International Humor: Is It Even Possible For A Speaker?

by drjim on October 16, 2012

Can you make your humor cross borders successfully?

Can you make your humor cross borders successfully?

Being asked to speak before an international audience can be a big complement – not that many speakers can do this successfully. If you choose to make the most of your audience’s listening skills and work some humor into your speech, well then more power to you. However, you’ve got quite the challenge lying before you: forget presentation tips, how are you going to make sure that what is funny to you is going to be able to cross international borders and arrive funny when it gets to the other side?

What To Do Before You Speak In Order To Be Funny

The key to getting an international audience to laugh during your next speech is to make sure that you do your homework before the speech starts. Due to the importance of public speaking, when you are dealing with an international audience, one of the biggest issues that you are going to have to make sure that you are on top of is taboos. Every country and every culture has their own set of taboos and if you step over the line in your speech, you’ll be offending your audience, not getting them to laugh.

Along the same lines, if you want your audience to laugh, you are going to have to dress appropriately for your audience. The key here is to make sure that you’ve done your research and you understand what the audience is looking for. Make sure that your attire does not take away from your speech.

One additional thing for you to remember is that it is going to be very important that your audience not believe that you are laughing at them. The humor that you use during your speech needs to be both affirmative and nurturing to your audience. You want them to know at all times that you respect them and their culture, don’t let your humor turn them off.

How To Make Your International Audience Laugh

Knowing what not to do when you want to get your international audience to laugh is only half the battle. Now comes the hard part: actually getting them to laugh.

One great way to get any audience to laugh with you, international or not, is to poke fun at yourself. By doing this you avoid any problems that cultural issues may present.

When you are dealing with an international audience, one fact of life that they deal with every day is the issue of relating one culture to another. The process of translating something from one culture to another presents the opportunity for many misunderstandings. Since these are a fact of life that is shared by every member of your audience, it is a great potential source of humor that your audience will enjoy.

One final item is worthwhile to discuss, how you use nonverbal techniques to support your humor. What you probably want to do is to avoid making any gestures with your hands and fingers. Different hand gestures are interpreted differently by people from different cultures. Using you whole body to connect with your audience is fine, just try to not use your hands for fear of offending somebody in your audience.

What All Of This Means For You

Being invited to speak before an international audience is one of the benefits of public speaking and is both a great complement and a big challenge. In order to make your speech memorable, make the effort to work in some humor. But be careful – it has to be able to cross international borders.

When you are creating humor that will work with an international audience, you need to take the time to prepare correctly. Make sure that you are aware of any taboos that could offend your audience. Make sure that you dress in a way that won’t take away from your speech. Ensure that the humor that you use is both nurturing and affirmative – nobody wants to be seen as being mean. Taking the time to laugh at yourself is one of the best ways to get an international audience to laugh along with you.

The world that we live in is getting smaller. You will be speaking to diverse audiences more and more. Take the time now to become skilled at working humor into your speeches in a way that will work with this type of audience. Do it well and you’ll be asked to come back and speak again!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: What should you do if something that you though was going to be funny goes over poorly during your speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

What’s the first thing that runs through your head when you are asked to give a speech? If you are like most of us it’s something along the lines of “what the heck am I going to speak about?” How to go about picking a speech topic that will keep your audience’s attention and make them use their listening skills is the key to delivering a successful speech…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary A. Redmond October 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

Great reminders, Jim. I agree that the use of hands can be dangerous when addressing a group composed of people from another culture. You suggest not using your hands.

That’s a tall order. I would be afraid that if I tried to control my hands, I would feel compelled to hide them behind a podium, shove them in my pockets or keep them clenched behind my back. All body language signals that have negative connotations as well.

In the ongoing US President and Vice-President debates, despite weeks of body language coaching from highly paid communications experts, the candidates make hundreds of mistakes. That is just how we are wired. We can attempt to minimize the body language damages but not eliminate them.

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

Mary: You are correct. There’s the old line that people from (fill in any country) can’t talk if they don’t use their hands. I think that the best thing to do in this case is that while you are practicing your speech, you also practice how you want to use your hands. This way they’ll work with you, not against you!

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