Most British abstain from long preparations for a meeting as they consider a meeting a suitable setting to exchange ideas. For them, it is not about presenting elaborate drafts. So, the discussion, as well as looking at a specific situation from various angles, exploring different options form the centrepiece of most meetings with the British.
However, be gentle, as you already know. Instead of open verbal conflicts, coded speech is deployed in such settings in all its glory. This includes that you don’t interrupt your British dialogue partners during discussions let alone try to finish their sentences.
Course Of Meeting
It is common courtesy in Britain to arrive on time. The first and the last invisible item on the agenda is casual small talk. The meeting can then be opened with the words ›Let’s get down to business‹. A more gentle alternative is: ›Well, Charlie, I suppose we ought to have a look at this bunch of paperwork.‹ At the latest at this point, everyone will sit down at the conference table, usually with no particular seating order.
In most British meetings there is an agenda, however, they will not necessarily keep to the exact order. They will wait and see where the journey of exchanging ideas will take them. Developing ideas together and setting rough directions always has priority.
If long distances need to be overcome and travel expenses need to be saved, meetings over the telephone are very popular. Telcos, however, are especially challenging, in particular, if you have to communicate in a foreign language.
Subsequently, you will find some tips with English example sentences, in case you are the initiator of the telephone/video conference:
1) First of all introduce yourself:
›Thank you for dialling in today and welcome. My name is …, I’m the chairperson of this conference call.‹
2) Remind the others when the conference is supposed to end:
›Let me start by reminding you that our call ends around …‹
3) Name the document which is relevant for the conference:
›I would also like to inform you that the necessary conference documentation is called …‹
4) Ask the participants to introduce themselves one at a time, after you have said their names:
›May I now ask you to greet the other members after your name is mentioned? This allows us to check that everyone is connected properly and that the technology is working smoothly.‹
5) Invite the first speaker to begin with his topic:
›Then I would like to welcome Mr Schmidt from Frankfurt, Germany. He will update us on the latest … and he will be able to answer your questions afterwards.‹
6) Summarise the main aspects at the end:
›Before we close this meeting, let me just summarise the main items.‹
7) Thank the participants for attending the conference in spite of busy schedules:
›Again, thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to be present.
When presenting your products or ideas and concepts to your British listeners, always remember understatement. Keep your presentation plain, not too colourful and especially short. Apply the KISS principle – Keep It Short and Simple. Concentrate on the core statement, your business partner’s benefit and preferably don’t get lost in details.
Begin with a content overview, give your reasons for the presentation and outline which goal or result you are pursuing. Of course, you should be well-prepared and ready for interposed questions. If you answer these immediately but short and crisp without losing the thread, you have done everything right. Asking questions is something very positive in Great Britain, asking good questions is even considered an art. It enables you to broaden your horizon, increase your self-reflection and all participants (the people asking and those answering) gain new insights. Therefore you should look forward to every question, react with a smile and answer by saying ›Very good point!‹. You can also pose questions to your listeners. It is always welcome to interactively involve your British audience in your presentation.
Furthermore, a certain entertainment factor is generally important for the success of your presentation. Storytelling is a popular presentation method that increases both the listeners‘ attention and concentration considerably. You can achieve a lot with anecdotes and metaphors linked to your topic: initiate thinking processes, trigger new ways of behaviour, impart values, show solutions, pass on worldly wisdom, show empathy, share knowledge or simply cheer up or loosen the atmosphere and make your audience laugh now and then.
This ability comes naturally to many British – this is possibly an indication of British individualism. Maybe you have heard of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in London. According to a parliamentary decision from 27th June 1872, anybody may hold a speech here on any desired topic and gather passers-by without registration. Maybe a feature of the British ideal of freedom and high tolerance. Solely the Queen and the Royal Family are not to be the content of any speech. There are even signs put up as reminders.
For many foreigners, however, the following words by Comedian Jerry Seinfeld tend to be true: ›Most people at a funeral would rather be in the coffin than saying the eulogy.‹ In some countries, storytelling is a competence that has to be acquired, learned or at least improved. Some might not even want to gain this competence as the chances of success are rather underestimated.
Tables, Graphs And Diagrams
Most presentations are supported by visual aids such as PowerPoint slides among others. In order for you to describe these correctly the following list contains some useful terminology:
›Across the top‹
›across the bottom‹
›in the upper right-hand corner‹
›in the bottom left-hand corner‹
Ending A Presentation
End your presentation with a conclusion of the most essential aspect which you would like your audience to take with them. You can also ask for spontaneous feedback. In this way, you have the unique opportunity to find out what was well-received and what you can do better next time.
Don’t worry, your feedback will be ›well-packed‹ and if you have already internalised the signals of coded speech you will be able to draw valuable impulses from it.
In case we are talking about a sales presentation a prompt follow-up is highly recommended. Stay loosely in touch with your British business contact so as to get a feeling for how interested he really is. Be nice and not too persistent. If the British are interested in your offer they will approach you on their own accord.
Extract from Business Culture Great Britain, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag