Do you make these cultural etiquette mistakes when presenting in English?

6 anglophone cultural faux pas

Every culture has their specificities and native English speakers are no exception. Here are some things to avoid when speaking to these audiences:

1. Being late

In most anglophone cultures it is important to be on time or even early in some cases. Make sure when you give a presentation that you arrive in plenty of time to set up, meet with the organisers and prepare. Also make sure you begin and end on time. For Americans ‘time is money’ and if you waste their time they will not appreciate it.

2. Getting too close

In the early 1960’s Dr Edward Hall, an anthropologist, pioneered the field of ‘proxemics’ – how much space humans and animals need. He discussed that there were several zones of personal territory – the intimate zone, the personal zone, the social zone and the public zone. The intimate zone is the area closest to a person, the only people allowed in this space are family and very close friends. When interacting with someone socially or professionally you should stay outside this personal space.

In English-speaking countries the intimate zone is about 45 cm. By contrast in Southern European countries the intimate zone is much smaller, around 20-30 cm. Therefore, it is important to maintain the right distance even if you are familiar with your audience.

 3. Avoiding eye contact

Make sure you have good eye contact with the audience and also especially if you are speaking to someone directly. Eye contact is seen in the English-speaking world as a sign of honesty and sincerity. If you look down or away, you may be perceived as dishonest, embarrassed or just rude.

4. Greeting someone with a kiss

While in Europe greeting someone with one or more air kisses is completely acceptable, this would be uncomfortable for most Anglophones. The handshake is the standard greeting in both North America and in other English-speaking countries. In North America a firm handshake is especially important, while in the United Kingdom it can be a bit lighter.

5. Dressing casually

As a general rule, you should always dress one step better than the audience. For instance, if the audience is wearing jeans and a dress shirt you should probably wear a dress shirt and business trousers. For business presentations the standard attire for English-speaking countries is a suit with a tie. Similarly for women a pant suit or skirt suit is the norm. Overly feminine attire is perceived as unprofessional for business presentations, especially in North America.

6. Giving a lengthy introduction

Anglophones don’t expect lengthy introductions in presentations (e.g. comments about the weather, the speaker’s full biography, too many acknowledgements or other pleasantries). They prefer speakers that get to the point. They also dislike speakers who go off-topic, so for these audiences it is even more important that everything you say during your presentation is connected to your key message.

Cultural differences

One last point on gestures. This is where English-speaking countries differ in their cultural etiquette. In North America, audiences appreciate more gestures in presentations. These gestures can be quite large and even border on theatrical. Whereas in the United Kingdom and Ireland, for example, audiences prefer less gestures and for those gestures to be smaller.

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