By Paul Barton
You know this cat. You see this cat and his raised paw almost every time you enter an Asian-owned business. Some of the cats have a battery operated paw that moves back and forth. The cat is known as Maeki-Neko, which is Japanese for “beckoning cat.” That’s right “beckoning cat” not clawing cat.
Maeki-Neko’s raised paw is meant to resemble how people beckon you to come inside in Japan and in many other Asian cultures (hand raised, palm down, fingers moving in and out quickly). The cat is intended to bring customers and good fortune into their establishments. But to many people in Western cultures, the cat looks like he’s trying to claw something. Maeki-Neko is a great example of how things can be interpreted differently by people in different cultures.
Public Speaking Requires Homework
Before you speak to any audience, particularly an audience that is culturally different from you, you need to do your homework. Research is key to an effective presentation.
Here are some questions to ask when doing audience analysis:
- What is my audience’s feelings toward my topic?
- What common ground do audience members share with one another and with me?
- How relevant will the audience find my content?
- What can I do to enhance my credibility with this audience?
- How can I make it easier for audience members to understand and remember my main points?
- What language or cultural differences do audience members have with one another and with me?
- Am I using colloquialisms, idioms or humor that won’t be understood?
You can’t anticipate and research everything when dealing with cultural complexity. My wife grew up in the Philippines and we encounter unexpected cultural differences on a daily basis in our household. But with my family, and in my travels to other countries, I’ve always found that being respectful of different cultures and seeking to understand your audiences will get you headed in the right direction. Most people are forgiving of occasional slip-ups if they know your heart is in the right place. So speak up — and don’t let the cat get your tongue.