Using humor successfully in presentations and speeches can help you connect with your audience.

By avoiding some potential pitfalls, humor can warm up a crowd and even drive home key points. What happens when you insert a joke or anecdote into your presentation to an international audience? You’ll need to be extra careful, or your attempt at levity may very well backfire and alienate your listeners completely.

When addressing a group of another culture, whether here in the US or while traveling abroad, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and use humor very judiciously. In most cultures, there’s a risk that your humor will not be understood at all. In other cultures, even with the best intentions, your humor may be deemed offensive. From culture to culture, humor rarely works the same way.

For example, Americans love self-effacing humor, but in Japan, you should steer clear. In fact, the Japanese don’t like humor in seminars at all. Conversely, Australians love humor, so if you’re funny, expect big payoffs.

The point is that every culture has its likes and dislikes when it comes to humor. They also have customs that can be very different from our own. Your knowledge in this area will help you create a connection with your international audience. You must do your homework, but it is worth it because a laugh sounds the same and produces the same good feelings in any language.

Other than presenting your material with deadpan inflection and results, what can you, as the speaker, do to induce a smile and a nod from your international audience?

Planning and research can help. One Communispond client was preparing a very important presentation for a national Korean-American business that catered to the youth market.  My client wanted very much to demonstrate that he was on the pulse of Korean pop culture. As he was preparing, I recommended that he find out some information ahead of time first hand. Off he went to his friends and neighbors, a young Korean -American couple who schooled him in Korean pop music, film, and hip fashion, and what Korean parents think of their blue-haired teenagers listening to K-POP.

As a result, my client was able to insert several relevant, humorous references into his presentation, which demonstrated that he was in touch with the culture while inserting some humor at the same time.  The presentation was a great success.

When presenting to foreign audiences, you must check your humor carefully so you don’t accidentally offend anyone. Topics that folks in the US may find perfectly acceptable can be taboo in other countries, and vice versa.

No joke is so funny that it defies the rules of propriety in any given culture. I guarantee that no one will laugh if you offend, even unintentionally. Don’t risk it.

The same goes for visual humor that you might include as presentation graphics and cartoons. If at all possible, run your presentation slides past someone from your intended cultural audience. If you hear any objection about any of the contents, remove the offensive graphic for something more suitable.

Next time you’re getting ready to speak to a foreign audience, you should prepare by understanding what’s acceptable to your audience and by testing your intended humor out beforehand.

For more information about how to make your next presentation successful, check out Executive Presentation Skills®.


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