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Cross-Cultural Training for Business

You’re about to give a business presentation for an international audience? Don’t underestimate the importance of cross-cultural training in this situation. Using the example of Caitlin, a US sales manager, we help you understand its value for expats concerned with international business.
Cross-cultural training is important, particularly in an international business context.

Cross-cultural training in a business context sounds like one of these oft-cited buzzwords which are all the rage among HR management. Expats may not always know what exactly cross-cultural training means or how they could profit from it.

Some skeptics might even doubt that cross-cultural training is all that important for a successful presentation abroad. Business is business everywhere, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple. Let’s look at the story of a sales manager from the US, speaking to an intercultural audience without such training.

General Tips for International Presentations

The sales manager, a successful businesswoman called Caitlin, thought she’d done her homework for an effective presentation despite foregoing cross-cultural training. She had planned to attend a crash course for international presentations, but had to skip it for time reasons.

Caitlin had delivered so many powerful lectures to middle and upper management that it couldn’t go wrong, she thought. She did follow several time-honored rules for capturing an audience’s attention. She didn’t need any cross-cultural training to know her competence and include these key aspects: 

  • Structure the presentation clearly.
  • Make your beginning and ending as effective as possible. As a fan of the New York Yankees, Caitlin liked opening her presentations with allusions to the baseball team’s legendary successes.
  • Make proper use of visual aids to underscore your point. Caitlin didn’t appreciate statistics cluttering her slides. So she decided to deliver a “bottom-line” presentation, elaborating her sales strategy starting off from a single point, with only a few figures.
  • Use your voice to create enthusiasm and interest. Project confidence in your body language. Caitlin was excellent at this. She had been a talented amateur actress in college, with natural skills at making grand gestures and effusive speeches.
  • Hone your communication skills, too. Since Caitlin loved the Yankees, she kept using baseball idioms to create an extended metaphor and make the talk more entertaining.
  • Give your audience the opportunity to react and ask questions during a discussion round.  

Common Pitfalls

After delivering the same presentation to people from Germany, Japan, and Norway, however, Caitlin felt disappointed and insecure, doubting her own competence. Maybe she should have taken that cross-cultural training after all. Perhaps it would have prepared her for what she experienced in an intercultural setting.

The Japanese smiled at the mention of the Yankees, but then put their heads on their folded arms, not even listening properly. The Norwegians looked uncomfortable during the most emotional moments of Caitlin’s dramaturgy; one woman mouthed “flashy Americans” to her neighbor.

The Germans said they weren’t convinced by the message of Caitlin’s presentation – it lacked the data to back it up. One of them attacked Caitlin rudely afterwards: “Don’t take it personally,” he said, “but forgetting the sales figures from the last six months is more than an oversight. It’s rather neglectful!”

Caitlin just wanted to get back to her hotel room. Or crack open a book or two on intercultural communication. What on earth had gone wrong? Why hadn’t her usual skills worked? Could cross-cultural competence have avoided this business failure?

Read our follow-up guides on international business issues and international business communication to find out how Caitlin could have benefitted from cross-cultural training for a more effective business presentation.