A Humbling, Yet Valuable Lesson


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I was delivering a Great Demo! Workshop last week in Europe to an international audience and during our first break, a woman came up to me and asked me to:
  • Slow down a bit and
  • Be a bit more careful with my choice of words.
This was a great reminder – and humbling, personally.  I work hard to slow down my delivery and try to choose more “internationally”-understood English words and phrases (and to avoid U.S.-specific colloquialisms), when presenting to non-native English speakers – and I generally believe I do a good job.  However, it was clear I could do better…!
It is very difficult for non-English audiences to spend a day or two working in English, as a second language – it can be confusing, at minimum, and very tiring overall…! 
During the last few months, I was at a number of sales kickoff meetings, where many of the presenters were from the U.S. (and audiences were very international).  The number of U.S.-specific references, analogies, metaphors, examples and colloquial phrases was truly staggering…!  Here are some examples that I heard (along with possible non-U.S. interpretations):
  • “Hit it out of the park” – [What are you hitting, and why?]
  • “That’s the minor leagues” – [Is this a music reference or perhaps a follow-on movie to the Justice League?]
  • “The cat’s out of the bag” – [Why was the cat in the bag?  What did he do?]
  • “That dog don’t hunt” – [Whose dog doesn’t do what?  And why?]
  • “It was wicked” – [Wicked – is that evil or good, or a referenced to the musical?]
  • “Piece of cake” – [Ahh, it must be time for dessert or our next coffee break, yes?]
  • “That’s just putting lipstick on a pig” – [Um, why and what did the pig do to you?]
  • “Break a leg” – [Sounds painful…]
  • “Monday morning quarterback” – [Do they play American football on Monday mornings?]
  • “The whole nine yards” – [What happened to the 10th yard?  And how many meters is that?]
  • “Go Dutch” – [Is that like, “Go Amsterdam FC!”?]
  • “It fell through the cracks” – [Are there cracks in our software?]
  • “We threw him under the bus” – [Now THAT’s going to leave a mark…!] 
  • “Off kilter” – [I’m totally lost on this one]
  • “Out of whack” – [Too bad, no more whacks in your bag, huh – perhaps the cat has more whacks in his bag…]
Annnnnd, (I hear you cry), how does this apply to demos?  Directly! 
Contemplate the challenges faced by YOUR customers when they are receiving demos presented using phrases and language that are U.S.-specific – and delivered at rapid-fire pace.  One of our top priorities in presenting demos is clarity of communication – so we should take the guidance from my Workshop participant above and
  1. Slow down
  2. Choose words and word phrases that are as international-English as possible…!
And by the way, “tabling” something in the U.S. means the opposite in the UK, Australia, and many other English-speaking countries – but that is an opportunity for another post…!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Cohan
Have you ever seen a bad software demonstration? Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of Great Demo!, focused on helping software organizations improve the success rates of their demos. He authored Great Demo! - how to prepare and deliver surprisingly compelling software demonstrations. Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development. He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.


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