Sometimes your mistakes are funny. Hermine Hilton, the well known memory expert, tells of a speaking engagement in Nigeria where she tried to pronounce the names of members of the audience and innocently added sexual innuendo. She said everyone was falling on the floor with laughter. Most foreign audiences do appreciate your effort to speak their language.
Here’s a few more international public speaking tips I’ve run across:
1. You might think you are putting your audience to sleep in Japan, but don’t worry. In Japan it is common to show concentration and attentiveness in public by closing the eyes and nodding the head up and down slightly. — Then again, maybe you really are boring.
2. Applause is accepted as a form of approval in most areas of the world. In the United States the applause is sometimes accompanied by whistling. If you hear whistles in many parts of Europe, you better run because it is a signal of disapproval.
3. If you were finishing a speaking engagement in Argentina and you waved goodbye, U.S. style, the members of the audience might all turn around and come back to sit down. To them the wave means, ‘Hey! Come back.’ In other parts of Latin American and in Europe the same wave means ‘no.’
The book I previously mentioned has hundreds of tips that will help keep the audience on your side when you present outside the U. S. Another good and inexpensive source of international background information is the ‘Culturgram’ published by the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, which is part of Brigham Young University, located in Provo, Utah.
Each ‘Culturgram’ is a four page newsletter that gives you an easy to understand overview of the country of your choice. It includes customs and common courtesies, along with information about the people and their lifestyle. References point you toward additional study resources. Currently ‘Culturgrams’ are available for 118 countries.
Regardless of one’s nationality and culture, cartoons and comic strips are the most universally accepted format for humor. A good resource is Witty World International Cartoon Magazine by Creators Syndicate 310-337-7003. If you are speaking to a small group you can hold up the magazine or pass it around. If you want to use the cartoon or comic strip in a visual, you may need permission from the copyright holder. Always read the caption for a foreign audience and give them time to mentally translate what you say. It may take what seems to be forever (4-6 seconds) for the idea to sink in.
Cartoons and comic strips are seen in newspapers and magazines in most areas of the world. Newsstands in large cities usually have foreign periodicals, or you may find them in large libraries. It might be fun to collect cartoons and comic strips when you travel so you have a ready supply when you need one for a speech.
Be careful about your selection of cartoons. Many American cartoons would totally bomb if used outside the U.S. Much of our humor is based on making fun of someone else. This type of humor is not understood in most areas of the world and is considered disrespectful.
Other forms of visual humor that transcend most cultural barriers are juggling and magic. I don’t do either, but good resources are available. Speaking With Magic is a book by Michael Jeffreys that not only teaches you simple tricks, but gives you the points you can relate to the trick. I got my copy from Royal Publishing, Box 1120, Glendora, CA 91740 Phone (626) 335-8069. For juggling and other magic books call or write for Morris Costume’s Catalog, 3108 Monroe Road, Charlotte, NC 28205 Phone (704) 332-3304. There is a charge for the catalog, but it’s worth it.
Terminology is different in most areas of the world even if the country is English based. Highly tested humor that would work anywhere in the U.S. may fall flat in another country simply because the audience doesn’t understand one of the words. For example, in Australia, public speaking break out sessions are called syndicates. If you were making a joke that used the word syndicate, you may totally confuse the audience and they won’t laugh. People from most other countries will not relate easily if you mention miles per gallon or miles per hour. You should avoid speaking about seasons, sports figures or celebrities that don’t have world-wide name recognition. Rethink all humor you normally use and try to find problematic words. This is difficult to do by yourself. Try to find a person familiar with the local culture to help you.
When using translators, humor is tougher because timing and word play don’t translate well. You might have to slow down considerably because of interpretation. Some speakers use half sentences to keep up the pace. This is very difficult and requires practice.
Speakers have been known to have fun with interpreters (of course, I would never do this). An unnamed speaker I know purposely mumbled to his interpreter to see what would happen. The interpreter mumbled back. Then the speaker mumbled again. It was hilarious.
Even when the audience speaks English they may not be able to understand your accent. Check with locals to see if you can be easily understood. You may have to adjust your normal delivery and rate of pitch slightly.
Art Gliner, a long- time humor trainer, gave me this tip: He learns how to say Happy New Year in the different languages represented in his audience. That technique always gets a laugh and the further away it is from New Years, the better. He also tells me a word of welcome in the native language works well too.
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Tom Antion provides entertaining speeches and educational seminars. He is the ultimate entrepreneur, having owned many businesses BEFORE graduating college. Tom is the author of the best selling presentation skills book “Wake ’em Up Business Presentations” and “Click: The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Marketing.” It is important to Tom that his knowledge be not only absorbed, but enjoyed. This is why he delivers his speeches laced with great humor and hysterical jokes. Tom has addressed more than 87 different industries and is thoroughly committed to his clients’ needs. http://www.antion.com
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