Will Your Speech’s Humor Translate?

Getting international audiences to laugh can be hard to do
Getting international audiences to laugh can be hard to do
Image Credit: ZeNahla

Humor is one tricky beast. What seems funny to you and may even seem funny to your audience just might go over like a lead balloon if you tried to present it to in a different language or to an audience that comes from a different culture. That does not mean that we can’t try to work humor into the speeches that we give to people from other cultures. It just means that because of the importance of public speaking we need to spend some time figuring out what the best way to go about doing this is.

The Challenges Of Trying To Translate Humor

When we are speaking to an audience from a different culture, what we want to do is to try to avoid offending them. What this means is that our humor has to be appropriate for them. We need to understand that cultural context can play a big role in what our audience finds funny – and what they don’t.

Before we give a speech to any audience, we have to make some decisions about what style of humor we want to use. A good example of how hard this can be to do has to do with humor that is self-deprecation. In the West, making yourself the butt of a joke is appreciated. However, in the East this will more likely get you quiet empathy and your audience will feel discomfort with the situation that you found yourself in. Just to make things more difficult – physical humor plays well in some cultures and not in others.

In order to prevent yourself from making a humor related mistake with your international audience, make sure that you take the time to try your material out ahead of time. When you do this, make sure that you gather a variety of people to hear your presentation. You are going to want to practice in front of people that you trust. You need to get their honest responses. You will want to make an effort to make sure that the group that you are addressing is as diverse as you can get them to be.

Being Funny For An International Audience

One approach to including humor in a speech that you will be giving to an international audience is to use things that are common to all people. If you can include topics that all people find funny, then your job will become much easier. Your goal when you do this is to find a way to strike a universal chord with your audience.

We need to be aware that there are things that we probable need to stay away from when we are looking for humorous material that we want to include in our speech. Comments that ridicule people or any mention of alcohol can be seen as offensive in some cultures. Just to make things a bit more challenging, we also have to be careful when it comes to body language. Gestures that are accepted in one culture (like an “Ok” symbol) may be offensive in another culture.

We need to understand that if we have created a piece of humor in English, it may not translate well to other languages. There may be multiple different ways to say the same thing in different languages; however, each way of saying it may come with a different meaning. If we are translating an English speech into a different language we need to tread carefully and make sure that we don’t accidently end up offending our audience because of a bad translation.

What All Of This Means For You

Adding humor to any speech is a difficult thing to do. However, when you decide that you want share the benefits of public speaking by addressing an international audience, things can become even trickier. What is funny in one culture may not be funny in another culture. As speakers, we need to take our time and make sure that our speech will play well for any audience that we address.

As speakers we need to understand that cultural context can play a big role in how our audience interprets our speech. We have to make decisions about what kind of humor that we want to use and we need to realize that some types of humor, such as self-depreciation humor, may not go over well in some cultures. We should always take the time to try out our humor on a test group before making a presentation. If you can identify things that are common to all people, then they may be good subjects for your humor. We need to be careful and stay away from certain topics. If we originally created our humor in English, then we need to be very careful in how it gets translated into other languages.

The good news about sharing a humorous speech with an international audience is that it can be done. However, this is not something that is easy to do. As speakers we need to understand that creating a funny speech for an international audience can be a challenge and we need to make sure that we allocate the time that will be required to do this successfully. If we take the right steps, then we can successfully make our international audience laugh with us during our speech.

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

Question For You: What kind of feedback should you ask your test audience to provide you with?

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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 worst thing that can happen to you as a speaker? Having the audience get up and leave during your speech would certainly be a bad thing, but since there is very little chance of that actually happening perhaps we should focus on things that are more likely to happen to you. Like completely forgetting your speech as you stand there on the stage. That can happen to anyone at any time. If it happens to you, what should you do?