“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – Henry Ford
Hosting multilingual virtual events, meetings or conferences across borders is very much the norm these days, and although there is some return to in-person events, the costs and logistics of travelling to be face to face, combined with the opportunities of technology and collaboration tools mean that live meetings are happening less frequently than before.
The opportunity to bring people together to share, learn, be inspired and discuss is a great experience, however when people are joining from many different parts of the world, as part of multilingual teams, how do you create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all participants?
Accessibility and inclusivity are key considerations, and here are our recommended inclusivity best practices for hosting virtual conferences or meetings in international teams.
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1. Establish a clear goal for the meeting
It’s important that everybody has a clear idea of the objectives of your meeting, so they can be focused on why they are attending, why it matters, and how they can contribute best to lead to successful outcomes.
2. Evaluate your people’s communication capabilities
Assess if language barriers in your team could reduce connection and collaboration, including fully understanding cultural dynamics, language nuances, accents and dialects. Decide if hosting the virtual meeting in English as the primary language could prevent key messages being understood, reduce the engagement with the topic, and limit the participation in important discussions.
For immediate needs, there are a variety of tools available for live interpretation in real time, or remote interpreting tools into their preferred language, such as closed captioning, or via interpreting specialists. However, investing in your people long-term could help reduce the communication gap.
By ensuring their communication skills in English are elevated to the level where they feel comfortable, confident and included in all your meetings and events, even if they appear to be already operational in English as part of their job role. This boosts team connectivity, engagement and trust, ultimately leading to enhanced productivity.
Do your people have the communication skills to connect well with their internal and external customers?
3. Engage your team before the meeting
Consider that some people prefer to read before they arrive at a meeting to feel well-prepared and able to discuss and contribute fully, especially if English is their second language. This might include sharing pre-read materials or stimulus to provide inspiration, and asking thoughtful questions to start people thinking before they arrive, and support them to prepare their ideas.
4. Technical set up for meeting success
Make sure the basics are set up correctly, and everybody leading the meeting has a good internet connection, can be clearly seen on screen, and can be heard at a loud enough volume. These might seem obvious to many of us already working in fully virtual or hybrid environments, however these key factors for leading virtual meetings can be easily forgotten, and impact the way that multilingual teams can understand and be understood in meetings.
5. Embrace the team’s diversity
If the team joining your meeting or event are multilingual and multicultural, then reflect the team’s diversity in your approach. Consider learning a few words in the native languages of the group to welcome your people, or run an ice breaker activity to encourage everyone to learn a few words in other languages of the group, or explore cultural values and norms of others. Although you may not be able to hold the full meeting in another language, this is an encouraging and inclusive way to encourage appreciation of the diversity of languages and cultures in your team.Contact us to create your training. If the team joining your meeting or event are multilingual and multicultural, then reflect the team’s diversity in your approach. Consider learning a few words in the native languages of the group to welcome your people, or run an ice breaker activity to encourage everyone to learn a few words in other languages of the group, or explore cultural values and norms of others. Although you may not be able to hold the full meeting in another language, this is an encouraging and inclusive way to encourage appreciation of the diversity of languages and cultures in your team.
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6. Inclusivity through how you present
If you are using slides, the imagery you use can create great impact, and certainly more focus on visuals is more engaging. This is even more important when presenting to a multilingual and multicultural audience, where an increased use of imagery can communicate more clearly your key points, rather than using too many words on screen. The only watch out is to use your cultural intelligence to check the appropriateness of your imagery, so the meaning is clear for all participants.
7. Connect through how you speak
The opportunity to connect in international teams comes when people understand you well. So focus on speaking clearly, more slowly, and using simple language. Avoid jargon, buzzwords and language which is not common to the whole group, as well as idioms and cultural references which may not be obvious. Connecting through your way of speaking also relates to your non-verbal communication. Consider how to emphasise your meaning through your tone of voice, body language, hand gestures and facial expressions, however be aware to match the level of your non-verbal communication to your audience.
8. Allowing for cultural differences in the meeting
Some people are confident to express their personal opinion in front of others, no matter who is in the room. This individualist cultural approach is different from people who come from a more collectivist culture, where it is more comfortable to brainstorm collectively and discuss opinions in small groups, before coming to a collective view. Consider the cultures represented in your meetings and adapt your approach to take into account the preferences of how individuals and groups would like to work together.
9. Follow up to land outcomes
People can leave a meeting or an event on a high note, full of new ideas and energy about what they want to do next and how to bring it home to their everyday professional context. The reality of going back into the busyness of work life means much of that energy can be quickly lost. Add in the complexity of ensuring that multilingual teams are fully engaged with the next steps. This is where the follow up after the meeting is critical to confirm discussions, help guide people towards next steps and give space for further questions, individual feedback or clarification. This step particularly supports multicultural teams to align, stay connected and focus on delivering the outcomes.
How can Culture Cuppa improve your team’s communication skills with their customers?
We offer communication skills coaching and team training to support you and your team to build rapport and trust with internal and external customers.