When one of my clients was invited to a conference in Kyoto, Japan, to give a presentation on her recently-published article in an international engineering journal, I decided to help her prepare by employing my CLEAR method.
When we first met to discuss the project, Florence explained how the conference was going to be set up. The official language of the event was French, since many of the selected speakers had published in that language. Few of the attendees, however, knew any French. So there would be simultaneous translation into English during each presentation by translators who did not all have an engineering translation background. This meant that Florence had to provide an English translation of her speaker’s notes before giving her presentation. The translators would be reading those while she was delivering her talk in French, accompanied by slides displayed in English.
The intercultural communication challenges of such a situation are significant. Listening is not an easy process, even when using our native language. And it becomes more complicated when we are speaking English as a foreign language to listeners who have various levels of English competency. In both those cases, simplicity and clarity in what you want to say, and how you say it, is critical.
Despite that, simplicity is not an obvious option, especially when you also want to convey a lot of technical information in a short amount of time, as Florence had to do. However, in a complex situation, such as this conference, it was clear that a simple approach was really going to be the better way for Florence, her listeners and even the translators.
There are other less obvious challenges in such situations that many people do not consider. For example, how do they build trust for themselves and the company they are representing? How do they convey their personality as a speaker? And most importantly, how do they build a connection with their audience by addressing the needs of listeners? It is vital that the speaker thinks these things through and makes decisions in advance about how to effectively accomplish them. Otherwise, as in Florence’s situation, if you do not articulate them clearly and concisely, you run the risk of not transmitting a compelling or memorable message.
As my clients discover, my CLEAR method addresses the issues of clarity, conciseness, building trust and being relevant to their listeners’ needs when communicating across cultures. So woven through Florence’s presentation of primarily technical slides were issues that also addressed the professional and human needs of her audience of international engineers.
For example, she chose to feature the importance of working in a spirit of open collaboration and also of strictly adhering to rigorous scientific methodologies. Both she and her company believed strongly in those principles. But she would not be able to effectively convey her passion and commitment through her vocal intonation and body language, due to how this conference was structured. However, when carefully translated into English, her words clearly and concisely captured what mattered most to her. That message would be communicated, regardless of the cultural background of the listener, and had the potential for creating a connection not possible when using disembodied facts.
I also helped Florence craft sentences that expressed pride in the past accomplishments of her team and company, without it sounding like she was boasting. I find that is always a fine line for my clients to walk. They often ask me how to build trust in their professional competences without sounding like they are delivering a sales pitch. I personally have no problem with sales pitches but many of my clients from other cultures are not as comfortable with them. In my five-step CLEAR method I provide detailed instructions in how to build intercultural trust. So even if you come from a country such as France, where there is a hesitance to speak positively about yourself, you can still convey your most important achievements and competences to your listeners.
Over the course of six sessions, Florence made decisions about all these issues. She then applied them to her presentation until she was satisfied that she had covered the essentials in the best possible way. During the last session she told me how much more confident she now felt about delivering the presentation. She added that she had simultaneously been working on another presentation that she would give when she returned from the conference. She had applied all that she had learned about the CLEAR method to that second presentation and as a result it had taken her a fraction of the time that it usually took. As she so succinctly put it, “By working with you, I got two speeches for the price of one!”
I was happy to hear that because it confirmed once again what I have experienced with many clients; once you learn the processes and steps of the CLEAR method, they allow you to work not only more quickly but more effectively, from a communication perspective. What I mean by that is that you learn how to choose what you most want to say that also meets the needs of your listeners. That is what I call walking the two-way street of intercommunication. You can learn how to walk both sides — yours and that of your listeners — clearly, concisely and confidently.
Even when faced with complex communication challenges such as Florence’s, when you know what to do you can create and share intercultural presentations that stand out, thanks to their clarity, authority and humanity. It’s a winning formula that communicates effectively across professions and cultures.