Presenting Information Across Cultures

It can be very challenging to give a business presentation in another language. It requires more preparation and planning. Choosing the correct grammar and vocabulary is what most international business professionals focus on first. They assume that language will be their biggest obstacle.

Yet most business experts would agree that understanding WHO your audience is and HOW they best receive information is the key to a successful presentation. Often culture is the hidden obstacle that prevents us from communicating effectively.

At the end of this course, you will have greater insights into presenting information cross-culturally.

It's not what you say, but how you say it

In the United States, we often quote the poet William Carlos Williams who said:


It’s not what you say that matters, but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages.


He realized that word choice and delivery was really the secret to success in communication





Video clip for reflection

Watch this video and consider just how effective using the “right” words can be. 


Questions for video

  • What was your impression of the video ?

  • Why do you think the people walking by responded better to the second sign?

  • Reflect on a time when you either succeeded or struggled to find the right words to use to           communicate effectively in English?     

The "Hidden Obstacle"

Often culture is the "hidden obstacle:  that prevents us from communicating. In Edward T. Hall 1976 compared culture to an iceberg which has two parts. 10% can be seen above the surface of the water but the majority or 90% is hidden below the surface of the water.

Notice that language is part of the 10% that can be seen. Important factors to business negotiation like communication styles, decision –making and problem-solving are all part of the 90% that is hidden below the surface.

Information sharing

Our culture influences how we organize information and the way that we share that information with others.

What seems logical to you may not seem logical to a person from another culture. This can be a real problem when it comes to business.

Businesses want to sell products or services to their clients. Therefore, how you present information is crucial.

If your client is from any Western country they will want the information presented in a linear fashion. You need to give them the information they need to make the decision you want them to make.


To Get to the Point

In English, we call this "getting to the point". 

It means to understand the purpose, intention, or central idea of something. 

  • Example:  I wish he would stop telling jokes and get to the point of his speech.


“Get to the point "- Business example

Here is an example of how getting to the point can look very different depending on your culture.

Jens Hupert, a German living in the United States for many years, explained his experience during an interview.

“In the U.S., when giving a talk to my American colleagues, I would start my presentation by laying the foundation for my conclusions, just like I had learned in Germany; setting the parameters; outlining my data and my methodology; and explaining my argument.”

 Mr. Hupert was taken back when his American boss told him, “In your next presentation, get right to the point. You lost their attention before you got to the important part.” In his mind, “You cannot come to a conclusion without first defining the parameters.”

Have you had an experience similar to Mr. Hupert's? .

Time is money

How you give your client  information is as important as what you say.

For most Western business people, time is money, and they don't want you to waste their time.


How Logic is Presented

So, how can you get to the point with your client?

How we get to the point varies by culture. In Western culture, there are two primary ways of thinking: Deductive and Inductive.


What deductive and inductive cultures have in common is that they both think critically using linear logical.

The difference is how the logic is presented.

Deductive Thinkers– RULES FIRST

Deductive thinkers view a logical presentation as rules first, then details or examples.

Deductive cultures and the WHY question

In countries that use deductive reasoning like France, Germany, Spain and Russia you get to the point by giving the rules first.

Deductive thinkers want to know why they should believe that what you say about your service or product is true.

They ask WHY questions like:

  •  Why do I need your services?

  •  Why is this important?

  •  Why is this product better than another?

They want specific answers to their questions and they are willing to engage in debate. 

When dealing with these cultures you should be prepared to answer questions and give explanations based on facts. If you are not, you will lose their respect and probably their business.

Inductive Thinkers – DETAILS FIRST

Inductive thinkers view a logical presentation as examples first, then the rules. 

Inductive cultures and the HOW question

In countries that use inductive reasoning like the USACanada and the UK you "get to the point" by giving the details first.

Inductive thinkers want to know how your service or product will work for them.

They ask HOW questions like:

  • How will this increase our profit?

  • How have other companies benefited from this?

  • How long will this take to implement?

They want to see real world examples and reports. They want to know how this will make them money.

When dealing with these cultures you should be prepared to give examples from the past and possibilities of  how things could work in the future. If you have no examples, you will lose their respect and probably their business.


American infomercials are a classic example of this:


Two sides of the same coin

What is important to remember is that they are both logical and valid ways of processing information and both are vital to a successful working life.  

We have an idiom in English that describes this as two sides of the same coin.

This expression describes things that are different but closely related features of one idea.


Adapting your communication style

Learning how your client thinks and communicates will help you to sell and negotiate more effectively.

 It will also make you a better business professional by giving you the ability to adapt to different situations.

Can you think of any ways you might  be able an adapt an existing presentation, sales pitch, etc. to meet the needs of your client? 

Sources Cited