable or if everybody should have a good discussion over a 3-hour lunch with a bottle of wine instead.

It's a question of culture. A question of the way things are done in that situation, in that place, with those people.

Example

Chinese and other cultures, where the group is more important than the individual, may come to a presentation as a group of ten to twenty or more people, depending upon the importance to them. They may then be surprised to see only you (with maybe one or two colleagues) and wonder where the others are.

The best way you can develop an international viewpoint and avoid a lot of misunderstandings, is to always keep the following four points in mind.

1 Accept that differences exist!

Think perhaps of a bottle standing next to a glass. From your point of view, the bottle may be in front of the glass. From someone on the other side it is behind the glass. From another person's viewpoint it's on the right. And, yes, from another person's viewpoint it's on the left.

Everybody can have a different viewpoint, a different view, but everybody can be right. Compare this to different places in the world. Presentations are done differently in France, in Germany, in Japan, in the US. Each of these ways of doing presentations is right, in those places, in those situations, with those people.

Examples: Starting a presentation

Presentations in the US often start with a joke, in the UK with an apology, in Germany with the background details.

This does not mean that you should start with a joke in the US or an apology in the UK. It does mean that you need to think about the differences. How does your style suit the setting you are dealing with? You can then decide if you shorten the introduction and / or reduce the number of slides in total. You may then need to be more prepared to „go with the flow“ – letting your audience point you in the direction they want to go to with their questions.

2 Opposite behaviour may not mean opposite values

Realise that differences in behaviour and differences in the importance of values can lead to a lot of misunderstanding. Opposite behaviour does not necessarily mean opposite values.

Example: Direct and indirect speech

Germans tend to speak directly: „You made a mistake.“ This direct behaviour is often based on values of openness, honesty and the desire not to waste the other person's time.

The British tend to speak indirectly: „It seems that something wasn't quite right“: This indirect behaviour is often based on values of politeness and respect for the other person and the desire not to hurt the other person's feelings.

The Chinese may say nothing at all.

The translation „opposite behaviour = opposite values“ here often leads to Germans thinking that the Chinese and the British are not open, not honest and waste time and, conversely, to British and Chinese thinking that the Germans are impolite, lack respect for other people (arrogant!) and don't care if they hurt other people's feelings.

This means that you shouldn't always let your reactions be led by how you interpret specific behaviour. Keep more of an open mind during a multinational or international presentation.

3 Use cultural generalisations with care

A generalisation is something that applies to 55% or more of a group of people – not a stereotype (100% of the people in that group, all of the time) and not a prejudice (a stereotype plus positive or negative judgment). A group can be a nationality group (e.g. French, Italian, Japanese), a regional group (e.g. north German, south German), a gender group (men, women), a professional group (IT people, sales people, commercial people, marketing people), as well as corporate, religious or age.

Example

„All French people interrupt presentations to ask questions“ is a stereotype. „All French people interrupt presentations to ask questions – this is very rude“ is a prejudice. The French people that you present to may not interrupt at all, and if they do, they will probably see it as positive.

You can use generalisations to help you prepare for your presentation, if you think of them as „most of the people do this most of the time“. So you can expect interruptions from Italians in general or active listening (nodding, verbal agreement or disagreement) from Americans in general but, if the people you deal with don't do that, then you shouldn't be too surprised. Everyone is an individual, with their own unique history – you can only identify tendencies that may or may not apply.

4 When and how to adapt to others' cultural style?

People often ask „Why should I change, why don't they?“ and may feel that they are not being „themselves“ if they change their style.

First and foremost, we all change our style depending on whether we are talking to our colleagues, our managers, our partners, our friends, our children, etc. It doesn't mean we are not being „ourselves“ if we change style. We just have different roles.

This is the same in business. Sometimes you present to your colleagues, sometimes to your managers, maybe to your team members, as well as suppliers, customers, collaboration partners – again you have different roles and adapt often quite naturally, without thinking about it too much. Presenting in English can mean you are presenting to any of those just mentioned – maybe two nationalities, maybe twenty nationalities, maybe in your own home country, maybe abroad. All of these situations are different and, if you want to do a good presentation every time, you may need to adapt in every situation.

When to adapt: situation, surrounding and individuals

This decision of when to adapt to others' cultural style can only be made by you (or you and your colleagues when working as a group). There are no clear black and white guidelines, but you can make the decision easier by considering the situation, the surrounding and the individual.

  • situation: This is your first factor when deciding to adapt. What is the business situation and what does the distribution of power look like? Are you making your presentation as customer or supplier? Are you an engineer presenting technical information to a potential buyer or transferring information to other people on your international project team? Are you a financial controller presenting to your board or to your team? People are generally more motivated to switch styles when they need something.

  • surrounding: Where are you? This is your second factor when deciding when to adapt. Are you presenting in your home country or abroad? Are you in your own company or in theirs? Are you in the boardroom or on the factory floor?

  • individuals: Who are you presenting to? This is your third factor when deciding when to adapt. Who are the people you are dealing with? Are they men, women, older or younger than you? Are they board members, sales or marketing people, human resource experts, accountants, engineers? Do they have a lot of international experience?

How to adapt: cultural dimensions

If you don't know or are unsure about any of the above three points – e.g. who you are dealing with – then you need to do some thinking (see „Put yourself in your audience's shoes“). Once you have made the decision of when to adapt, you need to think about how to switch style. You need to consider the possible cultural influences regarding the situation, surroundings and individuals according to cultural dimensions. When you present internationally, the following cultural dimensions are usually the most important:

  • time orientation – how is time likely to be seen? Could your audience be more, the same or less punctual than you? Do you think they see time as money or do they treat it as something that will continue endlessly? Intercultural researchers talk about monochronic and polychronic cultures. People belonging to monochronic cultures prefer to do one thing at a time and place importance on deadlines and time schedules. You need to be aware of your natural style in comparison to the people you are dealing with. Then you can decide how to switch style by becoming more or less punctual, for example.

    Example

    When planning a presentation to a Spanish audience, you may find that they could probably be less punctual than yourself, and that they don't cut time into specific numbered pieces as much as you do.

    This means that for a presentation scheduled to start at 09.00, you don't need to worry if half of the people are not there and you start later than originally scheduled. Also, that your presentation may go well over schedule. This may not matter to them as much as it does to you – again no need to worry.

  • People vs. task orientation – how important to your audience is the personal relationship compared to the task? Do they split or mix the two more or less than you? In Germany, people tend to separate business and pleasure – „Dienst ist Dienst und Schnaps ist Schnaps“. Germans generally do the business first, and then maybe get to know the people. Other nationality cultures, such as the Japanese, will want to get to know the people before doing business.

    Example

    When presenting to an audience more person-oriented than yourself, make sure you allow time for relationship building – getting to know each other – e.g. dinner the evening before the ...

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