World View: Focus on Italy

Italians generally like social interaction and respond better to training when their active participation and input are required.

By Lyrae Myxter, Director, Executive Services, Aperian Global

Once an agricultural society, Italy has developed into one of the world’s leading industrial economies since World War II. It ranks eighth in nominal GDP, is a member of the G8, and a founding member of the European Union.

Italy is historically not one country, but many small nations descended from former city-states that often were at war with each other until unification in 1861. The rich and complex history of the peninsula has, perhaps more than that of any other country, influenced the course of European development.

Education is highly valued in Italy. Training, therefore, is viewed as rewarding and desirable. Italians who are interested in career advancement are particularly motivated to get as much training as possible.

Training in Italy

Training styles follow more or less the trends that have been set in the rest of the Western world. A combined approach to learning is used in Italy. A training session may begin with a lecture accompanied by visuals on PowerPoint, followed by group discussion. Depending on the number of participants and the nature of the material covered, breaking up into smaller groups for discussions and role plays are also effective options.

Italians generally like social interaction and respond better to training when their active participation and input are required. Role plays and on-the-job training encourage participants to assimilate the new information they have acquired by immediately putting it to use.

Expansiveness and Eloquence

Southern Italians tend to be expressive, in actions, as well as words. They may use their hands and arms to gesture while speaking. They may stand closer to each other while conversing than most Northern Europeans or North Americans are accustomed to, and they may touch often, even if it’s simply a pat on the arm. Italians also can be emotional communicators and may seem excitable to those from cultures with a more reserved communication style.

Along with physical expressiveness, Italians appreciate eloquence and language. They enjoy people who can charm others and who express themselves well. To get along with Italians, it helps to exhibit wit and to be able to hold your own in a conversation. They sometimes appear to enjoy arguing for the sport of it.

Formality with New Acquaintances

There is an emphasis, at least during the early stages of a business relationship, on formality and protocol. Titles are used when addressing someone. Respect is accorded to new acquaintances and to senior individuals, and language tends to be more deferential.

However, once a relationship develops and a sense of trust and cordiality exists, then the surface formality becomes somewhat less important. Individuals begin relating to each other on a more informal level.

Tips for Effective Presentations

  • Italians usually prefer presentations that are factual, detailed, orderly, concise, and logical, with well-designed visual aids.
  • Style is important: A well-polished presentation and good personal appearance are essential.
  • If you are making a presentation in a language other than Italian, keep the following rules of thumb in mind:

    1. Avoid long or complex sentences, as well as the use of idioms, slang, and jargon unless you are absolutely sure they will be understood.
    2. Use extensive visual aids.
    3. Supply detailed written material prior to the presentation.
    4. Make sure to consider the time required for interpreting, if necessary.
    5. Regularly summarize key points.
    6. Don’t assume everything will be understood the way you intended; check for understanding.
    7. Allow sufficient “wait time” for questions or responses.
    8. Take a break, as this will allow the audience to confer among themselves before deciding what questions may be appropriate to ask and also to approach you individually, outside the formal presentation setting.

Italians are proud of their culture, heritage, and historic achievements in the arts. They will appreciate when a foreigner is knowledgeable about Italy and values its rich culture and social diversity.

Lyrae Myxter is director, Executive Services for Aperian Global (, and is based in San Francisco, CA. Content from this article was drawn from Aperian Global’s Web tool, GlobeSmart, which contains information on how to conduct business in more than 65 countries.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.