Training a worldwide audience can be
a minefield of potential errors, missteps
and disasters. Whether you have 30 or 300,
it is likely that you will face men and
women, old and young, company veterans and
brand-new employees, locals and foreigners,
married, single or recently divorced, and
every possible mix of ethnic, religious and
sexual persuasion. With a group like this,
you can offend without intention, insult
without meaning to, and alienate without
Avoid painful mistakes!
Follow these twelve tips when you work with
participants from around the world and you
will find yourself with an attentive,
involved and harmonious learning group.
Don’t assume. Ask!
Don’t assume everyone in the room is
just like you or like anyone else!
Acknowledge the diversity in the room.
Highlight the rich range of life and
business experience this group can
Ask participants to share about
themselves in small groups. Start with
easy questions: business experience,
educational background, places they have
lived or worked. As conversation warms
up, move to current business issues: ask
their opinions on trends in the
industry, entry of new competitors,
products, technologies or government
regulations. Then get right to the
training topic at hand: have
participants discuss expectations of the
course, problems they need to solve,
solutions they intend to discover.
Finally, when groups are well lubricated
with rapport, ask participants to share
about their personal lives – family,
hobbies, vacations and other special
Speak very clearly
Your native tongue may not be the first
language of all your audience members.
Adjust your presentation style so
everyone can easily follow.
Years ago I spoke in Australia in front
of a large international audience.
Eleven countries were represented with
seven different languages. Simultaneous
translation was provided for non-native
English speakers. Energized by the
crowd, I launched into a presentation of
humorous stories, anecdotes, case
studies and key learning points.
Throughout the speech, I was pleased to
hear the Japanese contingent laughing at
all of my jokes.
Or so it seemed. After the presentation,
one Japanese participant set me
straight: I was speaking so quickly, the
interpreter was unable to keep up.
Instead of translating my presentation,
he gave up and spent most of the time
talking in Japanese about how funny it
was to see this American fellow rushing
about in a big hurry on stage! I laughed
when I heard this report, but I
certainly learned the lesson: With an
international audience, s-l-o-w d-o-w-n,
and speak very clearly.
Some of your group may be participating
in a language that is not their native
tongue. If their vocabulary or
pronunciation is difficult for others to
understand, you can bridge the gap by
clearly repeating their comments and
Go beyond the spoken word to encourage
understanding: use graphics, charts,
pictures, video, physical examples,
role-playing and other non-verbal
techniques to get your points across.
Newcomers bring fresh perspective.
Old-timers have experience and wisdom.
Locals understand ‘what’s happening here
and now’. Foreigners have a ‘global’
point of view.
Be liberal with your compliments and
praise. ‘That’s a very good question!’
let’s everyone know it’s safe to ask the
next one. ‘Thank you for your answer!’
tells the whole room it’s safe to
venture a reply.
Trainers are often widely experienced
and well-traveled. They can bring good
value to the group, but don’t highlight
the differences too much. You want
respect, not distance. When connecting
with an international group, a little
humility goes a long way.
Speak the local
If possible, use local language, customs
and examples in your presentation. This
may require some preparation on your
part, but it can make a very big impact
on your group.
Toward the end of the Cold War, comedian
Billy Crystal began a stand-up routine
in Moscow by conducting the first five
minutes entirely in Russian. But Billy
Crystal doesn’t speak Russian; he had
memorized his entire opening act in
translation! The Russian audience howled
their approval and continued laughing as
he delivered the rest of his show in
Avoid phrases that
do not translate well.
What is ‘clear as a bell’ to you may be
‘thick as mud’ in every other language.
Avoid phrases that do not translate
well. ‘Six of one, half a dozen of the
other’, ‘by the skin of your teeth’,
‘right as rain’ and ‘chicken with your
head cut off’ may translate nicely in
your home town, but can bring real
confusion and frustration overseas. Do
you ‘catch my drift’?
If in doubt, leave
Exercise great caution with your
comments on politics, religion,
sexuality, ethnic issues and humor. What
is funny to one group may be downright
offensive to another. There are plenty
of things to laugh about in this world
without poking fun at any one group.
Make one mistake here and people could
remember it forever.
Triple checks all
If your presentation, workbook and
handouts are translated into another
language, check the choice of words and
phrases many times. Use a professional
translator who is familiar with your
field of work. Then check it again with
actual participants in your group.
At the Service Quality Centre in
Singapore, we use the phrase ‘Never
Settle’ to mean ‘strive for continuous
improvement’. But when we first took
this phrase overseas, it was translated
into Mandarin like this: ‘never agree in
a negotiation’. And the phrase became
‘don’t sit down’ in Indonesia!
Mix up the group
to increase participation.
Sharing experiences is one of the best
aspects of international training. But
don’t count on participants to do it by
themselves. Give the process a boost by
mixing the group in various ways.
Suppose you have 32 participants. You
can combine them at various times into
smaller teams of 2, 4, 6, 8 or even 16.
Do a random split by having them ‘count
off’ with numbers around the room. Or
have a bit more fun! I often divide my
groups by date of birth, number of
siblings, seniority with the company,
first letter of their family name,
length of hair, color of socks, you name
Assure talk time
Some nationalities are naturally more
outspoken than others. Be sure everyone
gets a chance to speak up by structuring
the sequence of participation. Once
everyone is in small groups, have the
most senior member of the group speak
first, or the most junior. Ask the women
to talk first, or those who have
traveled from farthest away.
Acknowledge outspoken participants, but
don’t let them overwhelm the
conversation. I often do this by having
small groups nominate a spokesperson,
then having that person nominate someone
else in the group to speak on their
Bring them back
together at the end.
Mixing everyone up is great for sharing
new ideas. But be sure you bring
everyone back together at the end to
prioritize key points and generate new
action steps. Have real work groups
(whether by function, country, customer
or project) explain the relevance of
their learning to the job and state
their plans for improvement and
Whether you have training to bring, a
session to present or an important
meeting to facilitate, these time-tested
techniques will help bring out the best
in your participants – and you!
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