I just tripped across an old article referencing an even older book. But the concept it outlined was new to me and has profound implications for presentations to global audiences.
The article is from two and a half years ago. I will admit that "The Lewis Model Explains Every Culture In The World" by Gus Lubin reads suspiciously like a paid advertorial designed to drum up business for Richard Lewis Communications. Lewis is apparently a professional linguist and author of a highly-rated book on Amazon entitled "When Cultures Collide." I haven't read the book, but now I want to.
The article includes two fascinating graphics. The first puts countries on a sliding scale of cultural identity:
The second graphic assigns traits to the three identity categories:
The first thing to remember when thinking about any such gross representations of large populations is that they are utterly useless when applied to an individual person or a specific real interaction. Individual human beings are infinitely complex and can easily contradict any generalization you might make. The goal in these kinds of studies is to see if we can find commonalities that seem prevalent across large segments of the population.
Webinars are a perfect use case for applying this kind of generalization. You often don't know individual members of your audience and have to plan your content and presentation style to have "the best chance" of being persuasive to a large group. We obviously tend to think in terms of the cultural norms we have been raised within. If we have received presentation training, it probably reflects our cultural perspective as well. But if we plan to influence audiences with different backgrounds and expectations, understanding their viewpoints is crucial.
According to Lewis's triangle of national country types, my experiences place me strongly in the lower left corner of "Linear-Active" cultures. USA, Germany, and UK cultures strongly influence my expectations of "proper" business etiquette and presentation technique. Those countries also happen to be farther along the adoption curve for webinars as a business tool than many other countries on the chart. I would say that the secondary level of webinar adoption favors the lower right, "Reactive" countries. The countries taking the longest to adopt webinars as a common business tool are those towards the top of the triangle near the Multi-Active label.
It is easy to rationalize why webinar methodologies, growth patterns, and problems might fit this modeled division. If we look at the traits listed in the second table, we could pick out many things I have come to expect in business webinars that would be associated with Linear-Active tendencies. Cover one item at a time, use logic to persuade, stick to facts, deliver results as a measure of success, don't rely heavily on body language, and place importance on the written word ("Death by Bullet Point" anybody?).
Secondary popularity moving more towards the Reactive corner gives us audiences that are primed to listen to a speaker without confrontation and who uses more careful selection of words that imply a promise. Webinar growth might be slowed compared to the primary countries because of a desire to get the speaker to repeat information and because of the importance of face-to-face communications. Now that webcam video of presenters is commonplace in webinar technologies, they might be more accepted as a communication tool. But presenters seeking to influence audiences in these "Reactive" geographies may want to change the way they organize and present their content to keep coming back to a harmonious agreement on base principles without showing facts as the way to win their argument.
I couldn't help but notice that the countries near the Multi-Active point of the triangle are often stereotyped as "fiery, passionate, and emotional." Looking at the traits summary table shows that our Linear-Active oriented webinars (and webinar technologies) are all wrong for these audiences. Even a webcam of a presenter's face is not enough. They want full-body visuals, with presenters who pace, gesture, and invite the listener to be a constant part of the conversation. Having someone speak while they are speaking is not a sign of rudeness, it is a sign of involvement and interest. If webinars are going to have rapid growth in these cultures, new conceptual approaches will be needed. I see the need for something like group interactivity around a Prezi-style presentation of many different conceptual components. Attendees can zoom in and out of areas of interest, conversing with others on multiple aspects of the topic and having simultaneous conversations in multiple streams. I also think this is the strongest opportunity for webinar technologies that combine with community-building, social networking, and pre- and post-webinar interactions as a part of the business process.
This is a fun way to think about global communications and you should be looking at cultural expectations whether you are a webinar host, presenter, or technology vendor.