April 16, 2013
And last! Someone has created a vademecum for the business speaker, that is easy to read and follow, succinctly addressing the cultural pitfalls and expectations that the business speaker may face in as many as 20 different countries around the world. Heretofore, those preparing for a presentation on foreign turf needed to rely on intercultural communication tips, websites like that of Toastmasters international and diagrams of management and listening styles, such as those presented by Richard Lewis, as well as information gathered by other intercultural communication researchers and scholars and friends who have done it before. Solid material has certainly been available, but generally requiring substantial hunt and seek.
Part One, the first brief section of Presenting Across Cultures, tells of the book's methodology and what to expect when reading and using the material. Dealing with specific cultures in Part Two, Hernandez puts it all together for us in a relatively simple format. His procedure consists of a Presentation Profile for the culture being discussed, an Exposé of how specific cultural values make different demands on the speaker in response to audience expectations. The Exposé is the "what to do," part, containing tips about how to create the opening structure, develop content and points of persuasion. It tells you how to summarize, as well as deal with how questions and answers are presented and resolved in different cultural contexts. A few Final Points are added, followed by a quick summary of Do's and Don'ts reflecting the key points in each culture specific chapter.
Each Presentation Profile shows where the culture in question lies on a continuum of dimensions, both the classical ones developed in the intercultural field, as well as half a dozen fresh ones extrapolated by the author, which have particular significance for the task of preparing and delivering a presentation. This is one of the more effective uses of the dimensional approach that I've seen recently. The dimensions are in fact used more as a framework and as a checklist. Consequently they are less conducive to stereotyping than is usual with the dimensional approach. The author carefully cautions the reader that these are starting points for knowing one's audience, not the kind of absolute definitions that are likely to lead in the direction of stereotypes.
I found that Presenting Across Cultures, while simply written and a good read, serves even more as a reference book. It is the kind of work that I would keep on a nearby shelf to pull down and dive back into when called to face an audience that was unfamiliar to me, something that often happens on short notice, leaving me to thrash around in researching my audience. Hernandez's book provides both a shortcut and a kind of checklist that will remind me to better prepare, even for audiences in cultures that I am already somewhat familiar with.
The final chapter of Part Two addresses the issue of Making Presentations to an Internationally Mixed Audience, a situation that we are all too often called upon to face these days, likely offering an even greater challenge than addressing listeners in culture specific contexts.
Part Three discusses Using Visual Support. The style, color, text, size and quantity of PowerPoint and other presentational tools also offer cultural challenges. There are, in addition, two appendices. The first provides the speaker with the kind of lead-in words or, as Hernandez calls them, "signal phrases" that can be used to introduce or highlight the key steps or concepts of the presentation. The second appendix documents the questions that the author used in his research for the various cultures represented in the book, questions that we might also adapt for use with those who invite us to address specific audiences, in order to refine our understanding of the particular group and the context or situation that we will face in real time.
The author states his intention to go further in a later edition to explore other cultures that are not found in this collection. This reader would like to see not only an expanded edition, but also possible an app or program that could be used for planning and preparing preparations. Personally, I would probably take Hernandez's key points for the kind audience I am expecting and plot them with MindMap software when constructing my future presentations. Perhaps we are in the twilight of printed books as we have known them, but, whatever the case, this particular work is an highly useful instrument that could benefit from being available in more than one medium.