Last week I was hosting a pre-departure session for the delegates who are joining us next month on our Australian HealthTech Mission to Hong Kong. The topic was about investment, and how to pitch to Chinese investors and, as inevitably happens, we spent time talking about cultural differences. I have written books on this topic, including Three Cups of Tea which I wrote over a rainy weekend in Guangzhou and covers a lot of this ground.

Here are some important do’s and don’ts for Australians seeking to pitch their ideas in Asia:

Use of Humour – Aussies often start any pitch, meeting or presentation with a joke or quip. It’s part of the local culture and gets everyone relaxed. This approach doesn’t work so well in Asia where people are generally more formal, professional and, in most cases, won’t get the Aussie style humour! An awkward silence ensues and everyone looks down at their phones!

Self-Deprecation – because of the local ‘tall poppy syndrome’, many Aussies prefer to talk themselves down a bit at the start, saying things like “I’m not really an expert on this” or “I didn’t get much time to prepare for this” which is seen as modesty, being humble and cleverly sets the scene to exceed everyone’s expectations. This is not the way to present yourself in the highly competitive, aspirational and ambitious markets of Asia where they expect you to be world class.

Pointy Elbows – whether you’re catching a bus, train or shopping in the wet markets, you’re going to find yourself being pushed, jostled and possibly elbowed out of the way by elderly locals who are quite used to having to push hard to get ahead. It’s the same when following up business opportunities. You can’t sit back and wait. If you want to make it happen in Asia, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows!

But my favourite observation of Australians (which is quite different to most other westerners) is that they show their respect, affection and fondness for their friends, colleagues and even bosses by making fun of them in public. The more they like them, the more they humiliate and poke fun at them in front of their peers. I don’t need to tell you that this approach, whilst endearing to many, isn’t going to work very well with your colleagues, friends and partners in Asia!

David Thomas - Blog - Asia Summit on Global Health