25 June 2019

Five Tips for Managing Successful Multilingual Meetings

team working

Every business has the potential to operate across a language barrier as it grows. Sometimes you get to communicate using a common language (such as English), even if it is not native to all the speakers involved in the exchange. However, there are times when business development opportunities take us out of our comfort zone and require us to tap into a new set of skills.

Managing meetings is a transferable business skill that can be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the differences between languages and cultures. Developing your team’s ability to bring people together across a language or cultural divide enables your business to embrace global opportunities and professional relationships.

In this article, we offer some tips on using your team’s language and cross-cultural skills to best effect in multilingual meetings.

1. Prepare to Succeed

It may be the most obvious piece of advice, it certainly applies to almost any task, but the more prepared you are, the more likely your meeting is going to be a success. So, dive into your meeting preparation with an open mind!

Consider the shared languages you have in the room – is there a common language you can all fall back on if needed? Is anyone in your team (including you) new to the local language? Is someone on your team best placed to lead certain parts of the conversation due to their language capabilities? Will anyone be dialling in rather than joining you in person?

Cultural considerations are paramount too – is there a preferred way to greet your overseas contacts, and are there any cultural behaviours that are best avoided?

2. Focus on Outcomes

Start each meeting as you mean to go on by being very clear about what you want to achieve. Remember to ensure that your agenda allows time for you to summarise ideas and next steps.

When you engage with your attendees in a clear and concise way, everyone can leave the room knowing where they stand – and they will have had the chance to query any gaps in their understanding (or they should at least know who to approach if there is any confusion).

3. Provide Food for Thought

Whether you are travelling to an overseas meeting or welcoming new contacts in your UK office, aim to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and relaxed. Supply fresh water (to rehydrate and energise tired minds) and a clean and comfortable meeting space to ensure your colleagues feel at ease.

If your meeting is going to run long enough to benefit from a lunch or tea break – or if it rolls straight into dinner – consider suitable options for your attendees. Alcohol might not be culturally acceptable to all delegates and certain foods may be disagreeable for your international colleagues. Again, preparation is the key: if this is the area you fall down on after all your research and organisation, you run the risk of undermining your hard work.

4. Consider Everyone in the Room

A meeting with multiple attendees presents different challenges to a private conversation. You could have some big personalities in the room that are confident working across more than one language, and you may also have some quieter, more reflective personalities that have a lot to say but may not be very forthcoming. It takes a skilful meeting chair to ensure that every voice gets a fair hearing.

Build some flex into your agenda to ensure that everyone has a natural opportunity to share their thoughts. Ask yourself as the meeting progresses whether everyone has had a chance to speak and the conversation is flowing as you would have hoped. Are you still delivering on your desired outcomes?

5. Invest in Training Your Team

The language skills your colleagues possess may come as part of the package when you hire them but additional training may help to develop their skill set so they can communicate more effectively. Making time for suitable training enables your team to hit the ground running when a new overseas opportunity arises.

Having an interpreter on hand as you initiate new relationships may give your colleagues the confidence they need as they adjust to a multilingual environment. Alternatively, you may find that a big opportunity merits an overseas office or regional contact, so you could look at hiring a local expert or training a team member for a global move. This kind of investment can help you direct your resources into specific professional outcomes for your business.

Preparation is essential when managing multilingual meetings – in fact, if you are well-prepared, you may have already stumbled across each of the tips in this article! With ample preparation, your team will be focused on the task at hand, aware of any cultural considerations, conscious of maximising the engagement of all attendees, and well-trained for developing your business further.

Need Training To Navigate Multilingual Meetings?

Managing a multilingual business relationship does not need to be an obstacle to success if you plan ahead. When you sense that your business is ready to target a new location, prepare your team for the challenge by developing their language and cross-cultural skills in advance.

If your organisation would benefit from some additional support with language or cross-cultural training, contact us today. We can provide you with a bespoke training plan that fits with your organisation’s ambitions for long-term success.

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