A Little Effort Goes a Long Way in Bridging the Cultural Divide

I gave a presentation yesterday in front of 20 Chinese delegates. Most of them were deputy mayors from cities whose populations were as large as Canada, and none of them spoke English. The speech was being simultaneousy translated. I had never done anything like this before and it was an amazing experience. I learned a couple of key introductory phrases and it made all of the difference in the world. A colleague of mine who lives in China mentioned to me that everyone starts their speeches with "dajia hao" which means "how is everyone doing today?" When I started off this way, everyone in the room smiled and clapped. They were put at ease by the fact that I had made an effort to learn something about their language and was a great way to start off the speech.

Aside from the fact that a speech that was supposed to last two hours ended more than an hour early (try getting into a flow when you need to stop after every sentence to have it translated), it was a great experience. There were a lot of questions and even a group discussion, both of which are uncharacteristic behaviours for the Chinese. I attribute this to the fact that I learned a couple of key phrases and learned what hand gestures to use so as not to be offensive, and this not only gave them face, but also made them feel comfortable. It just shows that a little effort goes a long way in bridging the cultural divide. How much effort are you putting in to make your audience feel at ease? Think of it from their perspective…in a foreign land where they don't speak the language and don't know the culture, so it is the small things that matter to them.


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