Case Studies: Management skills for international entrepreneurs and executives in Silicon Valley

We work with international clients – executives and entrepreneurs – from a variety of countries. Here are a few, short business communications case studies showing what solutions we find when working on their particular
communication skills.

The Solution

The Solution (Photo credit: Juan Manuel Cruz del Cueto)

Go to our coaching page to find more descriptions.

We approach each business client’s concerns on an individual basis and work with him/her to find a unique solution, which fits and contributes to solving a particular set of problems. Our success is based not on our performance and analyses, but on the achieved results and satisfaction of our clients.

Case Study 1

A French executive frequently had to give presentations to senior executives in his company.

His English grammar and vocabulary were excellent, but because of his heavy French accent, he was often misunderstood. He used gestures that made him look over-excited and distracted listeners from what he was saying.

Furthermore, his presentations had a lot of bullet points – confusing and unclear – instead of a clear graphic or image that people could easily understand. In fact, he relied on his Power Point to do the presentation for him instead of speaking freely and persuasively and engaging his audience.

We videotaped his presentations frequently when we began our coaching sessions.   When he saw and heard himself on screen, he realized he had to contain his movements while he was presenting, and, he also realized that his accent was harder to understand than he thought.

By analyzing and working on the vocabulary, which he used in presentations and in informal speeches, he was able to practice the correct intonation and pronunciation of his most frequently used phrases.

He also worked on leaving his hands at his sides and keeping movements to a minimum. And, he remembered to smile [which is important for a US audience].

We identified the main messages he wanted to focus on and re-wrote his PPT presentations putting in many graphs and images, letting him show his expertise by being able to talk freely about his subject matter.

He was very satisfied with what he learned and how much he was able to change his speech in quite a short time. It gave him more self-confidence and he was able to concentrate more on what he said than worry about how he sounded.

He learned to outline his speeches and presentations before writing them in Power Point and now he not only sounded clearer and more interesting, but it also took him a lot less time to prepare.

He learned to use PPT as a tool and not as a substitute. Now he is able to speak with slides that show tables and images letting him give relevant examples and stories; the result is a good, professional presentation which he enjoys giving and which is well received.

Case Study 2
A German junior executive in a computer graphics company was unaware that he was making his team angry by seeming to be better than they were. They saw him as self-aggrandizing and aggressive.

He was up for a promotion, but no one wanted to work with him. We had to identify what words and what attitudes were annoying people and why.

He studied books (Carnegie, Covey, Weiss, Sutton), which talked about the ways people express themselves here in the US and what kind of vocabulary to use. For instance, instead of saying “You are wrong” he found it more effective to say,  “What I think I heard you say is…. I’m not sure if I agree with this point, can you please explain more?”

We did a lot of role playing, going through hypothetical situations, and practicing using the newly acquired vocabulary he had learned in order to not antagonize his team yet still showcasing his ideas, and getting the results he wanted.

He was promoted after a couple of months, and the coaching actually carried over to his personal and social life, where he was able to apply his new way of speaking very successfully. He felt much better about himself and he was happier with the way he fit into the US business world as well as into his circle of friends.

Case Study 3

A Korean engineer had problems in English being understood and expressing himself about his job in IT.

It took his team too much of an effort to work with him when they had, for example, a bug in the software. His fellow employees [also international professionals from France] therefore tried to skip meeting with him because they felt they lost too much time. Therefore, he was out of the picture very often and missed key pieces of information.

We held intense English grammar and vocabulary sessions several times a week, with a strong emphasis on foreign accent reduction and clear communication skills.

After many months of hard work, he developed more confidence speaking as well as getting better speaking skills and his teammates could understand him better as well. However, when he had to stop the training due to international travel, he was by no means where he could have been with more training and practice.

In fact, when I saw him half a year later, he had slid back to almost where he had been at the beginning.

What he failed to understand – and it is hard to do by yourself – was that he had to continue to practice and keep being aware of how he sounded. This should be an ongoing process over many months and requires professional help.
We were able to pick up where we had been and with dedicated work, he was able to improve his English once more. I think that this experience made it clear to him that he would not be able to slack off if he wanted to rise professionally in the US. He promised me to keep up the work even after our work was finished.

Case Study 4

A Russian entrepreneur was unable to say what his company did – in just one sentence. He needed to include lots of extra information and by the time he got down to details, people had stopped listening.

He couldn’t get to the point in the description of his value proposition; therefore he couldn’t keep investors’ attention.

Basically, this process is like peeling an onion. We started by asking him, “Please tell us what your company does” and when his answers swerved off the main ideas, [and he filled in detail after detail] he had to start all over again.

This is an incredibly frustrating path for many international entrepreneurs because it is a totally different way of thinking. Europeans and other cultures tend to add ideas to create, what is in their mind, “the whole picture”? But that’s not what Americans usually want — which is the “bare bones” message boiled down to its essentials.

At our pitch session and only after a half an hour, and with help from his partners, he was able to explain the purpose of his company in one [long], clear sentence. He was very relieved that he had overcome the block and frustration he was feeling and could get down to just the basics.

Case Study 5

A senior researcher from Pakistan, who worked in a pharmaceutical company, didn’t know how to talk to his supervisor to ask for a promotion.  He felt he was not being valued for his contributions and was ready to leave the company.

He was very hesitant to speak up, didn’t know what words and phrases to use and he was not dressed for an executive role.

We wrote many scenarios in which we acted out him telling his supervisor how he contributed to the team and to difficult projects. We practiced all the words that were important for his job to make sure they had the right intonation and enunciation. In addition, we looked at the clothes that the C level executives were wearing in his company, and he slowly shifted his wardrobe to the way they were dressed and to reflect a more senior position.

He felt so much better about himself due to his improved communication skills and his new look that he was able to get his promotion a few months later and he stayed at his company.

Case Study 6

An Indian marketing executive from a start-up company recently came to us because she gave many webinars and her audience wasn’t responding well.

She spoke too fast, never paused between words and was generally not understandable although she had deep knowledge in her field.

She became much more conscious of her speech patterns once we videotaped her and analyzed how she sounded. We made a list of the words she often used in her webinars and laid them out phonetically for her to practice during work hours – and especially on the phone.
She kept a sign next to the phone that said” slow down” and made sure to pause frequently and enunciate her words more carefully.

After several months, she was able to give webinars and heard that the audience understood her; this boosted her self- confidence and she was actually promoted to the next level, something she was not even looking for at that time.

We are still working together, therefore it is too early to talk about permanent results – however, she sounds better and more understandable when she makes a real effort to talk clearly and to say all the consonants at the beginning, middle and end of the words. We are scheduled to work together for another couple of months, and we’ll reassess her progress then.

Case Study 7

A Portuguese entrepreneur, who was coming to Silicon Valley to get funding for his startup, wanted me to run through his pitch with him.

His pitch was too theoretical and only someone with a deep knowledge about his field was able to understand his value proposition.

We built a story around his idea so that investors would be able relate to it. He already had a few actual use cases and by adding some factors, he was able to tell an interesting story, which highlighted the “secret sauce” he was bringing to his company.

He got quite a few appointments with VCs and Angels while he was here and he is now back in Portugal working on improving his startup with their suggestions. He hopes to come back to Silicon Valley soon for a new round of investor talks and to get his company funded.

Case Study 8

A high level US executive from New York, who was being groomed to be the next CEO in a Japanese company, had a very strong New York accent. Usually, we only work with international executives, but because they needed results fast and I knew the hiring manager, we agreed to work with him.

Due to his heavy accent he was perceived as less educated here in California, even though he was very smart and had an MS degree from Cornell University. To make matters worse, he worked for an Asian company whose executives came to hear his “state of the company” speech twice a year, and they always had to pay special attention when he spoke.

First, we videotaped him so he could see/hear how he sounded. This was the first time he became aware that he sounded drastically different from the people around him.

Next, we identified the major, problematic words and sounds that he had to change in order to sound better. We did his language training by his writing presentations for the company (which he had to give anyway) and then taped him on an iPod and also videotaped him giving them.

The results were mixed. When he put his mind to it, he sounded educated and well spoken; there was barely a trace of his New York accent audible. But, he wasn’t convinced that the change was necessary. Therefore, he didn’t practice enough for effective language changes to take place and for his presentation skills to improve significantly.

I stopped working with him and didn’t see if the company CEO was able to convince him that a language change could benefit him.  Since this training took place many years ago, I don’t know if a company would still insist that he re-learn English with a different US accent, I think times may have changed.



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