Ian MacDonald

November 2010

In Search of the Asian Willie Stark: What Attributes are Valued in Western Public Speakers and How do they Compare with those Valued in Asian Cultures?

A Supplement to the presentation: “From West to East: Adapting Presentation Models, Methods and Techniques to Account for Audience Culture”, delivered as part of the IBScientific Workshop on 26 November, 2010.

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then we may hypothesize that where cultural differences exist there should also be related differences in practice. it was so bad that my client apologized rather sheepishly. with sales of the profile exceeding 30.and. For example the ability to speak directly. and social practices. If we can accept Lustig and Koester‟s definition of culture: “a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs. To this day it remains one of the most dreadfully boring presentations that I have ever had to sit through. I became intimately familiar with what made a public speaker effective. Anglo-Saxon societies. The paper uses the character of Willie Stark as a model of an effective Western presenter and attempts to identify his Asian contemporary. in doing so. the custom of explicitly highlighting the needs of an audience and demonstrating that those needs coincide with the position of the speaker. which affect behaviors of a relatively large group of people” (2006: 25). this paper sets out to explore the cultural patterns of Western (primarily Anglophone) and Far-Eastern (essentially Confucian Heritage Cultures) countries with a view to establishing whether respective public speaking practices do in fact differ in line with identified cultural differences. A client who wished to train his sales executives had pitched the question to me. values. I was at least aware that seniority alone did not guarantee proficiency in public speaking. the tendency to address the individual – they are each examples of recommended techniques and methods that can be found in public speaking and presentation training programs in Western or. In the last twelve years.000 copies. I realised that although I was no further forward in answering the client‟s question. Therefore. whilst suggesting that I might like to come and listen to a presentation that his European Director was giving to important customers. perhaps more accurately.Ian MacDonald November 2010 The characteristics and skills we value in a Western public speaker may well be different to those valued in many Asian and Far-East societies. norms. After recovering from my initial disappointment. 1997) . I read and write in English so my research was naturally 2|P a g e . In fact. The long and short of this experience is that I went on to research and write the Presentation Skills Profile (MacDonald. Almost fifteen years ago I became somewhat consumed with what made a great public speaker or presenter. I have increasingly wondered just how appropriate my model of effective presentation is when used in nonWestern cultures. After all.PSP for short .

or initiate some action on the part of. Regarding Objectives. and someone who has had the chance to travel the world. one can only wonder how difficult it would be for collectivist-oriented Far Eastern Asians to confer on this thinking. The underlying assumption is that the presenter must do something to.Ian MacDonald November 2010 restricted to Anglophone cultures. one suspects that there are some deep-rooted differences. I have never been entirely oblivious to cultural differences. For instance Kalish (1997:5) say that presentations are an opportunity to sell yourself whilst Pike (1995) states that presentations represent a great opportunity for individuals to stand out from the crowd. Each of the above seem to underline the tendency toward individualism in Anglophone cultures and where such motivation might be mildly alien to middle Europeans. if only temporarily. Meanwhile. In other words. Matson (1997) argues that presenters should consider what they want their audience to do and how the presenter will convince them to do it. Aural and Visual Impact. Perhaps this is why when I review the research and theories that underpin the PSP‟ model. I can say that overall it seems to do a reasonable job in accommodating non-Anglophone cultures. Gesteland (2005) warns that over-praising one‟s product or company in Japan can have negative repercussions. My recent studies of „intercultural communication‟. his or her audience. In fact. have prompted me to develop major concerns about the efficacy of the PSP model in the aforementioned situations. Holtz (1985) suggests that professionals often leap at the chance to speak publicly as a substitute for paid advertising. The PSP model explores six dimensions of presentation: Objectives. Hendricks et al (1996) remind presenters that they must evaluate by asking whether the audience caught what was thrown at them. and Staging (of a speech or presentation). Implicit in this is 3|P a g e . That said. even when one considers the thoughts of various experts on the benefits of becoming a better presenter or public speaker. including long trips to Asia and the Far East. Presentation Structure. the individual is to lead the way and show his or her audience what actions they should take. and related teaching practice. Visual Aids. So what did my research reveal about effective presentation? As a British expatriate living and working in Central Europe. Audience.

one also has to assess how one‟s speech is being received and when necessary take appropriate action to ensure the audience remains engaged.Ian MacDonald November 2010 the idea that it is the presenter who must be the catalyst for consensus. Concerning Audience. Connecting with your audience is not only a preparation issue according to Antion (1997). 1997: 59). Perhaps this suggests that presentation goals are more likely to concern informing and/or encouraging discussion rather than persuading. It is not unusual for an Asian speaker to bury the thesis in the passage (Connor. Cosnett et al (1990) believes that the knowledge speakers have about the people they are speaking to can make the difference between outstanding success and a colossal failure. there is considerable literature that talks up the value of jokes as a way of helping an audience to get your point and they can often be heard in public speeches and presentations in Anglophone cultures. Turning to Structure. However. The latter suggests that consensus. suggesting that you need to know your audience well so as not to offend. Gesteland (2005) is forthright when warning that opening a presentation with a joke is considered disrespectful to both towards the topic and one‟s audience in Japan and South Korea. However. practitioners and experts place emphasis on making the speech or presentation easy for the listener to follow which is consistent with the ideas proposed by Hinds (1987: 141-152) about English being a “speaker-responsible language” as distinct from many Asian languages which are “listener-responsible”. the route to decisions and actions is different in Far Eastern Asian societies. Kalish (1997) suggests that audience involvement is more likely if one keeps eye-contact with the audience members. Macnamara (1996) likens the use of jokes to a golf fairway dotted with sand traps. direct eye contact may be misinterpreted as anger of hostility in Japan or an attempt to intimidate in China. “personal opinions do not exist: they are predetermined by the group” (Hofstede. Saphiere et al (2005) writes that what is considered acceptable eye contact varies across cultures. 1996) and Japanese 4|P a g e . Clearly this is consistent with the individualist nature of many Western societies and contrasts with collective cultures where. and thereby. Gesteland (2005) advises that strong.

in my training practice. middle and end (MacDonald. the American politician upon whom the Willie Stark character is based. Chinese and Koreans. However. one need only listen to a handful of public speakers to know that this is not a natural mode for Anglophones. Does this suggest a natural and somewhat irrational fear of silence? Certainly one can sense a 5|P a g e . people are typically far more reserved (Lustig and Koester. 1997). Although Gaulke (1996) highlights the value of silence and pausing as a presentation technique. Not only are most Anglophone cultures lowcontext and reliant on words for conveying their messages but English is also considered to be a linear language and this is distinct from the non-linear structure of a number of Asian languages such as Japanese and Hindi (Kachru. 1988: 109-137). often making themselves breathless through speaking too intensely and quickly. that it is possible to confuse your audience through a poor choice of words. This evokes the idea of face work in high context Asian societies. Perhaps more importantly for this paper. Gaulke (1996) and Hendricks et al (1996) both press the need for speakers to be energetic and emotional. for most Asian cultures where harmony is a widely held value.Ian MacDonald November 2010 speakers will often refrain from identifying the specific point they wish to convey but instead delicately circle it to imply the domain (Cahill. Jay (1993) remarks. 2006) and therefore unlikely to heed such advice. a practice which is brilliantly demonstrated by the wealthy Indonesian family that invites the parents of an undesirable fiancée to their home and serves friend rice and star fruit to indicate disapproval of the potential marriage (Lustig and Koester. place emphasis on the value of silence and saying as little as is necessary (Kincaid. Language issues are understandably to the fore when one considers how to create appropriate Impact with the spoken word. 2006: 111). 1969:38). including the Japanese. Far Eastern Asians. In fact. Huey Long. revealed to his close friend Bozeman after participating in his first ever school debate that he had learned a very important lesson: “the most effective way to speak is not to orate but to “level down” and talk naturally” (Williams. many inexperienced speakers start at the opposite end of the spectrum. 1987). This no doubt fuels the universal agreement that effective presentations in Anglophone cultures should have a beginning. Kalish (1997) stresses the need to write for the ear and make speeches conversational. 2003).

Preparation and the Use of Notes. Likewise with rehearsal. Rehearsal and Managing the Facilities and Scheduling. The essence of much of the advice concerning notes and preparation is aimed at achieving the natural delivery that was discussed earlier (Cosnett et al. there can be little doubt that in Western cultures such practice is advantageous. urge presenters to eliminate all unnecessary design details and text from charts and this clearly sits well with the Japanese design principle Kanso that calls for simplicity and the elimination of clutter. Malouf 1988. active gestures. symbolism. However. namely. Hendricks et all. When it comes to making a visual impression there are many who advocate the importance of dress (Matson. Gesteland (2005) strongly advocates extensive use of visual aids when giving presentations in many Asian cultures although it is not clear whether this is because it is the cultural norm or simply that when presenting across cultures and languages. 1997 and Jay. it seems that only the more proficient Western speakers have aptitude in this area and it certainly requires much determined practice to command this skill.Ian MacDonald November 2010 degree of discomfort amongst many Western public speakers when they are not filling the air and their audience‟s ears with their words. 1990 and Gaulke. From experience. Given the sheer volume of research (Brody and Kent. Asians may well be masters in this particular art. 1993. 1996). 1985) and deliberate on-stage movement. confident and professional to create a positive impression 6|P a g e . anecdotes and stories into their public speeches. infectious enthusiasm (Holtz. analogy. In fact. metaphor. one senses that Asians will have much less difficulty with the idea of incorporating imagery. The final element of the PSP concerns the Staging of a presentation. 1996) confirming the positive impact that Visual Aids have on audience‟ retention. and Macnamara. as our earlier example of the fried rice and star fruit indicates. to reserved Far Eastern Asians such advice may well contradict cultural norms. 1996. Holcombe and Stein (1996). This breaks down in to three sub-elements. definite eye contact (Gaulke. graphs. 1997). diagrams and other visuals are helpful for supporting the message. the onus is placed firmly on being fluid. On the other hand. 1996).

Morrison and Conaway (2004) make the point that in most Asian societies.. the desu/masu (broadly formal/informal) style of addressing people indicates how much personal space one should provide those who are being engaged thereby suggesting that one also needs to consider the more universal issue of intimacy. addressing individuals in the crowd: “You over there. Willie proceeds to tell his audience a story. and the implications for personal space. room size and seating arrangements. air conditioning and ventilation (Macnamara.Ian MacDonald November 2010 (Macnamara. the principal character in the film. Minninger & Goulter. Without doubt. In fact. look at your pants. Have they got holes in the knees?” After few more questions. virtually word for word. should play any role in this paper. In doing so Willie adopts a more conversational and less formal approach. about how he is just like the members of his audience: 7|P a g e . Personal space is treated at length by Edward T. 1996). In particular I wished to show what it means to connect with and engage an audience or. Willie throws away his prepared “let me tell you what this state needs” notes. 1996). according to Yamauchi (2005). Hall (1966) who coined the term proxemics to refer to how people from different cultures hold different preferences about space. Meanwhile. a story about Willie himself. In Japan. 1996). regardless of the available space. “All the King‟s Men”. 1996. there is advice about ideal room size (Jay. should anyone else enter they will almost certainly stand right next to you. how to “level down” and be natural. lighting and timing (Hendricks et al.. perhaps due to over-crowding. people gravitate towards other people. For many years I had searched for a way to demonstrate some of the principles of effective presentation and public speaking to my students. in respect of Facilities and Scheduling. When speaking in the scene at the County Fair (the relevant part of the script is reproduced in the Appendices and can also be found. in the Robert Penn Warren novel (1946: 127-132)). Finally. 1991). if one is standing in an otherwise empty lift in the Philippines. 1993). and instead levels with his audience and tells them what he really believes. can vary according to specific cultures. seating arrangements (Holcombe and Stein. as Huey Long remarked to his friend Bozeman. It is pertinent at this point to explain why Willie Stark.

for we sense that the listeners know that „all politicians are in it for themselves‟ but that Willie might be different. Willie is not finished and he reveals that he too has been the victim of corrupt politicians and public officials. Like his audience. if he were a student of mine I would be filled with pride. Here.. This message appears to further enhance Willie‟s credentials with the audience. the very people standing in front of him. After informing his audience about his attempts to better himself.Ian MacDonald November 2010 (how he) “knew what it was to get up before dawn and get feed and slop and milk before breakfast. He further reveals that they have tried to use him to split the hick vote. and then set out before sunup and walk six miles to a one-room. William 8|P a g e .. won the National Book Award in History and Biography as well as The Pulitzer Prize in Biography. Willie concludes stirringly: “But this time I'm going to fool somebody. Harry Williams. Willie says he has been fooled a thousand times. I'm on my own and I'm out for blood. because it came to him: “with the powerful force of God's own lightning” that he could not do anything without the support of the people. the real Willie Stark. Willie invokes God in the form of a metaphor. Willie admits that: “He didn't start off thinking about the hicks and all the wonderful things he was going to do for them” but that. whose biography of Huey Long. Quite frankly. rather than reveal in detail everything he manages to achieve with his speech it is timely to give the floor over to T. I'm going to stay in this race. “he started off thinking about number one”. Part of this belief is driven by Willies impassioned pleas and dramatic delivery and he grabs hold of the audience when he reminds them about how he fought the “politics rotten brick” that left a batch of young school children dead and mangled. However. as one might expect in the context.” Willie Stark ticks so many of the important boxes of the PSP model but above anything else he managed to fully engage his listeners. slab-sided schoolhouse.” It should be borne in mind that Willie Stark is a politician and the initial reaction of his audience is one of skepticism that gradually turns to interest as the members of the crowd realize that this is not a normal political message or delivery.

and more accurately. there are real differences between Anglophone and Confucian Heritage Cultures and a number of them specifically impact on the way that a member of that culture might present or speak in public. going from silk to cotton to cotton socks with holes in them and ultimately removing his shoe to show a large hole with his big toe sticking out. values. There is then the issue of Willie‟s passion which might seem a little alien to Asians who are typically more reserved and. Huey Long. “a completely different man”. Willie was also capable of using dramatic devices to lure his audience.Ian MacDonald November 2010 (1969) writes off Long as a speaker who “never rambled” but “followed a logical plan of organisation” that was clearly a result of preparation. This is not to say that Asians cannot experience anger. Geert Hofstede (1997) said that culture is. there are elements of Willie‟s approach to public speaking that might be performed 9|P a g e . As we have seen from this short paper. if not all. in one famous example setting up series of questions with destitute farmers about socks. ignorant as you”. his anger. For example. norms. Bystanders claimed they had never believed it possible that people could be so spellbound by a man. and social practices that exactly mirror those that produced Willie. There is also doubt about whether in the collective societies of Asia a politician would ever address an individual and ask such questions. It would surely cause an unacceptable loss of face for most. “this man was theirs”. “He would begin by telling jokes and stories” before advancing different themes until he found those that connected with his audience. As Williams states. “appearing suave and sophisticated” before an urban or university group but before a rural crowd. of course. whether the argument is truly convincing or not. Quite simply it would require the supremely unlikely amalgamation of a set of beliefs. Long tailored his speeches to his audiences. At the same time. For this reason there can never be an Asian‟ Willie Stark. a Japanese politician might ask his audience whether they feel a draft on their knees but would certainly never highlight the holes in the knees of his listeners‟ pants. which would be totally at odds with the Far Eastern Asian pursuit of harmony. “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group of people from another”. Asians to be asked directly if their children were “growing up ignorant as dirt. merely that it would highly unusual to express it in the way Willie did.

By the same token.and in this paper we could have explored the subject further through numerous culture comparison theories . The mirror reaction in the audience might also be less openly rapturous but no less supportive of the speakers program and aims. the public humiliation of (Tiny) Duffy might be conducted in a softer by an Asian speaker but be equally damning in the minds of the Asian audience. 10 | P a g e . For example. It is these opportunities that I hope will serve as a basis for my ongoing studies.there still remain significant research opportunities that can aid us in understanding how cultural differences show up in approaches to presentation and public-speaking.Ian MacDonald November 2010 more effectively by a skilled Asian speaker. it is perfectly possible to envisage an Asian politician speaking out regarding corruption but in a much more coded and dignified manner. The search for the Asian Willie Stark does not stop here. in fact this may be considered the beginning of that search. Although much has been written about cultural differences between East and West .

S (1996) 101 Ways to Captivate a Business Audience NY: AMACOM Hall. Purvis A C Newbury Park. G (1997) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind – Intercultural Cooperation and It’s Importance for Survival New York: McGraw Hill Holcombe. K (1996) Secrets of Power Presentations Franklin Lakes. Anchor Hendricks W. A (1993) Effective Presentation London: Pitman Kalish. ed. MA: Addison-Wesley. NJ: Career Press Hinds (1987) Reader versus Writer Responsibility: A New Typology in Writing Across Languages: Analysis of L2 Written Text. T (1997) Wake’em up! How to use Humor and other Professional Techniques to Create Alarmingly Good Business Presentations Landover Hills. 109-137 11 | P a g e . ed. Donnet. Cahill. 1987. D (2003) The Myth of the „Turn‟ in Contrastive Rhetoric in Written Communication 20 2003. S (1990) A survival guide to public speaking in Training & Development Journal September 01. M. Y (1988) Writers in Hindi and English in Writing Across Languages and Cultures: Issues in Contrastive Rhetoric. N. NY. 170-194 Connor. G. Beverly Hills CA: Sage Publications Hofstede. 1990 Gaulke. J (1985) Speaking for Profit: For Executives. Anchor Hall. M W & Stein. Ulla Connor and Robert B. M and Kent. E T (1966) The Hidden Dimension Garden City. G (1980) Cultures Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Value. Authors and Trainers NY: John Wiley and Sons Jay. 141-152 Hofstede. Consultants. NY. M (1993) Power Presentations: How to connect with your audience and sell your ideas. J K (1996) Presentations for Decision Makers NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Holtz. E T (1977) Beyond Culture Garden City. Reading. J B & Whiteford. MD: Anchor Brett.Ian MacDonald November 2010 BIBLIOGRAPHY Antion. Mobley R & Steinbrecher. CA: Sage 1988. NY: John Wiley. J M (2007) Negotiating Globally (2nd Edition) San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons Brody. U (1996) Contrastive Rhetoric: Cross Cultural Aspects of Second Language Writing Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Cosnett. Kaplan. Holliday. Anderson. K (1997) How to Give a Terrific Presentation NY: AMACOM Kachru.

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