Last week was the first time I’d given a Toastmasters speech in more than a decade.
I’m working on Storytelling: Advanced Communication Series. This manual’s first project requires me to tell a folk tale. The idea is to keep it simple, clarify the main points, and structure my story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Last Tuesday, I had seven to nine minutes to tell my story. Going over the time limit is a no-no. Toastmasters sponsors inter-club speech competitions. Speaking beyond your allotted time in a competition is grounds for disqualification. A good communicator doesn’t ramble on. Instead, she makes her point and shuts up.
My speech went well enough, and my speech evaluator was kind. I’d practiced repeatedly. I even recorded a video at home to help me memorize my story.
Initially I thought my brief folk tale wouldn’t take as long as seven-to-nine minutes. I needed to embellish it, so I did. Folk tales aren’t known for their belly-laugh inducing properties. I wanted to enjoy myself and make the audience laugh.
But they didn’t, at least not as many of them as I’d hoped. I’m learning to know my audience.
Could it be because I’m British-American? I lived in England the first half of my life and was educated there. I’ve now lived longer in the US than the UK. I write for American business clients in American English, but I haven’t lost my British accent or my British sense of humor.
I think some of my audience missed my humor because it was intentionally delivered deadpan.
I’ve notice how British and American audiences laugh at different things. Humor is cultural and contextual. I once read in Toastmasters Magazine of “high context” and “low context” cultures. A high context culture is where there is common cultural understanding. Wit and wordplay are easily appreciated. Humor works because of a common understanding.
The article described the culturally diverse United States as a low context culture. People whose second language is English language may not grasp a play on words. But a joke may work. Yet, jokes are less satisfying than imaginative farce or wit.
Despite not getting the reaction I had hoped, I had a satisfying learning experience. And Toastmasters is all about learning.
I’ve written a transcript of my speech so you can judge for yourself whether you think it’s funny. I welcome your comments.