I am happy to see how my articles on doing business with Germans are getting quite some attention, and how people perceive the information I share as helpful. If you have missed the one on how to handle face to face conversations with Germans when there is not even a proper German word for “small talk”, no worries – here’s the link to the post: “…cut the small talk”
When you meet people (only) virtually, the challenges can be of a different nature, and one could write an entire book on that topic alone. In fact, Munich-based Trainer Gudrun Höhne, an expert in the fields of global communication and virtual teams, has recently published such a guidebook: Volldampf voraus in virtuellen Teams! Wie grenzenlose Zusammenarbeit in virtuellen Teams gelingt (bookboon).
Gudrun had allowed me a sneak preview of her manuscript, and was very helpful with answering my questions on the topic. Here are some basic principles that she advises you should follow:
Her first (standard) piece of advice concerns the technical part of the communication via Skype, WebEx, and comparable solutions. If you have received a meeting link from your (German) business partner, better check the link beforehand and make sure that your firewall settings do not generate any technical problems. While such technical pitfalls can always happen, I would assume that Germans are generally less tolerant of those not having taken standard precautions. If, however, you send the meeting link, make sure that an agenda is attached to your invitation, and inform the recipients of how they can check the technical settings. If the scheduled timeslot allows for some buffer, you may mention in the agenda that, according to your planning, the presentation should (as an example) take half an hour, and that another 15 minutes are allocated for Q&A.
Check the position of your webcam before going online, and make sure that you have a professional, neutral background. I remember the embarrassment I felt during a Skype job interview some years ago, and how I tried to discreetly move my laptop so that the other person wouldn’t see bits of the ironing board stored behind a closet at my back. Höhne advises that you should dress professionally, as for a normal business meeting or presentation, and avoid wearing shirts with small patterns because this consumes too much Internet bandwidth.
You should take care that you are in a quiet environment, and that there are no disturbances; close the windows and doors, mute your phone, and redirect incoming calls to voicemail. According to her recommendations, you should also double-check that you have a stable Internet connection. Join the meeting at least five minutes before the official start to ensure everything is set up correctly.
Try to be on time
“Germans expect you to be in the meeting on time,” Höhne points out. “Start with small talk but keep it a bit shorter than usual because Germans like to focus on the subject at hand.” She also suggests that you talk slowly and clearly, avoid slang, and unless you can converse in German, keep in mind that you are not talking to native speakers.
When sharing your screen, and before you proceed with your demonstration, you should ask your audience whether they can see whatever you want them to see (only that and not more); allow for a time delay. It is recommendable to summarize and visualize important points (you can use the service’s whiteboard feature, for example), and ask for comments and feedback to check your audiences’ understanding. With larger groups, it is best to have a co-moderator and also use the chat for communication in the meeting.
Let me close by sharing a story one of my German friends related to me when we were discussing international calls: where he works, there is a regular (like weekly or monthly) online meeting with colleagues and representatives working abroad. Obviously, he explained, the meetings are always held in English. “One day, but only after 10–15 minutes, we realized that actually, only native Germans were present in the call. We could easily have held the meeting in German.” However, my friend continued, “the managing director, who was in his flow and couldn’t easily adapt to new circumstances, stuck to his procedure and continued in his (improvable) English, going through the meeting points exactly as they were listed on his paper.” Don’t tell me I haven’t warned you enough …
How may I help you?
You want to develop your business in Germany? Then you may also face some very common pitfalls; the good news is that they can be quite easily avoided! You should hire me if you want to gain a better understanding of your opportunities, and you value a local’s help in finding buyers and potential business partners. Learn more about some past projects and what I can do for you: You’ll make it in Germany!
You are (only) interested in learning more about Germany?
Read more about what Germans understand by “small talk” and what (other) pitfalls you are likely to stumble upon when trying to do business with Germans…
Above are (slightly amended) snippets from my new book. If you want to learn more about Germany and how Germans like to do business, then try to grab a copy of Doing Business in Germany : A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices – or download the e-book. Either ask your bookseller to order a copy for you (might take a few days, though), or look out for it on amazon.