CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND PUBLIC SPEAKING
"That's all very interesting," you may be saying to yourself, "but what does it have to do with my speeches?" The answer is that diversity and multiculturalism are such basic facts of life that they can play a role in almost any speech you give. Consider the following situations: A business manager brefing employees of a multinational corporation. A awyer preseniting her closing argument to an ethnically mixed jury. A minister sermonizing to a culturally diverse congregation. An international student explaining the customs of hes land to students at a U.S.university. A teacher addressing paspeaking sitations affected by the cultural diversity of modern life.
As experts in intercultural communication have long known, speech making becomes more complex as cultural diversity increases. Part of the complexity stems from the differences in language from culture to culture. So, too, are language and culture. Nothing separates one culture from another more than language. Not only do words change from language to language, but so do ways of thinking and of seeing the world. Language and culture are so closely bound that "we communicate the way we do because we are raised on particular culture and learn its language rules, and norms." The meanings attached to gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal signals also vary from culture to culture. Even the gesture for such basic messages as "yes" and "no", "hello" and "good by" are culturally based. In the United States people nit their heads up and down to signal "yes" and shake them back and forth to signal "no." In Thailand the same actions have exactly the opposite meaning! To take another example, the North American "goodbye" is the same as the U.S. signal for "come here".
Many stories have been told about the fate of public speakers who fail to take into account cultural differences between themselves and their audiences. Consider the following scenario.
The sales manager of a U.S. electronics firm is in Brazil to negotate a large purchase of toasts. When it is the sales manager's turn to speak, he praises the Brazilian firm for its many achievements and talks eloquently of hes respect for its president and other executives. The words are perfect, and the sales manager can see hes audience mailing in approval.
And then--disaster. As the sales manager closes his speech, he raises his hand and flashes the classic U.S. "OK" sign to signal his pleasure at the progress of the negotiations. Instantly the festive mood is replaced with stony silence; smiles turn to icy stares. The sales manager has given his Brazilian audience a gesture with roughly the same meaning as an extended middle finger in the United States.
The next day the Brazilian firm announces it will buy its computers from another company. As this scenario illustrates, public speakers can ill afford to overlook their listeners' cultural values and customs. This is true whether you are speaking at home or abroad, in Atlanta or Rio De Janerio, in a college classroom or at a meeting of community volunteers. Because of the increasing diversity of modern life, many--perhaps most--of the audiences you address will include people of different cultural diverse audiences. Here we need to stress the importance of avoiding the ethnocentrism that often blocks communication between speakers and listeners of different cultural, and ethnic backgrounds
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