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Common Pitfalls in Presentations and Inter-Cultural Communications

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Tackling the audience that won’t engage with you.

Understanding your audience and how they are likely to respond ensures the delivery of appropriate and engaging presentations that have the desired effect. But what do you do when you’ve gotten it wrong?

We see daily examples of presentations being made, where the presenter has not made the relevant changes necessary to suit their audience. The most common of these is the scenario where the presenter starts firing questions at his audience, expecting to start an engaging dialogue, but instead receives blank stares, no replies or only started ones, and generally just blank faces and people staring at the floor. In some circumstances we have also seen that the most senior person in the room may even leave your presentation! The presenter is often left confused and frustrated… the fantastic presentation that went down so well with colleagues has just fallen over. So why does this happen?

The Community Accountability Challenge

How a person is held accountable is often a factor. People who come from a culture where individual accountability is the norm, are used to taking responsibility, answer direct questions more freely and do not shy from replying publicly when spoken to. They engage with presenters and often dialogue throughout presentations. Yet in cultures where community accountability is the norm this is not the case. There are different ways to deal with presentations, dialogue and questions. Direct questions don’t work and answers are less likely to be forthcoming, so as a presenter you need to change tack. It is also more difficult to get people from a community accountability point of view to take on board or adopt changes that you are presenting on, so you need to find other ways to create ownership of the content.

How to meet the Community Accountability Challenge head-on

To start a dialogue with your audience, try working with the most senior person that will be in the audience. You can even go so far as to stage questions that are then asked by that person.

Again working with the most senior person, discuss beforehand how to deal with these issues, what that person thinks are the most important issues and what questions people are likely to ask. Be sure to give the most senior person the opportunity to voice those questions on their behalf or build those questions into the presentation that you offer.

To generate commitment try meeting with the most senior person and if open to it coach them on what to say at the end of the presentation. In that way you are reinforcing your message through the mouth of the most senior person in the room and they become your vehicle to create commitment to what you’ve presented. You can also do this through the new knowledge, training material that has been passed on through the group.

The honor-shame and power-fear worldview challenge

The lens through which your audience views the world is also important when you decide how to approach your presentation. If you are from a guilt-innocence culture where your view of the world is colored by right and wrong, black and white you are more likely to apportion blame and ask questions that would lead to embarrassing someone in this way. Accidentally saying things that might embarrass the senior person in the room leads to them having to do damage control, which is then likely to make your presentation ineffective.

To gain support for your presentation you would need to let your presentation be framed by the senior person in the room. This means allowing them to shape the beginning and end of the presentation in their own style using their own words after which they would then hand back to you.

It’s crucial that you don’t shame by demonstrating what they don’t know, or that you don’t take away power from them. So to achieve this successfully it is always important to spend time on with that senior person to make sure that you don’t become a threat to them.

To find out more about the challenges of presenting & communicating with different cultures to your own visit our article on Excellent Inter-Cultural Presentations, or Contact Us to learn more about our framework and tools.


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