Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

Public Speaking

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

The public speaking audience in the United States is becoming more and more diverse. As a public speaker,

it is your

responsibility to be aware of the important sections of the audience and to recognize those

who come from different

backgrounds. If you are speaking in another country, then it is up to you to learn about the

local customs and types

of humor that are appreciated in that area. The answer to humor is very different for

different cultures. Paying close

attention to this fact will give you more opportunities to connect with an international audience in the United States and abroad.

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

If you are not familiar with your target audience, you may ask in pre-program research, ‘How diverse is your group?

‘The answers to these questions will help you plan your strategy to connect

with a specific audience.

I was planning my speech in Baltimore, Maryland, and found out that

25% of the audience was Asian Indian.

I didn’t know much about Indian culture and I didn’t have much time to

plan. What I did know was that the Duncan donut store near my house was

owned and operated by Indians. It was a good excuse to stay under a few

clips and do some research. I told the owner what I was trying to do and

he was happy to help. I used only one line from the information he gave me about humor in

India. That’s all it took to connect. The line was, “I want to tell all my new Indian friends that I’

m sorry, Johnny Lever couldn’t do it.” Johnny Lever was one of India’s top comedians.

They lit up and I went with the program.

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

Don’t worry if your local donut shop doesn’t have the right nationality for your next speaking engagement.

There are other ways to get the information you need. If you’re talking outside of the United States,

get the opinion of locals before you joke. If you’re speaking in the United States,

find the members of the nationality you’re talking to. If you don’t know someone,

you can always call their embassy. I have called my State Department, World Bank,

Voice of America and many other public agencies for information. Just tell the receptionist that

you want to talk to a country of interest. Don’t forget to tell them you want to speak English.

In Hong Kong, you will never point to anyone with your hand outstretched and

your index finger moving back and forth. Why? Read on

When talking to a foreign audience, you should check your humor carefully so

that you do not offend anyone by mistake. In some countries, you may hear people joking

openly on television or in public about articles that would be banned in the United States.

This does not mean that you should joke about the same topics in your presentation.

Can try

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

Even if you have a good sense of humor, you need to be familiar with the other customs

of the country in which you are speaking. Customs are very different around the world.

It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re in a brand new environment. If you do something

wrong by mistake, you will never make the audience laugh. A good resource to entertain

you about customs in other countries is Roger Axtel’s book ‘Hints: The Dos and Taboos

of Body Language Around the World’. This book gives a lot of information about

things to do and what not to do when you are in a foreign country. Here are just

a few serious mistakes that can easily be made during a speaking engagement that

will be annoying:

1. In Colombia, if you want to show the height of an animal, you will hold your arm

under the palm and raise it to the appropriate height. If you are trying to show a

person’s height, you do the same, but your palm is on the edge. So, if you wanted to

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

show a person’s height, but you did it down like we usually do in the US, you would either

insult that person by treating him like an animal or You would confuse your audience

because they will now think you were talking about an animal whose name was a person.

See how crazy it can be.

2. I have another animal problem for you. In Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Australia you

will not point to anyone with your hand outstretched and move your index finger back

and forth (as you can to join someone on stage). This gesture is used to call animals and /

or nocturnal women and will be offensive to your audience.

Public Speaking: International Perspective on Humor

3. People in Latin America and the Middle East stand very close when talking.

If you were chatting with someone from one of these cultures during a public

speaking engagement and you stepped back to have a typical American private space,

you would be sending a very unfriendly message. Asians, however, generally stand far

apart. Your understanding of this will prevent you from following them throughout the stage. Keep that in mind if you go to Ad.

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