In any case, I missed Adrian Underhill's plenary session. However, judging by the reaction on Twitter and the audience size, summaries of his talk are probably fairly easy to track down.
So after relaxing I hit the conference in full force, attending each session. I will not be able to deal with all of the talks I attended today, but I hope to get to them all soon.
1. Global Business Etiquette 101 by Nikolina Korecic
Ms. Korecic, a business English trainer in Croatia, advocated cultural training as part of the BE classroom and suggested several methods to do so. Perhaps her most effective method was a discussion activity in which the participants give their culture a color and then explain why. It was clear during the practical activity that this would certainly generate cultural self-reflection and aid communication. Other metaphors for culture included fruit, football teams, and the standard iceberg, tree, and onion. She also references the importance of cultural awareness in the context of ELF, continuing the discussion from Monday's BESIG PCE.
I think she is correct that BE involves cross-cultural communication at some level. The questions remain open, however:
- How much does culture affect our clients ability to communicate? When have we reached the right balance of cultural awareness?
- How can we train our participants to recognize when culture is interfering with communication or goal achievement? Then how can they acknowledge it, repair it, and continue?
- If ELF is emerging as a common communication medium, is there a standard global business etiquette that is also emerging? I would argue that there is. Yes, it may be an adapation of Anglo-Saxon or Western communication methods and behaviors, but it is being standardized. Participants are putting on this international culture just as they put on different clothes. For example, I have trained leaners on working with the Middle East, and they come back and say it was wasted because everything was just like Europe.
- How do we handle cultural issues where they are really causing hovac, in virtual teams? The classic business etiquette training such as hand guestures, eye contact, behavior, etc. doesn't apply here. But communication styles and cultural expectations are destroying web meetings, emails, presentations and the like.
2. Training Virtual Communication Skills by Jackie Black and Jon Dyson (York Associates)
Ms. Black and Mr. Dyson gave a great introduction to web meetings, the technology businesses are using, and exercises to practice these skills in companies. However, judging by the audience response, this area of BE is still quite new. This is something we need to get on board with quickly. In fact, in many cases we can take those old business travel sections out of our syllabi and replace them with web meetings, online collaboration, and messaging. Companies are cutting travel budgets and using web meetings to replace them. As communication experts we need to understand how our clients are talking to each other and master that format.
The presenters from York Associates are clearly ahead of the game (as I would expect from their company) and are basically using standard teaching activities such as role-plays, decision-making execizes, etc. and adapting them to the web meeting context. For me, as a trainer who uses web meetings quite often, I found their idea of assigning roles to keep the participants engaged to be quite useful. These roles include note-taker, time-keeper, challenger, etc. Another great idea was the one slide business card of the participant, which they can prepare as they like at home and then present in the web meeting.
They also identified a series of language focus areas for learners to perform well in this context, such as numbers, checking and clarifying, and turntaking. I would say the only thing they missed was words to talk about technology and software such as margin, spreadsheet, column, font, header, etc. But overall a great presentation and BE trainers should sit up and assess their online collaboration competence.
So, those were the first two from today, and I hope to get to the rest in due course.