How Multi-Cultural Design Thinking Leads to Better Events

Author: Jasmine Zhu       

Mathias Posch

What defines culture? And how does culture impact meetings? These were a few of the topics discussed during the “Multi-Cultural Design Thinking: Custom Touches for Remarkable Events” session at Convening Leaders 2018.

According to Mathias Posch, president of International Conference Services, culture is influenced by two major factors: where you grew up, and your personal background and identity. 

Posch used a model developed by British linguist Richard Lewis as a reference, which determines communication and working styles  based on regions. The Lewis Model is broken into three types: linear-active, reactive, and multi-active.

Linear-active groups are comprised of the English-speaking world (North America, Northern Europe, Australia and New Zealand) and are characterized by the trait of separating their social life from their professional life, and the tendency to plan ahead step by step.

Reactive groups are comprised of major countries in Asia — excluding the Indian sub-continent — and commonly connect their social lives to their professional lives. They are also more apt to listen than to talk (i.e., reacting over acting).

Multi-active groups are more diverse geographically, found in Mediterranean countries, South America, India, and many countries in the Middle East. Traits of multi-active groups include mixing their social lives and professional lives, and planning for the big picture.

However, Posch cautioned, there’s more to culture than where one was raised.

“It’s not just where we come from — there’s a whole variety of things that define us. Is a millennial in Japan the same as a millennial in Austria?” Posch asked. “There’s a big difference; we cannot generalize. People have different facets that define them.”

Factors like sexual orientation and ableness also make up one’s personal background and identity. Posch also stressed the concept of the “cultural iceberg”  — there’s only so much one can glean from the surface when meeting someone. Being conscious of those differences, but also planning for inclusion is important for meetings.

Talking and Eating

Language can be a barrier for many people at conferences. While figuring out a style of communication for everyone is a challenge, Posch had one suggestion — slow it down.  “It doesn’t mean we need to make conferences multilingual, but keep in mind how fast your speakers talk.” (For more on public speaking, read “3 Simple Ways to Be a Better Speaker.”)

Another aspect to keep in mind? F&B. “People define themselves around food and beverage,” Posch said. “It’s a major part of who they are and how they interact.”

And while integration can be a challenge, Posch said that accommodating attendee differences is key. “Multi-cultural design thinking is not about getting more people in a room, but for a greater societal change. That’s world peace, right where we are. In our industry.”