Making contacts overseas through social media is fine, but not always enough. Face-to-face business meetings are much more efficient to end up selling abroad. As more and more companies go global, international events are becoming commonplace. It will probably be your turn to lead meetings abroad one day. Thanks to this blog, you’ll know how to overcome cultural differences and be super-effective and comfortable when giving meetings anywhere in the world!
1. How to avoid awkward presentations? The business meeting protocol.
Embarrassing yourself in a meeting abroad can happen faster than you expect! In fact, just saying “Hello” can be inappropriate. While in certain countries you shake hands when introducing yourselves, in other regions of the world you have to bow. Moreover, you probably wonder how to call people during meetings: by their surname? First name? Or both? This depends on the country and the person, unfortunately. There are no strict rules but general etiquette. Please think about doing research. It’s the first impression you’ll make when meeting someone.
A few examples:
- In France: You shake hands when introducing yourself. Also, do not use first names unless you’ve been invited to do so!
- In Japan: When meeting a Japanese company, you should first bow and maybe wait to see if your Japanese counterpart initiates a handshake. Also, before sitting you should wait to be told so.
2. Language barriers: how to communicate?
Obviously, you can’t be fluent in every single language, it is simply impossible! If you can show that you know some of the languages like a “hello” or “thank you” can demonstrate that you get involved not only in your business counterpart but also in its culture.
Don’t panic if you’re not fluent in the country you visit for a meeting, you have plenty of options to make yourself understand. You can hire an interpreter so that you avoid misunderstandings and be able to interact during the meeting. Also, if you’re the one giving the presentation, you should have your PowerPoint presentation translated into the local language so that you’re sure that your audience is getting the right message.
3. Different approach to time: the business meeting schedule.
Be careful with time! Time is not perceived the same way everywhere on Earth. For UK companies, being late for meetings is common. However, if you’re not on time in the US it is a big deal as the principle “time is money” is taken seriously, you’ll be seen as unprofessional. To be sure, arrive on time - if not a little early - at every business meeting you attend, no matter the country. It will always be seen as a good gesture.
Here are some examples:
- Spanish are not very strict about punctuality, they are pretty relaxed about appointments.
- On the opposite scale, when meeting with German companies you should arrive on time and schedule it well in advance.
4. How to behave during the meeting?
Once you have introduced yourself and made a good first impression, you have to keep up the good work in order to confirm your professionalism all throughout the meeting. In order to achieve this, you need to know what the right attitude to adopt is. Here are some tips you could follow:
- Don’t wait to ask questions if you didn’t understand something. It is better to do it directly than wait until the end. It will show your curiosity and your interest in the meeting.
- Before interacting with what is said, make sure that you do it in an appropriate moment, and that your contribution to the meeting is useful and accurate.
- Humour: be cautious with it! It is true that adding a little humour can make the meeting atmosphere fun and entertaining. However, every culture has a different sense of humour. If you go to the US, for instance, the most common way to joke around would be sarcasm. Unlike in France for example, it could be interpreted in a wrong way since sarcasm isn’t used a lot.
- Knowledge show to your audience you know exactly what you’re talking about. You’ll impress your business partner if you have done research about the company’s ethics and about the current concerns of the country and its culture.
5. How to conduct good negotiations?
You can’t expect to implement the same negotiation recipe for every country in the world. Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple! If you want your business counterpart to sign contracts with you, you need to know the specifics of the negotiation process in the concerned country.
Translating your negotiation speech isn’t enough to convince your business partner. In fact, the way you present your ideas can change from country to country.
For instance, when meeting with the French, be prepared for a vigorous logical debate.
On the contrary, when meeting with Americans, they put all the cards on the table at the beginning and pursue their speech with exaggeration, get upset at disagreements, and finish the debate quickly by making concessions.
Concerning Spain, don’t be upset if people are talking over you, it is common to behave this way in a meeting. It probably means that your speech provokes reactions and that you’ll have good feedback!
In brief, by following these pieces of advice, you’ll be more likely to make a good first impression when leading meetings and there will be greater chance at making sales. However, be careful not to drop to conclusions and do cultural generalisations, it would be very reductive! Be open-minded and curious to try your best and understand the diversity of the cultures. Then you’ll have the great ability to adapt anywhere in the world!