TALKING TO THE WORLD
24/02/2011

“I don’t want him go on stage like that.”
 
The thought inside my head will not go away as I sit in the coaching session with the Director of Sales EMEA of a well known American global company. We are designing and rehearsing the keynote speech for a global employee conference which is to take place in Los Angeles. And all my professional instincts are telling me - to use a very American idiom - that he just isn’t going to cut it. He was not focused, fast or fun.

This is really the coal-face of cross-cultural communication where some of the most creative work gets done. Communicating effectively to a culturally mixed audience is part of management life in a global world, and one of the most essential skills for twenty-first century managers. For one thing, it does their visibility a power of good if they are impressive on stage - both inside and outside their organisation. Secondly, in a world experiencing what Microsoft has called Continuous Partial Attention (with an emphasis on the word “partial”), being able to give a quick, compelling, memorable message is paramount.

But can the senior executives who are running global organisations do this well? Frequently not, and there are good reasons for this. Many managers worldwide of the 35+ generation (Baby Boomers and the beginning of Generation X) are the ones who are in charge now. They were raised in education systems that emphasized thorough and comprehensive knowledge.
 
 Meanwhile, in the last ten years the way we filter out and receive information has been affected by the vast growth in exciting media channels, the automation of everything and the preference for fast, understandable slogans as messages. When you add in the requirement for cultural sensitivity, using the optimal mix of message and style can be a daunting task!

The trick is to perform a fine balancing act so that the speaker remains true to him or herself while the audience gets what they need to connect. In eight sessions and some office work here is what we did with the Director of Sales: we shortened the speech, added humour and images worthy of a Nike advertisement. We cut the messages to three and sound byted the main one to sound realistically upbeat. We complimented the audience and changed elements of voice and body language to suggest dynamism and can-do optimism.

Then formerly dull, mid-European coachee went on and did himself proud, so that six months later people mention his great keynote with a smile on their face. Mission “fast, focused and fun for a global audience” accomplished!