Winning Over Multicultural Audiences: 4 Ways to Connect with People from Other Cultures & Languages

Seventy percent of multinational business ventures worldwide fail due to cultural differences according to research done by the International Labor Organization.

If you are speaking to international audiences, or even to multicultural audiences within the U.S., you want your presentation to increase understanding and connection, not to add more barriers.

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Pat Zakian Tith, president of Global Workplace of Washington, DC. Pat works with leaders to help them create and manage international and multicultural workforces. Here are some of the things I learned for connecting with multicultural audiences:

  1. Speak clearly; enunciate your words. When English is not the listeners' first language, it is easier for them to understand you when your enunciation is closer to the words they learned during their English instruction.
  2. Adjust your pacing. This usually means slow down. A slower pace is also critical if someone is doing simultaneous translation for you.
  3. Select examples from the audience's culture, examples your listeners can relate to. I use a lot of examples from U.S. politics in my presentations. When I'm speaking to a non-U.S. audience, I substitute examples drawn from the local country or region. If I can't find a suitable replacement, I will use my American example, but I will provide a set up so people understand the significance-and universality-of the point the example demonstrates.
  4. Filter out words, expressions or references the audience might not recognize. I find this to be the hardest of these four tips. When I'm working with a prepared text, I go through it with a fine-toothed comb (Whoops! I wonder how that translates!) to catch clichés; popular expressions; and names of products, people, or places that might be unfamiliar or confusing. Have a native review the text. He or she is likely to catch additional verbiage that needs changing. If I'm speaking just from notes, I talk through it aloud, listening for the same items.
Applying these four tips will do wonders in helping you connect with your audience.

Lou Hampton is president of The Hampton Group, Inc., a Washington, DC firm specializing in media training, speech coaching, and message development. For tips, tricks, and techniques on how to communicate as a leader, go to Lou's blog: