Part 2: Seven more tips to help foreign businesses communicate more effectively with American business professionals
This article appeared in the August 2017 edition of The Business Matchmaker. You can read it here.
Carmie McCook is an internationally respected public speaking media interview trainer and coach based in Washington, DC. She has helped thousands of Global 500 business leaders, as well as start-up professionals, become more persuasive and engaging speakers for B2B presentations, keynote speeches, and media interviews. Visit carmie.com for more tips. [email protected].
Congratulations! It’s 8:00 in the morning in Mumbai and you just read an email that brings a big smile to your face! After months of emails, calls, and text messages, you now have a face to face meeting scheduled with the management team of that big, American company that you have dreamed of adding as a client! Immediately you began developing the perfect presentation that will impress the American decision makers and lead to a nice contract!
Days are spent developing that presentation. A week later, as you sit on the plane for Chicago, you read through the presentation again and plan to rehearse it one more time in your hotel room before meeting with the client prospect. You feel confident. You and your team have thought of every detail!
Or have you? When your potential client is an American company, and you come from a different country and business culture, not all presentation styles work well across borders. Being aware of culture variances in the U.S. and adjusting your presentation presence accordingly, can be a real asset in a competitive environment. Often, making small adjustments to “Americanize” your presence when in the U.S. can significantly help you grab and hold an American business leader’s attention.
This is Part Two of my article that appeared in last month’s edition of Business Matchmaker entitled, “Want to sell your products and services in the U.S.?” As a Washington, DC-based public speaking trainer and coach, I shared seven insights and tips on verbal and non-verbal cultural differences that have helped my non-American clients be much more effective when presenting to U.S. business leaders. Here are seven more:
- Speak a louder when presenting: I’ll admit, Americans are not known for being soft-spoken. As an American, I admit that I agree with my intercontinental friends that most people here need to dial their voice volume down quite a bit. But, in American business meetings, soft voices will not have the same positive impression that stronger voices have.I almost always have to advise my non-American clients to project their voice more and increase the volume. This doesn’t mean shouting, but speaking at a level a bit louder than your normal conversational tone. Bolder voices hold our attention better, and your message has a stronger impact.
- Speak a bit slower when presenting: Giving an important presentation can cause some nervousness. And, nervousness usually causes most people to accelerate their speaking speed. Why? Because they are constantly thinking about what they will say next rather than focusing on the point they are making at that moment.That alone makes it difficult for others to follow any presenter’s verbal content.And, when you add the additional element of hearing English spoken with a vastly different accent, it can be a real challenge for your American hosts always to understand everything you are saying.Take your time. Slow down. And most importantly, pause a moment between sentences. Practice speaking in short sentences then pausing one second before continuing to the next sentence. You may be thinking that a moment of silence may appear as though you have forgotten what to say next.Trust me; it will not. It actually helps you sound more credible and gives your American audience a moment to absorb each new bit of information you are sharing.
- Smile when you speak: Smiles are a magical facial expression that have incredible power! Give a smile when you mention real benefits your product will give your American prospect. A pleasant smile makes you look more confident. Studies have also shown that a speaker’s credibility is higher when he or she smiles when sharing positive information with others.
- Keep slides simple and do not read your presentation from slides: This is advice that everyone should live by. Slides filled with line after line of verbatim text, then recited by the presenter are guaranteed to extinguish your audience’s attention within minutes. Slides should simply enhance what you are saying verbally.They should never be a word-for-word script. Keep slides simple. Think “billboard” for each slide. Use only a few keywords and relevant pictures and images. Slides should be designed to trigger your memory so you can just talk about the key points you want to share.
- Use confident body language: In some countries, appearing humble is a sign of respect. In America, this can be perceived as being less confident and makes you a little less convincing. I have noticed that many people from some cultures keep their arms very close to the sides of their body when presenting or their hands clasped in front of their bodies. They also often avoid making direct eye contact with the audience by slightly keeping their head lowered.For presentations to U.S. businesses, move your arms out from your body and practice using natural gestures more when giving your presentation. Stand straight. Keep your head up and look at individuals in the room when speaking.
- Initial conversations: Americans are friendly and want foreign guest to feel welcome. They will usually greet guests by saying things like, “How are you? How was your trip?” This is just our way of being cordial and are not actual questions. You may feel terrible, have a horrible cold, your house just burned down, and you had the worst flight of your life. But, do not assume friendly questions are an invitation to share your problems. Just smile and say, “Very well, thank you.”
- Do not give your American hosts expensive gifts: In some countries, the tradition of gift-giving is important to building professional relationships. However, in the U.S. most businesses have very strict rules about accepting gifts to prevent any perception of bribery. This often includes accepting dinners at a nice restaurant paid for by an active or potential vendor. The policies of what gifts are “acceptable” vary from business to business.When I worked for a huge multi-national company many years ago, they had a “zero gift acceptance” rule.To be on the safe side, if you give anything, I recommend you give nothing more than something with your company’s logo on it, such as a lapel pin, key chain, or coffee mug. This will prevent any awkwardness of your American hosts having to decline the gift.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Today, nearly all businesses want to reach beyond their borders to sell their products or services. Americans are always interested in hearing about innovative solutions that will help them be more efficient, save money, and increase profits. But, just having a terrific product is not enough. How well you communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, has a big impact on the outcome of any meeting.
So, when you prepare for your next face-to-face meeting in the U.S, review the presentation tips shared in this article as well as the first seven tips in the July edition of Business Matchmaking. The difference between giving an ordinary presentation and a memorable presentation is in the details!
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