The first time I was asked to provide a public speaking workshop in Dubai, I took a long pause. It is one thing to incorporate basic principles of public speaking into an executive training course, but how can this workshop address the specific challenges pertaining to local culture in this part of the world?
To answer this question, I started by listing challenges that I believed face western public speakers when addressing the public in the UAE, and the whole GCC region. Coming from a cultural training and media training background, the first challenge I could pinpoint was audience dynamics, specifically:
- Addressing a largely multilingual
- Addressing a largely multicultural
- Addressing a loosely disciplined
- Addressing a differently-cultured
Please bear in mind that I am not in any way being condescending to local audience. People in this region are not bad listeners, they are just a different type of listeners, and adapting to their dynamics is the job of the speaker, no one else.
In this context, I am reminded of a discussion I had with a super successful educator working in a leading education institute in the UAE. She was expressing frustration over lack of utilization of a state-of-the-art self-learning center that the institution has just installed in Abu Dhabi, that failed to attract learners. I asked: How fitting is this center to the local learning traditions? She answered that it was cutting-edge with huge success records in the US. Yes, but what about here?
The same applies to public speaking: Great motivators may fail to attract the attention of local audiences, simply because they alienate the audience by applying the same western techniques.
Knowledge in local culture, and awareness of audience dynamics, are key to success for public speakers in Dubai and the region.