"Communicate and get rich"
Article written with my daughter Aga about efficient presentation for Chinese audience
How to make good sales presentations directed to Chinese entrepreneurs?
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Poland was not only a significant political event, but also a spark of hope for strengthening trade relations with China. Some 40 bilateral trade agreements were signed, and strategic messages at the highest of levels were sent, all suggesting Poland could be China’s gateway to Europe.
Without a doubt this is a significant opportunity for Polish companies; opportunities not only for government giants, but also for mid- and small-sized private companies. But you will not be able to tap into those opportunities without adjusting your cross-cultural communication skills to the expectations of Chinese partners. Therefore, to paraphrase the saying of Leopold Stanisław Kronenberg, who was the founder of the Trade Bank, Warsaw School of Economics, patron of culture and investor, we can say with confidence: “Communicate and get rich!”.
One of the most common mistakes, made even by seasonal managers and businessmen, is an assumption that what works for western-oriented audiences will also work for other cultures, in this case for Chinese audiences. There are many traps where you can “lose face” – lose reputation and cause embarrassment – both for yourself and your Chinese partners. And once this image of reputation is lost, it is very difficult to regain. So let’s talk about some of these traps and ways to avoid them.
Firstly and most importantly, you have to remember that relations are critical for business co-operation with Chinese partners. It’s simple: there is no business without established relationships. That is one of the reasons why it is very rare to be able to sign a deal after only 1 or 2 meetings; it will take much longer because your Chinese partners want to know you better, they will test your patience as well as social and negotiation skills.
What can go wrong? Almost everything, beginning with not having your business cards translated and not devoting enough attention when receiving their business cards. Quickly putting away a received business card or placing it in your back pocket can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and bad personal culture.
When beginning to build your relationship, you will need to prepare a presentation about your company and business opportunities. A well-prepared presentation can earn respect and goodwill, whilst an ill-thought one can seriously diminish your chance to sign a deal.
If you just take a standard presentation targeted at a western audience, you will almost certainly fail. The art of adjusting presentation structure and content to Chinese audiences is critical.
First of all, relationships go before business. A well-structured presentation will help you here. Do not immediately start with a business proposal, instead demonstrate that you understand the culture and rules of the game. The beginning of a successful presentation is used to “give face” to your Chinese partners. Thank them for the invitation, for participation, say their names and titles. Even if the main sponsor is not there, for example somebody from Ministry of Commerce, still mention him, it will give you “face” as your audience will respect your cross-cultural consciousness.
It is advisable to mention a warm word about Polish-Chinese relations at the highest of levels. For example use President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Poland, or mention President Duda and Komorowski’s previous visits to China. After the welcoming and thanking part, introduce your company. If you had previous experience with China, mention it, it will have a positive impact. Say something about yourself, and adding a bit of a personal “China connection” is recommended.
Building a relationship may take a while, but once it is built it will last for a long time
Now, once you have demonstrated that you understand the rules of the game and shown respect to your hosts, you can move to presenting business opportunities. Have your numbers prepared and know your subject. Remember that Chinese audiences are used to a very high-context communication style, where a lot of things are interpreted from the context, and it is expected that some things will be understand without saying them directly. Hence not only what was said is important, but often what is not said is even more important.
Generally speaking, the new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs are highly sophisticated. Many of them have studied abroad and will know what to expect from westerners, but still, demonstrating that you understand their culture will be highly respected.
Do not use humour in your presentation. Firstly, very often it would not be understood, and secondly, it is very easy to unintentionally show disrespect. One story I had come across concerns an American businessman presenting to an Asian audience. At one point the local translator said: “Ok, now he is telling a joke, I will not translate it because you will not understand it. I will tell you when to laugh…. get ready…. now… start laughing”. You do not want to be in this situation.
Be careful of what is on your slides. Do not write people’s name in red – it has an undertone of bearing ill will and even death. Be cautious about graphics, for example that of the clock, as the image is associated with death.
These are just a few examples to show you the complexity of achieving business success when dealing with Chinese partners. My honest advice would be to use a professional service to help you develop not only a presentation, but also a communication strategy.
Irek Zyzanski and Aga Zyzanska
Presidents’ photo by Jacek Turczyk, PAP
About the authors:
Irek Zyzanski spent more than 24 years in a large international company. He lived and worked in Poland, Libya, Ukraine, Dubai, China, Russia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. He has survived 14 nationalities of bosses and managed truly international teams. Irek has a MA in Arabic Language and Culture. He is a cross-cultural coach, mentor and consultant.
Aga Zyzanska has, following in the footsteps of her parents, lived around the world and travelled extensively. She has a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology from Oxford University and a double LLM in International Law and Chinese language from Edinburgh University. She has also studied Mandarin at Fudan University in Shanghai.
They both work closely with Binaria Communications.