Presentation Skills – Be Prepared for Diverse Audiences

Why were arrows painted on the ceiling? I was speaking at a conference in Malaysia and every meeting room in the hotel had an arrow painted on the ceiling. I could not figure out why. To add to the mystery, every arrow pointed in the same direction.

I asked one of the hotel staff. He said the arrows pointed towards Mecca so Muslims could face in the proper direction during prayers held several times a day. Since Malaysia was a predominately Muslim country every hotel meeting room had these arrows painted on the ceilings.

Before my training session one of my participants asked to take breaks at specific times of the day so she could pray. I said, “Yes, of course” and had the breaks timed appropriately.

The point of these stories is: cultural awareness is crucial when training diverse audiences.

Now, you don’t have to go to another country to recognize diversity. For example, another speaker told me about a seminar held for some visiting executives from Japan. He said the Japanese visitors were sitting with their eyes closed, bodies motionless and their heads down. It looked like they were sleeping. Such body language is a sign of deep concentration and respect in Japan. It’s as if the Japanese are meditating upon the wisdom of what is being said.

Some speakers would not know that. Instead, they would try to “wake them up” by talking louder or jumping around the stage. But this speaker knew his audience. He appreciated the respect shown by these visiting Japanese executives. In return, he paid them the respect of continuing his presentation without any loud antics.

You need to prepare for a diverse audience. We work in a multi-cultural society where speakers need to respect the diversity of their co-workers and clients. So before you give your next presentation, ask yourself, “How can I the diversity in my audience?” Do your research and prepare accordingly.