Being able to do a good presentation is often key to getting the sale or the additional funding. Yet, there are different cultural expectations with regard to the role of the presenter and the audience. For example, in the U.S. if the audience doesn’t understand the presentation and doesn’t ask questions, then it is believed that the presenter was ineffective and wasted everyone’s time. This is not true in other cultures where the burden of understanding is the audience’s. In this case the presenter is the supposed expert and the audience needs to just learn from the expert and not ask questions. A key value of the American businessman/woman is that ‘Time is money’, so a presentation is to be short, have clear objectives and the audience should remember key points even after the presentation has concluded regardless of whether they are a finance person or an engineer. “Wasting the time “of the audience is viewed as costly to Americans.
A typical American presentation uses the first 3 minutes to introduce the presenter, state the presentation’s purpose and capture the audience’s attention. The presenter can either make a formal introduction using very formal language or he/she can use more familiar everyday language to welcome everyone and provide them with the specifics regarding the presentation’s purpose. It is important to capture the audience’s attention from the beginning or they will be distracted by their phones/tablets. One of these 3 techniques is considered to be an effective opening and usually captures the audience’s attention: telling them an amazing fact that is relevant to the topic, presenting them with a problem that is related to the topic or telling them a short anecdote that is connected to the topic. When the presenter has the attention of the audience then the gist of the presentation is started.
As the presentation continues, it is often difficult to know when one can leave or take a phone call or even ask a question. In a standard American presentation, there are actually signpost words that are used to give the audience these clues. These nine phrases or a variation of them provide this special information to the audience: 1) to move on to your next point, 2) to turn tolast year’s numbers, 3) to go back towhat I said earlier, 4) to recap the main points of this section, 5) to expand on this a bit more, 6) to elaborate on this particular feature, 7) to summarize the salient points, 8) to digress for a moment, and 9) to conclude. Usually when the listener hears one of these phrases, it is an opportunity to interrupt the speaker or take a 30 second personal break.
Additionally, there are some phrases that are used by the speaker when a mistake is made but he/she does not want the audience to know. American presenters also have techniques for changing the presentation language to keep the audience’s attention and how to answer the difficult questions. These will be a topic for another article.
CEO & President, SLS Associates
B.A. Scandinavian Studies, University of Minnesota* M.A. International Relations, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy *M.A. Certificate in TESOL, Oakland University
Local ESL company specializing in providing personalized, private English lessons to business executives and their families.