Every speaking situation is an opportunity for change. Whether you are presenting to a small group of co-workers and stakeholders, a conference room of board members, or a larger audience, a universal goal of any presentation is to create a connection between presenter and audience that brings about some kind of change.
But how do you do this when you're delivering a presentation to an international audience? How do you ensure that your message will resonate with the audience, especially when the audience is from different parts of the world with different languages, different communication styles, etc.?
Presenting effectively to a global audience requires more than just a strong message. Using visual aids, appealing to multiple communication styles, employing patterns, and using purposeful body language to highlight your points will help you drive your message home and yield the results you want.
Let's dig in and explore each of these four tips and how they can improve your presentation and garner more engagement from audiences.
1. Structure your presentation using a schema.
Our brains are hardwired for details and stories, and this principle still applies in presentations. As a presenter, your goal is to light up the cognitive centers of your audience members' minds – and this is done by using schema.
Schema is the cognitive framework that helps people understand and interpret information. Suppose you are delivering a presentation: You tell audience members that you bought a chair without providing any additional details about that chair. Audience members would comprehend that you purchased a chair, but if you were to poll them about the type of chair you purchased, some would call up the image of a wooden chair; others might picture a metal chair or perhaps an armchair. The particular image that comes to mind for different audience members depends on their own cultural and personal experiences.
When the topic of your presentation is very technical, successful presenters use a schema to help audience members interpret the information in the presentation and to activate learning centers in the brain. The best way to incorporate a schema in your presentation is through the five senses.
If, for example, your presentation is titled "Entrepreneurship in the Age of Globalization," include an image or video clip of Steve Jobs to heighten the impact of your message. Visual aids are a prime place to start for tapping into a schema. As Bernice Hurst writes in The Handbook of Communication Skills, visual aids "show information which is not easily expressed in words," and they "cause the audience to employ another sense to receive information."
Other ways to "activate the schema" of audience members when introducing a topic include using photos or videos, playing sounds, relaying anecdotes, or using props – including hands-on activities and 3D model demonstrations – that present information through two or more of the five senses.
2. Employ implicit and explicit messaging in your presentation.
In 1959, anthropologist Edward Hall founded the field of intercultural communication with his book The Silent Language. Hall outlined two frameworks for approaching intercultural communication: high- and low-context communication styles.
According to Hall, Eastern cultures utilize high-context communication styles, which tend to present information in an indirect way and gradually "roll out" information with extensive details that build toward the main message at the conclusion of the presentation. Western audiences expect more explicit or clearly defined chunks of content, with the main message introduced in the beginning of the presentation and then repeated throughout.
When presenting to culturally diverse audiences, adjust your message accordingly. If you're unsure which style you should use, be as explicit as you can about your call to action. Revisit your main message throughout your presentation, rephrasing the takeaway messages. Doing so will help your audiences retain key information.
3. Vary the pitch and volume of your voice.
We live in a world made up of patterns, and as humans, we try to find patterns in everything we do. This is also true when we receive new information. Research shows that people retain structured information up to 40% more reliably and accurately than information presented in a more freeform manner.
People tend to group information into patterns. Therefore, aim to reinforce your message – and help your audience better retain the information – by utilizing patterns. One such pattern is grouping content, such as your main concepts, into triads. For example, think Julius Caesar's famous phrase: "I came, I saw, I conquered."
The same method of speaking in threes (or triads) was a technique Abraham Lincoln used to advocate for the emancipation of African American slaves in the U.S. He utilized a well-known statement, comprising three elements found in the Declaration of Independence: "for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Why is the number three so powerful? The answer lies in how our brains are wired and our ability to recognize patterns. Three is the smallest number needed to create a pattern, and this is why triads are effective in retaining information. Condensing your main points into triads allows your audience to process the information more easily and to remember key points.
Adding other elements, such as parallelism (e.g., "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"), allows audience members to mentally group information more effectively while heightening anticipation for your next point, because they are naturally trying to predict your next statement.
An additional tool is to alter the pitch and volume of your voice throughout your speech. When you are making a point to the audience, lower the pitch of your voice and increase the volume, but don't shout. When you employ consistent voice patterns throughout your speech, audience members will pick up on cues when you are emphasizing key takeaways.
4. Use purposeful body language to emphasize your points.
People are drawn to movement. When you move as you speak, you not only capture the audience's attention but, more importantly, guide their attention toward key messaging. As Carol Kinsey Goman writes, "It can be especially effective to move toward the audience before making a key point and away when you want to signal a break or a change of subject."
Goman also elaborates on the importance of using the presentation space to reinforce your ideas. For example, if you're presenting two issues, talk about each issue from a different physical position, perhaps different sides of the stage. This use of body language to mark sections in a presentation can guide a global audience to different points and go a long way in enhancing communication.
However, Goman cautions against moving around the stage when you're making a crucial point. You have the most impact when you combine purposeful movement with deliberate physical pauses – using body language to mark sections in a presentation and then standing absolutely still when highlighting your presentation's most important points.
When delivering a business presentation, whether that is online or in person, reflect on how someone from another culture might interpret it. Being mindful of cultural considerations and implementing these four tips can lead to successful presentations that ignite lasting change.