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3 Ways Adapt To Other Cultures a Key Skill in This Global Reality

September 20, 2012

I am writing this while in Dusseldorf Germany, I am here in the capacity of the Global Speakers Federation President where I have the distinct honor of being a Keynote speaker. English is a second language for many Germans and before arriving in Dusseldorf I had received information on how to succeed when speaking to a German audience.

I typically prepare for all of my speaking engagements well in advance and spend a lot of time customizing the content for my audiences. I had pre-prepared all of my slides knowing that I would add a few extra once I had gotten more context after arriving.

I know from other international travel to arrive a few days in advance if possible which I did, I walked into the city, took the U (train/subway) and talked to a number of people. I listened to the language and to hear common words that were being used. I observed and noticed the mannerisms and interactions between people.

The morning of my keynote I met with my two translators and went through my slides with them. When they saw that I had movie clips they were concerned because they don’t translate well but I told them the essence of the message and they were able to give a short one line explanation for the movies I had shown.

I completely slowed down my presentation speed ( I typically talk very quickly) and I allowed more space for pausing and sensing the audiences response.

I also ‘got over myself’ by making a mental note that I would not let myself be affected by the audiences reaction or lack of reaction- I was simply going to present with the focus on providing value.

My opening slide was a photo (show below) I had taken of a German sign souvenir I had bought for my step son and the local liqueur called Killepitch (like Jagermeister but apparently better). They loved it!

GermanSign-300x225Overall the feedback was that everyone enjoyed the presentation and got value but the best complement a speaker can receive from a German audience member is this, “you had lots of content”. I hear that a number of times so I knew that I had adapted to the culture in a way that they could relate to.

I wish I could say that I had thought of all of these things to do by myself. The truth is that I had learned to do these things from other global travel and my colleagues in the consulting/speaking industry.

Based on my own experience and input from other consultants/speakers here are 3 ways to adapt to other cultures- especially when presenting to a group or doing business in a different country.

#1- Find out about the primary language of the audience or group, ask the organizer if there will be simultaneous translation or delayed translation. If you are not speaking or presenting but doing business ask about the key people you will be meeting and their ability to speak English. When speaking slow down your speaking both on stage and when talking one on one, listen more and talk less.

#2- Find a common starting point- I used the photo of my souvenirs to demonstrate that I had already immersed myself into their local culture, I also said “Good morning” in German when I started as well which is “Guten morgen”. Use translation apps on your smart phone to find out the mean and use of key words and make an effort to put those into your conversations- this endears the listener as it shows you care enough to learn a few key words.

#3- Let go of your expectations of how people should behave or react to you. Our ego can have us believe that unless all people we meet react the same way as what we are used to in our home country then something is wrong. The more we understand about the culture the more we can let go of our preconceived notions of how they show approval. For example Germans are often more serious and may not laugh at the same things that North Americans might laugh at. This does not mean they don’t like us – it’s just different then what we are used to. The more we focus on understanding them, their culture and their needs the less we need to worry about ourselves.

If you have other suggestions or ideas based on your experiences I would love to hear them.

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