Presenting Abroad? Don’t try to look smart, be smart
How do the visuals in your presentation translate in the region where you are presenting?
So let’s say you are a high tech company with an eye on global expansion. You have the product that is in demand, your supply chain is agile, and you can keep manufacturing costs competitive. All you need is a presentation that can convey this to your new customer base. Being on top of your game, you grab some of the top of the line presentations books which suggest that you lean heavily on visual communications. You are trying to convince your audience you run a smart operation, so you choose smart imagery. An Owl.
As you step off the plane in Karachi, you flip through your slides for the last time thinking you are ready to rock. This contract is in the bank. Look how smart you are.
As you introduce your company and allude to your new improved processes, you open your presentation with a full picture of an owl perched on a branch at night, and speak metaphorically about wisdom for a full minute before transitioning to your agenda. In the bank right?
Symbology in one country rarely transfers directly to the symbology in other countries and in some cases is completely opposite in meanings. An owl is Pakistan is the harbinger of death. It is a bad omen. The word “owl” in English translates to “ulloo” in Urdu - meaning “stupid bird”. Not such a smart choice eh?
There is no way you can track all the idiosyncratic symbols for every corner of the globe. In the U.S. we say white space is beautiful, where the color white symbolizes death in Japan. Red in one culture symbolizes danger, while another luck. But if you are going to do business in a region you’ll need to get some assistance from a trusted counterpart in the country, and get your presentation reviewed before going live. Your clients may not expect you to get all the nuances of culture and are forgiving if you have a relationship with them. But your first impression may come off as culturally clumsy or “ulloo”.
Understanding the cultural interpretations of your symbols and aligning them with your message will increase the likelihood of you connecting with your audience and meeting your objectives. Now that’s smart.
What cultural mistakes have you made regarding the visuals you have used in a presentation?