Many Western style business presentations are about establishing a quick rapport with the audience and getting to the specifics upfront. While this is considered effective and appropriate in the United States, it is not the best approach with most Asian cultures.
During a coaching session with the Vice President of vehicle sales for a major international automotive manufacturer we discussed his challenges with the Asian presentation style.
“I just got back from my company’s Annual General Meeting in Tokyo.” Dylan said.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“I tell you Brian, it’s the most tedious part of my job although it only lasts three days a year!” he responded.
“Why is that?”
“The way the Japanese present is excruciatingly boring! They are totally monotone, stiff as a board and give hours and hours of background. Sometimes they even start with, ‘We opened our first factory in Tokyo in 1916,’ and I just cringe.”
“I sympathize with you having worked in Japan and for a Japanese firm. How do your other colleagues respond?”
“Well, they are mostly Japanese and they don’t seem to mind although I see a few of them taking a snooze. All I can say is thank God I am back in the Singapore office.”
“You manage quite a diverse array of countries in Asia, right?” I asked.
“Oh yes, all of South East Asia and India.”
“Is there something you can learn from your Japan experience in terms of communication style that will help you with your other Asian countries?”
“I never thought about it but I don’t really see any similarities with Japan and my other key Asian countries.”
“Really. Not at all?”, I asked.
I continued, “For sure the communication style in your key countries is not the same as Japan. But all the countries you manage prefer a lot more context and background when presenting.”
“Now that I think about our meetings and conversations, there seems to be a good deal of small talk, story-telling, and going off on tangents,” he replied.
“How do you usually handle that?”, I asked
“Well, I tend to cut them off so we stay on point. But that probably isn’t the best approach, is it?”
“I think they will smile and go along with your request since you are the boss. But I guarantee you are training them to hold back on communicating with you. It might just come back and cause you some trouble especially if they have to report to you some bad news.”
Here are some tips to keep in mind when presenting to an Asian audience:
1. Provide your audience with a lot of contextual information and explanations. In order to get buy-in, Asians like to spend time understanding the ‘Big Picture’.
2. Asians are typically very good listeners and will normally be an attentive audience. Their decisions tend to be subjective and are emotion- and relationship-based, so try to appeal to this in a presentation.
3. Your audience is unlikely to interrupt during the presentation, so build in time for questions afterwards and expect some questions to be one-on-one, not in front of the group.
4. Stress what has happened in the past and discuss your track record, rather than making grandiose projections into the future.
5. Potentially awkward or challenging questions will be avoided, as nobody wants to cause the speaker to lose face.
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