7 Tips for Speaking Internationally

It’s a global world and eventually you’ll be speaking to an international audience. At the very least, the global world has come to you. Most cities have become multicultural workplaces. I’ve spoken in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and South America and although people are the same everywhere, the way we communicate is different. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to be successful when speaking internationally.

1. Study the Culture. Learn the protocol to gain trust and avoid miscommunication.

Know whether you should shake hands or bow. Know the policy on gift-giving. A good book on International protocol is Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands and the new book by Jan Yager called Grow Global.

2. Meet the Translator. Will they use simultaneous or consecutive translation? Did they study British or American English? Explain all idioms in your speech. It makes a difference.

3. Speak Slowly-even more slowly than usual. When English is a second language it takes longer to process and translate into their own language.

4. Use Body Language Carefully. You can unintentionally insult the audience with certain gestures. You would never expose the sole of your shoe to an Arab audience. And the A-ok sign in the U.S. is an obscenity in Brazil.

5. Speak the Native Language. The greatest rapport builder is to say a few words in the native tongue. The best time to do this is in your greeting. When I spoke in Tanzania, I said, "Good morning. I’m happy to be here" in Kiswahili. The audience broke into applause. Little gestures have great impact.

6. Avoid Humor. Even if you’re naturally funny, it just doesn’t translate across cultural and language barriers. Stick to your message but do smile. Smiling is a universal language of good will.

7. Learn their Idioms. Don’t assume that because you’re addressing an English speaking culture that you speak the same language. You don’t. I learned this the hard way. When addressing a company in the U.K. I told them that these management skills could be used “on the job.