7 Lessons I Learned When I Started Speaking Internationally

Getting up to speak in front of a live audience can be a nerve-wracking experience. Those nerves are heightened even more when the audience you’re speaking to is a global one.

Today there are almost 7.5 billion people in the world, according to the United States Census Bureau, and each of them has their own unique view of the world. Age, gender, language, culture, socioeconomic status and other factors all affect that view.

In his book, “Unlimited Power,” motivational speaker Tony Robbins wrote, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

When you’re speaking to a multicultural audience, you need to figure out how to connect despite your differences. Here are seven of my top tips for speaking to an international audience.

1. Speak clearly and articulately

If no one can understand what you’re saying, they won’t be able to take in the message of your speech. The average rate of speech for an English speaker from the United States is about 150 words per minute, according to the National Center for Voice and Speech. You need to make sure you speak slower than that for non-native English speakers.

Even if they know the language, they probably aren’t as familiar with it as a native speaker would be. That means if they miss a word, it will be difficult to fill in the blanks and gain the meaning of what you’re saying. To avoid this, make sure you speak clearly and enunciate each word.

2. Be aware of your body language

In the United States, leaders are often passionate, expressive and charismatic. But these characteristics aren’t respected in all cultures. To make the right impression, you need to be aware of your body language and how it is interpreted.

For example, in the U.S., eye contact is seen as showing confidence, while in other countries, it is taboo. Make sure you understand these nuances of culture by doing research on your audience before giving your speech.

As Dale Carnegie says in “The Quick & Easy Way to Effective Speaking,” “Only the prepared speaker deserves to be confident.”

3. Leave the jokes at home

While humor is a tool that is often used to better connect with an audience and put them at ease, it may have the opposite effect on an international audience. Humor is not universal and what one culture finds funny, another may not.

Worst-case scenario, your jokes could end up offending, while best case, they’d fall flat. To avoid both, simply skip the jokes completely. Instead, focus on being relevant and making sure your speech is about a topic your audience cares about.

Blogger Seth Godin writes on his blog, “The topic of the talk isn’t you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.”

4. Stick to your own language

When you’re in a foreign country, it may be tempting to learn a few phrases in the native language and try to incorporate them into your speech. While using the word for “hello” may be all right, anything too complicated could have terrible results.

If you end up mispronouncing a word, one wrong syllable could make an enormous difference in meaning. You could end up offending your audience. Unless you are fluent in the native language, it’s best to stick to English.

5. Avoid slang, jargon and idioms

To ensure your speech is relevant for your audience, you want to make sure the words and phrases you’re using are easily understood. If you’re littering your speech with complicated jargon and obscure slang words, not only are you alienating your audience, but you’re also being unprofessional. Idioms and metaphors should also be omitted as they are not easily translated across cultures.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and try to see your speech from their perspective. What parts may not be easily understood?

Henry Ford once told the National Association of Corporation Schools Bulletin, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

6. Research your audience

The first rule of any speech, no matter which country you’re speaking in, is to know the audience you’re speaking to. That means doing some research ahead of time to better understand the nuances of the culture.

You also need to find out what the audience’s pain points or needs are. Your speech should be as relevant and relatable as possible for the audience. A human attention span is only 8.25 seconds, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, so if you aren’t relevant, you won’t be able to capture their attention.

In an article for Ragan, digital marketing consultant Lee Odden said, “Always ask: What do my audience members care about? What are their pain points and goals? Sure, I have things I want to say, but ‘me, me, me’ is boring, boring, boring.”

7. Don’t overthink it

No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to please everyone. But as long as you do your research in advance and avoid the main pitfalls I’ve mentioned, you’ll be fine. Just be yourself and deliver your speech the way you know will work best.

In “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” Carnegie said, “Each time I spoke, I gained a little courage. It took a long while–but today I have more happiness than I ever dreamed possible. In rearing my own children, I have always taught them the lesson I had to learn from such bitter experience: No matter what happens, always be yourself!”

Have you spoken in front of a global audience before? What was the experience like and what did you learn from it? Share in the comments below:

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