But Seriously, Folks

The question I asked was, “What were the defining qualities of the best business presenter you ever saw?”

Without hesitation, the German executive I was working with gave me this quick list:

    • Energy
    • Enthusiasm
    • Rapport

And just as quickly, he added, “But, then again, the presenter was American, so he just naturally had that kind of personality.”

Europeans seem to have a love/hate relationship with American informality. On one hand, they sometimes point out with disdain that we don’t have a formal form of “you” in our language, and that we aren’t serious enough; while on the other, they say that we smile too easily. A television journalist friend from the BBC in London once said, “Why are you all so smiley? When I first meet an American, I often think they must be suffering from gas.”

I’m not going to touch that last remark. But I will say that, as far as business presentations go, aiming for likability is a key to success.

Every presenter, regardless of origin, brings to the platform a personal life, filled with interesting stories and relevant experiences that can build a bridge between presenter and audience. When you take the stage, you’re not only there to present facts, you’re there to connect. By pumping up your energy and demonstrating real enthusiasm for your topic, you can establish a rapport that will make audiences sit up and take notice.

At the same time, it’s important not to become too informal.  Business presentations are no place for off-color jokes or inappropriate anecdotes – especially before international audiences. Americans are often perceived as lacking cultural sensitivity.

So, in a phrase, here’s the gentle balance: Keep your manners in check, but don’t check your personality at the door.


(MarketPoint associate Gina London is an Emmy-award-winning veteran CNN correspondent and anchor who provides presentation and media training for executives, politicos and thought leaders.)