Tip – Speaking Internationally? Reduce Your Content by as Much as 50%

By August 10, 2015February 9th, 2019No Comments
United Nations' Interpreter in booth ensuring no communication misunderstandings

Imagine you are delivering your standard one-hour presentation in your host country. This is what you would expect from your audience:

  • Understand most of what you say, very quickly
  • Appreciate your humor
  • Not think anything of your body language as it supports your talk nicely
  • Recognize the use of colors appropriate to your message

None of this is true with international audiences!


When speaking internationally, engaging your audiences successfully is much more complex. You have to account for differences in greetings, customs, traditions, hand gestures, language, attire, colors, and more. One common custom is to thank a variety of people – the host, guests, dignitaries, etc.–before you begin your talk. This could be as long as five minutes…not a big deal in a 60-minute presentation…a huge deal if you are speaking for 15 minutes.

With your words, you are leaving nuances, sayings, figures of speech, body language, interpretation, etc. in the hands of your intepreter and your audience. Plus, English is a “shorter” language. Many other languages require more words to say the same thing.

The first time I experienced an interpreter when I was in the countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan with CRDF Global. Imagine telling your audience something funny and a minute later, the audience laughs. Or telling your audience something important and no one says anything in response, as you are looking for feedback.

The first time I experienced this speaking-time gap, I freaked out in my mind. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t understand. I just kept going. The second time, I figured it was the timing of the interpretor. I had to QUICKLY learn the interpreter was typically 30 seconds to one minute behind me, depending upon the complexity of the material.

After this realization, I changed my speaking on the spot. I paused A LOT to allow the interpreter and audience to catch up.


When I advise my clients, the number one piece of advice I tell him or her is to ALWAYS spend time with the interpreter beforehand. These are some of the areas I recommend reviewing. The intepreter will be grateful and appreciative.

  • Review the purpose of the presentation
  • Cover high-level ideas
  • Specifically call out words/concepts likely uncommon and unknown (e.g., elevator pitch, executive story, business story, and networking). See Language below.

One thing personally I do is to ask for the words/phrases in the native language. I then sprinkle them into my presentation, my networking, and conversations. Another thing people really appreciate is your earnest and genuine desire to speak their language.

Overall, I suggest reducing your content at least 30% and perhaps as much as 50%.

Reduce your content at least 30% and perhaps as much as 50%


  • Synchronization:  With a simultaneous interpreter, your audience will be at least 15 seconds behind you in comprehension and timing in your program. If you have complex ideas, perhaps as much as one minute. It takes getting used to.
  • Language:  There are numerous examples of poorly translated and interpreted words from one language to another that are embarrassing. Check before you go with a native speaker and/or the interpreter in your room. Consider changing your words if in doubt. As mentioned above, I talk with the interpreters in advance. Agree to the intent and meaning with him or her.
  • Examples:  Instead of giving one example, I suggest giving two or three examples to illustrate your point.
  • Color:  Research the color palette of the country and/or region. Ensure your colors match your research. Your color selection could mean the exact opposite.
  • Visuals:  Change out your visuals to match the country and/or region. Your audience wants to see themselves in your presentation, to feel like they belong. Match ethnicity, gender, age, and culture.

The United Nations produced a short documentary, “Interpreters – UN News Centre’s original series, A Day in the Life,” showing interesting insights and perspectives from interpreters working at the UN.

Photography Source:  United Nations, Interpreters – UN News Centre’s original series, A Day in the Life

Ira Koretsky

About Ira Koretsky

Ira Koretsky has built The Chief Storyteller® into one of the most recognized names in communication, especially business storytelling. He has delivered over 500 keynote presentations and workshops in nearly a dozen countries, in more than one hundred cities, across 30 plus industries. His specialties are simplifying the complex and communicating when the stakes are high. He is also an adjunct professor in public speaking and storytelling at the University of Maryland's Business School. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, trainer, consultant, and communication coach.