Toastmasters speech. Why didn’t they laugh?

Toastmaster cartoon
Funny is subjective

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.

British-American humor

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.