It’s All About Presentation: Lessons from Japan

After my recent trip to Japan, some of the more striking things to me (beyond the cherry blossom trees) about the Japanese culture are their etiquette, respect, and overall visual presentation. I’ve always been an admirer of Japanese art- from calligraphy and brush painting to Ikebana, a style of floral arrangement.

In Japan, there is a sense of simplicity and beauty that is expressed visually. This beauty and simplicity also follows through in the politeness and graciousness of the people. There is an overall helpfulness to strangers and foreigners. As a tourist, if you stand around looking confused (maybe holding a map), in a short while someone will come up to you and ask you if you need help.

I suggest that as presenters we take a few lessons from Japanese culture. Here are eight ideas to consider:

1. Politeness – Use business and professional etiquette. Thank people for giving you their time and attention by attending your presentation or meeting.

2. Simplicity – Be clear and concise. Have a clear objective for your presentation or meeting. Stay on topic throughout your presentation. Don’t give people too much information. In Ikebana, floral arrangements are usually constructed with 3 main elements. Likewise, in your presentation – 3 main points or topics work well. Too much information leads to information overload, glazed over eyes and sometimes even snoring.

3. Respect – If you are giving presentations outside of your home country, take the time to learn some of the cultural norms and a few words and phrases. At the least, you won’t do anything considered offensive and ideally, you will show respect to your audiences.

4. Be a gracious host – Arrive early so that you can welcome people to your presentation or meeting and introduce yourself (if you don’t know people). If people do not know each other, facilitate introductions. Create a warm and welcoming atmosphere and make sure that the room is set up comfortably.

5. Quality – Japanese cars, trains, subways, electronics, and even toilets employ efficiency and features that American companies haven’t yet manufactured. The bullet train has been in operation since 1964 and carries millions of people on time each day, at peak times every 10 minutes, and it has never had a fatal accident. Quality includes paying attention to the details – no matter how small. We’ve all heard the phrase that God or the devil is in the details. Either way you look at it, the details are important.

Here are some presentation details to consider.

o Is your presentation of professional quality?

o Do you come across as a professional?

o Are you articulate and credible?

o Are your written materials grammatically accurate and typo free?

Suggestions to help improve the quality of your presentations.

o Have your presentation materials proofread by someone else. It is nearly impossible to accurately proofread your own documents. Your brain knows what you intended to write and will see that instead of what is actually on the page. Spell check is not enough.

o Pay special attention to your appearance and grooming. For important presentations be at least one step up of business attire than your audience. 1st impressions are important and tend to stick.

6. Beauty – How many PowerPoint presentations have you seen that are beautiful? I imagine, not many. Be different than everyone else – use photographs and illustrations where you can. Don’t use just text on your slides. Choose colors that are pleasing to the eye – be creative and have fun bringing a presentation to life with beautiful images.

7. Storytelling – History is passed down through the generations by stories in Japan as it is in many cultures. People remember stories better than facts as stories engage the senses and emotions. Use stories to illustrate your important points. Use stories to connect with your audience and be memorable.

8. Celebration- One of the truly fascinating things about Japanese culture is that people do not usually express emotions outwardly during the work day. However, the evening time is a different story! After working a long day – it’s typical to see a group of office workers out in the bars and restaurants having a really good time. They are often loud, rowdy, and completely different than their daytime demeanor. I think that both the camaraderie and the celebration are important to keep people motivated and engaged.

I hope that you find these presentation ideas helpful and if you have a chance, you can spend some time in Japan. It is a beautiful country – with courteous and kind people who enjoy hosting guests.

If you’d like to see what Japan looks like in the cherry blossom season, here is a link to some of my trip pictures that you can view as a slideshow:

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