8 tips for presenting cross-culturally

In a recent webinar Nicola asked, “If my presentation is for a cross-cultural audience, what things do I need to keep in mind?”

I love the question, in part because I present to multiple countries virtually every month. Presenting cross-culturally brings up new challenges

My suggestions, however, somewhat depend on whether or not you have a known audience.

Are you a Finn presenting to (a known audience of) Australians?

Or could your audience be anywhere (like in a marketing webinar)?

If you (reasonably) know that your audience will have a high degree of homogeneity (mostly the same culture), I like to:

Find and read local news

Find the country’s top-level domain and try using that domain for Google (e.g., google.ca for Canada). Remember that not all countries give outsiders access.

I often will reference something, usually benign and popular, and usually just in passing. “Hey, our thoughts are with the folks in Christ Church and any who may have been affected by the earthquake.”

Learn about local culture

An alternative to absorbing culture through news, some sites summarize pretty well, and you can go deeper if you want to spend money. The CIA Factbook is less about culture, but is a wealth of top-level information.

Speak the local language

You may not literally speak Hindi, but it’s useful to reference meters instead of yards, cricket instead of baseball, rupees instead of dollars, and spell localise or optimise without the zeds. YOU put in the work so they don’t have to.

Talk to someone in the know

Sometimes “local culture” isn’t just geographic, it’s “company culture.” Ask, “What are the hot topics in your organization right now? Are there any recent wins that I can reference (e.g., a new strategic partnership, earnings announcement, new system they just implemented that they’re proud of, etc.)? Are there any sacred cows I should stay away from?

Adjust your approach

Different cultures respond in different ways. I like the work of Richard D. Lewis. A great that explains his pespective on multi-active, linear-active, and reactive cultures is  is found here. Rather than try to summarize it, go get it.

The question I’d ask yourself is, “How might these observations affect how to ask questions, interactivity? My expectations of interactivity? Other things about how we connect, relate, and work in a learning environment together?”


If you don’t know who the audience will be, you can still…

Address the majority of the audience

For instance, if presenting to Southeast Asia you will find countries who are mixed in their use of American English versus British English.

Which do you use? I ask the event organizer what they’d prefer. They usually 1) opt for whatever is local to them or 2) what addresses the bulk of their audience (often the same).

Err on the side of caution

In many cultures, and mine especially as an American, we have idioms that may not be universal. It is also useful to ask the event organizer, “Hey, we have this show called “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader” that I sometimes reference…does that play in your country?” Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it does but has a different name.

Another example: The color red connotes “stop” or “danger” here in the west, but it’s more like “happy” or “wealthy” in some places in Asia (e.g., China). The rule of thumb: When in doubt, take it out or go neutral.

Be the gracious foreigner

I find if you are gracious and humble about what you don’t know, people everywhere are seriously kind enough to step up and help you out. Don’t be shy…“Hey Nicola, did I just pronounce your name correctly?” “So John, I’m not really sure if I’m going to say Wagga Wagga right, so if I blow it, would you type it in phonetically so I can learn something too?”

The bottom line

I’m sure there are great resources I’ve missed (do share!), and some I frankly have never found (e.g., color interpretation across the world). The good news is that the final point…being the gracious foreigner…is the life saver. Technique is great, but we don’t have unlimited capacity to learn and accommodate. Nothing beats an authentic human being giving real love to another, even in a virtual presentation.

4 thoughts on “8 tips for presenting cross-culturally

  1. Facilitating in the Live Online Classroom: Follow Up Q&A | Cindy Huggett

    […] A recent blog post by Roger Courville gives some additional great tips: https://thevirtualpresenter.com/ask/8-tips-for-presenting-cross-culturally/ […]

  2. gwalter

    Interesting that you focused on geographical and ethnic differences. Have you considered how it is cross-cultural for moderns to present to postmoderns? Or for one generation to speak to another? Or maybe digital natives speak to those who struggle with the Internets?

    1. TheVP

      Great question! I actually just conducted a study on ‘generations in the virtual classroom,’ sponsored by Citrix GoToTraining. The paper is due out next quarter. It’s attitudinal and generational, but there are implications for the natives and non-interwebbers, too.

  3. Facilitating in the Live Online Classroom: Follow Up Q&A | Cindy Huggett

    […] A recent blog post by Roger Courville gives some additional great tips: https://thevirtualpresenter.com/ask/8-tips-for-presenting-cross-culturally/ […]

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