Attention Foreign entrepreneurs: When you present your products and services to U.S. businesses, you need to pitch like an American

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Today’s business world knows no boundaries. From Beijing to Boston, Seattle to Seoul thousands of people make business presentations every day to audiences in countries who not only speak different languages, but also have different business cultures from their own. What may work beautifully in your home country could be a failure or, worse, an insult, in another.

 

Every country has its own unique business culture. While some differences from country to country are striking, many others are subtle. In both cases, anything that becomes a distraction to your host audience will diminish the success of your presentation.

 

This is enormously evident in my business. As a business-to-business communications trainer and coach based in Washington, DC, I have many international clients requesting help for an upcoming presentation to U.S. companies or government agencies.

 

Over the years I have observed hundreds of business characteristics unique to different countries. And, while cultural differences are delightful, in international B2B business meetings, some can put foreign business professionals at a disadvantage when making presentations to American business leaders. So, a large part of my job with my non-American clients is helping them utilize both verbal and non-verbal communication techniques that will ensure they better engage their American hosts and result in more positive outcomes. This is the first of two articles with verbal and non-verbal communications advice that has helped hundreds of clients have more productive meetings with American business leaders.

 

  1. American businesses #1 rule: Time is Money

In general, U.S. companies are all about making the most money in the shortest amount of time. Business meetings here are focused on bottom-line results, and the quicker the ROI, the return on investment, the better. When developing your presentations to U.S. companies, keeping this American business attitude in mind will improve the chances of making those meetings more successful. This will build professional rapport with your American host quicker.

 

  1. Keep your presentations short. How short? In general, for your first meeting, no more than 15 to 20 minutes is a good rule to follow. Keep your verbal presentation big-picture to explain the overall benefits of your products and services. Do not start explaining every detail. When you conclude your presentation there will then be plenty of time for your American hosts to ask questions about the details they care most about. This also gives you and your hosts the chance to engage in conversation and get to know each other better. Americans like to discuss issues rather than having a presenter monopolize the meeting time doing all the talking.

 

  1. Talk about benefits first. Many cultures start presentations with a chronological overview of their company’s history and the development of their product or service. American business leaders are primarily focused on one thing: Results. What have you got that can help me either save money or make money?

 

My advice: Introduce the big overriding benefit your product will give your American hosts within the first three minutes of your presentation. This will grab their attention immediately and they will then be much more interested hearing some of the essential details and other information you will share in your remaining presentation time.

 

  1. American business people are typically very direct. By this I mean that Americans will not hesitate to say things such as, “I don’t think that is a good product for us.” “That is too expensive.” or “I don’t like the design.” As said before, Americans are focused on bottom-line ROI so do not feel offended. I suggest you smile and reply, “Okay, let’s discuss the specifics of your concern and let’s work out a solution.”

 

  1. American business leaders are less formal. Times have changed in America. It’s not uncommon to have a meeting with a CEO and her or his team and the average age is 30. Younger people are very informal in business settings and this concept has grown to include most business people of all ages and all ranks. To be polite, you may begin by addressing your American hosts as “Mr. Johnson” or “Ms. Adams.” They will usually immediately say, “Call me James” or “Christine is fine.” A word about female business professionals: The title “Ms.” is preferred to “Mrs.” or “Miss.” Still, most women will also suggest you call then by their first name.

 

  1. Arrive on time. Business meetings in America are scheduled with a start time and an end time. Not being on time is considered disrespectful to your host and no one likes being stuck in a meeting going past the end time. Americans usually squeeze meetings in between an already over-packed schedule. They will often have to leave immediately for another meeting. If a meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:00 AM, be in the reception area five to ten minutes early. This also gives you a few minutes to relax and gather your thoughts before being called into the meeting room.

 

 

  1. In the introductory phase of meeting Americans, men and women will always extend their hand to shake hands with others. I often get questions about the proper way to shake hands. Here are the simple steps I suggest:
  • Hold your right hand straight, your palm facing left.
  • Extend your hand so your thumb gently folds on the top of the other person’s hand, parallel to their thumb, and your fingers gently fold around the lower side of their palm. You hand will be enveloped by the other person’s hand so that your palms are touching. Do not just grasp the fingers.
  • Gently squeeze the other person’s hand while looking them in the eye and smile.
  • Slightly shake three quick times and release.

 

Avoid greetings that include hugs, kisses on the cheeks, and shaking hands then hugging. Americans are usually caught off guard when these greetings are used and many times this leads to awkward and sometimes embarrassing moments between them and their foreign guests.

 

Of course, there are many other big and small differences that can make or break having a smooth and productive meeting with U.S. businesses. I’ll share more in my next article. In the meantime, feel free to submit questions you have about communicating more effectively with American business leaders. The more aware you become of these differences means you have the knowledge you need to adapt your verbal and non-verbal business-to-business skills with contemporaries in other countries.

 

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