How to give an international presentation


Giving a presentation to an audience consisting of non-English speakers can be a daunting task. Because of the cultural and linguistic barriers present, it can be difficult to gain your listeners’ attention and trust, and to put across the crucial messages you’ve come to present.

But by using a handful of easy performance strategies on the big day, you can ensure that your audience follows your presentation.

1.     Know your audience

Try to be conscious of the current and historical political relationships between your own country and that of your addressees. Carry out research into any tensions that may exist, and adjust your presentation accordingly. Not only will this help you to avoid inadvertently offending your audience, it will also help you to convey yourself as a genuinely sensitive individual and, in turn, develop a relationship of trust between you and your listeners.

2.     Gain common ground

Demonstrate that you share common ground by beginning and ending your presentation in your addressees’ native tongue, and relate the subject matter of your presentation to certain aspects of their culture.

A simple sentence of greeting can work well.  Remember the “Ich bin ein Berliner” address by President Kennedy.

Citing significant documents may also help to cement yourself in the audience’s eyes as a respectful and culturally aware individual.

3.     Maintain eye contact

On the subject of the audience’s eyes, the importance of maintaining strong eye contact throughout your presentation is often underestimated. Try to remain conscious of any signs of confusion or dwindling attention among your listeners; this will help you to gauge whether your rate/tone of speech is appropriate, and adjust it accordingly. Whatever you do, though, do not simply read out a pre-prepared script word-for-word. This will naturally increase your rate of speech, and leave your listeners trailing in the dust. Instead, come equipped with an organised batch of notes that will stimulate spontaneous expansion of your major points and topics.

4.     Choose clear slides

Dwindling audience attention can also be a sign that your use of slides is not effective. When preparing your slides, avoid textured backgrounds, as these can be difficult to read in a large auditorium. Instead, opt for simple fonts (Arial and Verdana are the best) against a plain background.

Remember, also, to switch between your slides at a constant, manageable pace. So as not to bore your audience with over-long displays or, worse, leave them trailing with rapid switches, a good rule of thumb is one slide per minute.

5.     A picture is worth a thousand words

Using pictures is a key way to get your message across to any audience, but works particularly well for international audiences.

A clear strong image with a caption can work well.  If using images of people, be careful not to use cultural stereotypes and be particularly careful with hand gestures.

Picture is worth a thousand words

This image is taken from one of our templates, click here to download our Plant PowerPoint template.

If you are looking for images for your presentation we have an article that discusses some of the best places to find them. Click Here for Top 10 websites for presentation images

6.     Clear graphs are important

Like a bad translation service, choosing the wrong type of graph when presenting to an international audience can cause confusion and create an unwanted and potentially disastrous distraction from your presentation’s crucial message. Conversely, a well-used, clear and concise graph can help you to overcome the language barrier between yourself and the audience, and convey information more effectively than words ever could. To ensure that your graph is successful, follow the four simple steps below:

Make your graph self-explanatory. Use a clear, large title, and avoid including irrelevant information.
Remember that ease of reading is of pivotal importance. Use large text, and contrast it strongly from your background. One thing that is sure to send your presentation off track is being asked to pause and recite the illegible lettering on your graph.
Do not include abbreviations, jargon or codes in your graph. These are open to interpretation, and the audience may reach the wrong conclusion from the information shown.


Figure 1- Call Centre Helper, the UK’s most popular call centre magazine, forecasts growth of 4,000 additional visitors to their website each month. By December 2011, we expect a minimum of 134,000 monthly visitors.


Figure 2, on the other hand, uses abbreviations, lacks identity and does not include a data chart showing each month’s visitors. Without even an informative caption, it is easy to see how a chart like this could lead to confusion and frustration among your audience.

7.     Translate into a foreign language and back

Keeping your language as simple as possible is critical.  You need to try and limit the number of complex words.

A good acid test of your speech would be to translate it from English to a foreign language and back.

The example below, which was obtained via Yahoo’s translation webpage, illustrates.

Original English:

In February 2010, was visited by 94,746 individuals, each of whom was eager to obtain the very best knowledge of contact centre processes and procedures, and thereby improve the efficiency and productivity of their working environment.

russian translation

Retranslation to English:

In February 2010, it was visited by 94.746 individuals, each of coma it was the fully passionate desire to obtain the very better knowledge of processes and procedures on the centre of contact, and thus improves effectiveness and productivity of their working medium.

The example above speaks for itself; the retranslation is not accurate, coherent or professional-sounding.

Simplifying your language will help to make it more easily understood by people whose first language is not English.

A final thought

By following these simple guidelines, you could significantly increase the likelihood that your presentation will meet its objectives.  Just remember that your audience has displayed a great deal of respect in inviting you to present; the least you can do is return the same respect throughout your presentation.

George Dixon


Published On: 18th Apr 2011

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