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Communicating with Diverse Audiences

Part of communicating more effectively with a diverse audience is beginning to understand our own biases and how our experiences and values shape the lens through which we view our world. We cannot assume that others share our view of the world. This misassumption creates a disconnect between us and our audience, and it can sometimes be seen as ethnocentric. We need to study our audiences and inspect our words and gestures carefully to ensure nothing in our presentation suggests that we assume our way is superior to how another culture might operate. 

Below are some tips to follow when communicating with diverse audiences: 

  • Eliminate figurative language. Phrases such as, “Now the shoe’s on the other foot” or “Let’s hit this one out of the park,” are everyday statements that we use without noticing them, but these phrases may at best confuse audiences from other cultures. 
  • Remember that nonverbal communication is critical. Our nonverbal component may reinforce, contradict, or even substitute for our verbal communication, so we must study these cultural differences ahead of time. For example, forming an “O” with our thumb and forefinger, which for people in the United States means “a-okay,” “perfect,” or “got it,” is an obscenity in some cultures, carrying much different meanings. 
  • Keep your presentation straightforward and brief. The more we talk, the more we will regress to our own dialect and habits, so we should plan exactly what we need to say and how we need to say it and then do so directly. 
  • Ask questions and rephrase comments. Checking in with audiences is a good habit and is particularly useful with multicultural audiences. As well, rephrasing comments or questions when audience members give feedback will ensure we understand them well. 
  • ​​Research linguistic preferences. Just as knowing nonverbal signs and their meanings benefits us, we also need to know different cultures’ verbal tendencies. For example, in some cultures, the preferred pronoun is “she,” whereas in others, it is “he;” still other cultures vary pronoun usage or use “they” when possible to avoid gender preferences. 

From Patricia M. Buhler and Joel D. Worden, Up, Down, and Sideways: High-Impact Verbal Communication for HR Professionals (SHRM, 2013).


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