A speaker bureau that represents me recently got me my first speaking engagement in China.

It’s a country I’d never visited and I’m always excited by the prospect of a new adventure, experiencing a new culture and meeting new people.

Then the reality check – it’s a long way away and it’s a very different culture.

So – what to do? Make a commitment… then figure it out, that’s the way I like to work, there’s always an answer. Rise to the challenge.

Via the bureau, the client had seen my website, read my bio, watched my videos, read testimonials… they knew what I was about, they knew what they’d be getting. How tough could it be… right?

So I arranged a skype call with the client in Beijing to get a better briefing – to explore, ask questions, understand what their expectations of me would be.

Through the interpreter, after initial pleasantries I asked my opening questions;

What would you like the delegates to get from the day? What would you like them to be, have or do differently as a result of my talk?

OK Mr Clarke, I will ask” said the interpreter.

After at least two minutes of back and forth between interpreter and client in Mandarin, back came the answer…

Yes Mr Clarke… that will be fine.

Ah… not quite what I was looking for.

I tried again and rephrased the question a couple of times until we got there.
This demonstrated to me that I needed to invest some time into understanding the cultural differences before going to speak to 600 Chinese delegates at their conference, and so I did.

I discovered that my usual “conversational” style, asking the audience for feedback, asking them questions during my talk… just wouldn’t work, even through an interpreter. The Chinese simply don’t respond in public the way a western audience might.

I was told that learning a little Mandarin, just enough to say “hello everyone, good afternoon, my name is Steve… ” would help then warm to me instantly – good advice, it worked well and put us all at ease.
I was advised to have some business cards printed, with my details in Mandarin… I did, they really appreciated the effort. I also paid to have slides produced again in Mandarin – they loved it.

The end result – a very relieved presenter, a very happy audience, a TV interview – and an instant rebooking for another event this time in Sujoung just outside of Shanghi.

Are you taking time to “speak your clients language” metaphorically speaking. Do you listen to them and use their terminology – not just trot out your same old stuff hoping for a one size fits all solution as it’s easier for you? I guarantee it will pay you dividends.

Or as we say… focus on building relationships!