By Joann Pittman, author of Survival Chinese Lessons

Giving presentations (in English) to Mandarin Chinese speakers presents some unique challengers for a presenter. There are both linguistic and cultural barriers to communicating effectively in such a setting.

Here are ten tips for giving presentations to Mandarin Chinese speakers:

1. Prepare a written outline in both English and Chinese that the participants can have in front of them while you speak. This will help them process the information you are presenting much more quickly.

2. Don’t use idiomatic expressions. This may require some extra preparation on your part, but it will be time well spent. Rehearse your presentation naturally and note where you tend to use idioms. Think of non-idiomatic ways to express those same ideas. Without putting some thought into this beforehand, you will most likely naturally slip into using idioms, which will make it difficult for the participants to understand what you are saying. This, in turn, will diminish the effectiveness of your presentation.

3. If you feel it is necessary to use an idiom or idiomatic expressions, take the time during your presentation to explain it. Use it as a ‘language teaching” moment. The Chinese language is full of idioms, so Chinese speakers love to learn English ones; however, they must be taught, not caught.

4. Pay attention to your diction. Make sure that you are speaking clearly. Don’t say “I’m gonna start our time today…” Say “I am going to start our time today…”

5. Wherever possible, use simple sentence structures instead of complex ones. Again, this may require some extra preparation on your part.

6. Slow down. Try to maintain a speaking speed that is commensurate with the listening speed of your audience. Unless you are an unusually slow speaker naturally, if you talk as you normally do, the participants will miss a lot of what you are trying to communicate. When a listener has to work hard to keep up with a speaker in a foreign language, he/she usually tires out quickly and eventually tunes out. Make it easy for the listeners to keep listening.

7. If you have some ability in the Chinese language, demonstrate that at the beginning of your presentation. Introduce yourself in Chinese. Tell a short story in Chinese. This will get their attention, enhance your credibility, and relax the audience. Don’t be surprised if the participants break into applause when you speak Chinese!

8. If you have some experience with China or Chinese culture, make references to them in your presentation. It’s a way to show your audience that you respect their culture, which means a lot to Chinese people.

9. If your allotted time is several hours or over the course of an entire day, give your participants regular breaks, during which they can, and should be encouraged to, use their own language. Listening and processing information in a foreign language is mentally and physically exhausting. Being able to stop once in awhile to communicate (or just think) in one’s own language without expending any energy is important for helping the participant “go the distance” with you.

10. If you intend to use group discussions or other activities that require group participation, be patient. In Chinese educational culture, the teacher (in this case the presenter – YOU) is assumed to be an expert on the subject at hand. Questioning, challenging, or offering opinions and ideas that are different than the teacher/presenter is a loss of face, both to the questioner and the presenter. There is also a reluctance to offer opinions that might differ from ‘the group.’ As a result, it is sometimes difficult for western presenters to get their Chinese participants to engage in discussion and debate.

I hope that these will be helpful to you as you prepare for your for giving presentations to Mandarin Chinese speakers.

What other tips or suggestions do you have for giving effective presentations to Mandarin Chinese speakers?

Bio: Joann Pittman is a consultant, trainer, writer who focuses on helping people “live well where they don’t belong.” She has worked in China since 1984 as an English teacher, Program Director, and Cross-cultural Trainer. She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons, published by Dawson Media.

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