Don’t presume they don’t know American references. International people are more familiar with American references than (sadly) Americans are familiar with international references. So stick to big store names and big issues that have been broadcast repeatedly over the news, and you’re probably safe. I was recently in front of an international group of airline executives who buy and sell airline parts, and I made an analogy about the group being the “Pep Boys” of the airline industry. They got it because Pep Boys is pretty well known.
Have a saver line ready. Had the Pep Boys line gone flat, I could’ve tossed in something such as “note to self. . .Pep Boys auto parts is not international” or something else to clue them in to what I was talking about AND to put the joke on me. You defiantly don’t want to make them feel like they are idiots because they don’t know some major things in our country. . . find a way to make it self-deprecating. You could also follow it up with a joke that describes Pep Boys. . .”to those of you not familiar with Pep Boys, that’s the place where we Americans go to buy stuff for our cars like an .89 cent air freshener. . . and wind up also getting a 4 tires, a battery, and an entire new engine.”
Include a 1-word describer. You can also include 1-word in the joke that clues the international people in, such as “Pep Boys auto store”. Granted it might have slowed the joke down a bit, and maybe not made it as funny, but at least it wouldn’t totally die.
Stick to the conference. The group is at least familiar with the agenda and the hotel, so you can play it safe and only joke around with those topics. I had some fun with the really long names of a couple of the technical talks they were sitting in, and then made the comment that . . “I see you all are wearing name badges to the sessions – I’m wondering why? It’s not like anyone from the outside is going to try to sneak in!”
Focus on them. You can also have fun with the differences between America and other countries. Off the bat, I think that we (Americans) get 2 weeks vacation, while they (non-Americans) seem to get the entire Fall off, our buffets are 8 million times larger than their “buffets,” and when we pack for vacation, we strap a dressing bureau to our back while their entire month’s clothes are in a carry-on. Pull out a few key differences and focus on that.
Comedy is a great way to connect people from around the world, so don’t miss the opportunity to toss in a joke just because you’re afraid an international audience member won’t get it!