Successful presenting to people from different cultures

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13 April 2016
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Imagine having to make a presentation to 22 individuals from 22 different countries...

That's what two of our senior consultants did recently for the National Audit Office. The countries were as diverse as Brazil, Lesotho, Vietnam, China, Iraq and Nigeria. This is something that we are increasingly called upon to do as more companies than ever before operate in the global marketplace.

A man dressed professionally walks past a view of London

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation you will know how important it is to take account of not only cultural differences but also the way you communicate. For those readers who haven’t already learnt what to do the hard way we’ve gathered together a few of our top tips for presenting to diverse cultural groups.

Do your homework

Make sure you understand your audience. How fluent are they in the language you will be using? This is likely to vary even in a group that is used to receiving presentations in another language. What are their needs, concerns, and attitudes? What cultural differences do you need to take into account? (If you don’t know much about this we recommend you look at Hofstede’s research on cultural differences in an organisational context.)
Speak slowly This tip is useful for good public speaking in any situation and vital when your audience isn’t familiar with the language you are using. If you naturally speak quickly and think you’ve adapted your pace you probably still need to slow down even more. Most people fear they will slow down so much that they will patronise their audience but this is rarely the case. If you are using an interpreter allow time for them to translate each point.


Some of the world’s greatest speakers are masters of the ‘pause’. They use this technique to create impact and to draw their audience’s attention to key points they want to emphasise. Pausing is also invaluable when it comes to presenting to multi-cultural groups. When you stop speaking it gives your audience time to think and take in what you are saying.
Use simple language This may seem obvious but it is still often ignored or forgotten in the moment. Avoid colloquial expressions that don’t easily translate. If you realise you’ve said something your audience may not understand explain it before moving on or check in with them to be sure they have understood.

Pay attention to their body language

This is important in any presentation because it gives you vital clues about how your audience is responding. Be alert to small signals – facial expressions and body posture. If you sense something you are doing isn’t quite working for everyone do something different. This may mean slowing down or explaining a point in a different way. If necessary stop and ask the group to help you by explaining what they need from you. It’s also important to be aware that people from some cultures listen and respond differently – people from some cultures consider it rude to say they don’t understand.

Be aware of your body language and voice

As a rule of thumb the further north you go the less exuberant people’s body language becomes. In Finland, for instance, gestures are very small whereas in Latin America the pace is faster, gestures are bigger and voices have more energy and variety. If you are presenting to a group of Finn’s you may want to tone down your approach and move it up a gear if you are working with a group of Brazillians.

Enjoy yourself

Presenting to multi-cultural groups requires effort and can be extremely rewarding. If you take time to plan your approach and pay attention to our simple tips for success you will start to relax, feel confident and comfortable with the group. Every audience responds to a presenter who is ‘in flow’, in touch with their audience’s needs and enjoying the process.