Yesterday I arrived back in Chicago after 2+ weeks in Europe. My trip consisted of both business and leisure activities, and my experiences in each made me think of a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when communicating on the road.

Adjust for them

Don’t expect your audience to grasp what you’re saying by saying it the way you always say it. You must customize your approach to meet their needs, not vice versa. You’re on their turf, so it’s only polite that you change your language, tone, or visuals to suit them. When in Rome.

There will always be surprises

Despite your best efforts to conform, there will always be surprises. It’s part of life. Learn to be malleable and adapt on-the-fly.

I gave a workshop in London and was quite surprised to discover more than half of the audience was non-native English speaking. I knew London was an international city – in fact, the most international city in the world in my opinion – but this still wasn’t something I appropriately considered when going to work in an English-speaking country. While everything went well, the main difference was that a large part of my feedback to the participants revolved around improving speaking tone and clarity in English versus body language or other stylistic improvements. It was a totally different, cool, and welcomed experience for me.

Smiling is universal

When having difficulty communicating with an audience, the best thing you can do is smile. Languages and body gestures differ all over the world, but I’m not aware of a single place where smiling makes you a jerk. It’s the international symbol of being a good person, and in turn making people like you and want to cut you some slack.

My French isn’t quite what it used to be, so I had some interesting experiences in Paris fumbling my way through ordering delicious treats at the bakery or navigating the expansive metro system. And not once did a Parisian stranger live up to their undeserved reputation of being rude or cold. Why? Because I had a huge grin on my face the entire time. I didn’t get frustrated by my communication challenges, but rather acknowledged them and worked through them with a positive outlook. Smiling will always get you further than frowning.