Exploring culture, countries and comfort zones
Breaking the language barrier
Wow! You’ve just been
booked to do a three-hour seminar, in
Curitiba, Brazil. You ink
in the date, then panic. You’ve never
been to Brazil. You don’t speak a word
of Portuguese. How will this work?
We all know that it’s important to
customize, use local examples and
work in at least a few words of the
lingua franca, but if you want to get
beyond the borders of what is acceptable in doing business abroad, improve
your communication skills. Here’s
Time flies. English expands by 40
percent when translated into Spanish
or Portuguese, so an hour’s worth
of material will fill 90 minutes. And
Latin American breaks are at least
half an hour.
Love your translators. They are the
voice your audience will hear. Send
slides and handouts well in advance.
Send an e-mail with the links to videos
or MP3s of signature stories. Meet
with them the day before to review
and answer questions. If translators
don’t have to struggle with your meaning, they can relax and project your
emotional content, and that’s magical.
“Ignore” your translators. When
conversing with locals, maintain eye
contact while speaking and listening,
rather than looking at your translator.
Get wired. In large presentations,
translators are sequestered in a soundproof booth, transmitting over a short-range radio link, and most of the audience members wear headsets. If it’s not
too distracting, wear a receiver with a
single ear bud, turned down low. When
someone in the audience poses a question, you’ll hear it in English and can
carry on the conversation in almost
Drop discretionary filler. Simplify sentences. Articulate. Breathe. Slow down,
but keep your energy up. Remain as
intense and animated as ever. Let pauses take up the slack, because the audience won’t hear them.
Break sentences into chunks. “How
many of you, (beat) are senior managers, (beat) or owners?” (Raise hand.)
You and your translator should arrive
at the punch word at almost the same
time. More than three beats ahead and
you’re going too fast.
Yes, use humor. Humor will work
when everyone can relate. Act out your
stories and play it big; gestures are universal. Cartoons can work, especially if
they don’t need captioning. Test them
on your hosts.
Listen. There will be a delay before the
audience reacts. Don’t let it unnerve
you. Instead, breathe, take a step and
wait for the expected response. Don’t
step on their laughs.
Pack your PowerPoint. Projecting your
key points, even in English, gives your
audience (and translators) a frame of
reference. Animate text to build line by
line so everyone knows exactly where
you are. And a picture is worth a thousand words in any language. Duplex
handouts with English on the left and
the parallel translation on the facing
page. Match it to the PowerPoint verbatim so there’s no confusion.
Speakers from the United States have
a reputation for being arrogant, ethnocentric and culturally insensitive. When
you openly work to break that stereotype, your international audiences will
appreciate you all the more for being
exceptional, and stand to cheer you at
Orvel Ray Wilson, CSP, is a co-author
of the legendary Guerrilla Selling series.
He’s spoken in 42 countries on every
him (preferably in
English) at OrvelRay