I've just returned from two trips to Africa where I spoke and ran workshops at the Women in Management and Business (WimBIZ) conference (Lagos, Nigeria) and the Kenyan Association of Women Business Owners (KAWBO) conference (Nairobi, Kenya). They were both amazing experiences and I thought it would be interesting to make some comparisons between African and U.S. presentation style, format and approach.
The style in Nigeria was definitely more formal than we're used to here. The wife of the Governor of Lagos State attended the entire conference and each presenter started her comments with, "Her Excellency, First Lady of Lagos State, distinguished ladies and gentlemen..." When speakers referenced someone in their remarks, they always used the title Mr. or Mrs., never a first name. This was a challenge in my own presentation; when I wanted to refer to another speaker, I had to be sure I could correctly pronounce the unfamiliar, Nigerian name.
Kenya was more similar to here, with first names being used freely.
Also worth noting in both countries was the politeness of attendees. They paid serious attention to the speakers, didn't leave the room and clapped enthusiastically. Conference delegates in Nigeria were really put to the test as there was a power outage which delayed the start of the conference by over an hour. Unlike one might imagine, attendees sat patiently, without complaint, using the time for additional networking.
The majority of the presentations at both conferences were in the form of moderated panels. Each panelist gave a short presentation, commented on the other panelists' remarks and answered questions from the audience. I found this to be a richer format for attendees as it gave them a number of perspectives on a given topic and encouraged greater dialogue among panelists and between panelists and audience. And it minimized the pain of a bad presenter!
Handouts were, refreshingly, non-existent at both conferences. All speaker notes/presentations were going to be put up on the websites of the sponsoring organizations, for download by interested attendees.
I am sorry to say that PowerPoint is just as ubiquitous and badly done in Africa as it is in the US. Bad PowerPoint slides have clearly become viral. One of the presenters at the Kenya KAWBO conference, Dr. Julius Kipng'etich, Director of Kenya Wildlife Service, gave me a great definition of PowerPoint I hadn't heard: "PowerPoint is too many points without power."
Keeping to a time limit presented as much of a challenge in Africa as it does here. In Nigeria, speakers who went past their alloted time were silenced by a moderator who took enforcement seriously. In Kenya, speakers went over time frequently, to the delight of the audience who were getting such value, but to the chagrin of the organizers who were forced to then constantly juggle time lines.
The presenters at both conferences were generally better prepared than what I experience at presentations here in the US. It was obvious that many of the speakers had rehearsed their remarks and most spoke conversationally without heavy reliance on notes. Almost universally, they included stories and anecdotes, many from personal experiences, to underscore their message.
The true measure of any speaker's or conference's success is the satisfaction of the attendees. KAWBO and WimBIZ did an awesome job of putting on as professional and relevant a conference as any we would attend here in the US. Based on the conversations I had with attendees and their reactions throughout the conferences, both organizations passed the success test with high marks.