Speeches and stories without humor are like a meal without spices — it can fill you up, but it’s not an enjoyable or memorable experience.
Most people know humor is a powerful speaking and storytelling device. What many don’t realize is humor isn’t a gift only for a select group of people.
Every person has the ability to speak humorously. You simply need to know how the pros do it.
Here are three secrets to creating humor and generating more laughs in your presentations:
Humor Speaking Secret #1 — Surprise!
The heart of humor and laughter is — surprise. We laugh because we hear or see something unexpected.
Researchers and scientists don’t have a definitive answer. And we don’t need one. All we have to know is:
People laugh when they’re surprised.
Use the unexpected to create humor in your presentations.
The classic example used in teaching comedy is the trademark one-liner from comedian Henny Youngman, “Take my wife….please.”
If you’re old enough to remember him, you’ve heard the line so many times it’s no longer funny. Don’t let that keep you from understanding its power.
In his routine, Mr. Youngman would set up the line by talking about a specific problem. Then he would say, “Take my wife.”
The listener’s brain expected the next words to be, “for instance.”
When he instead said the unexpected word, “please!” it was a surprise and it triggered laughter.
The funniest lines and humorous moments are rooted in the unexpected.
In your stories, experiment with changing the direction of one of your lines. After you’ve practiced them several times, you’ll begin to think funnier.
If you create this habit, thinking humorously will become second nature.
I was recently listening to a webinar. The speaker was making a marketing point about his counseling business. He talked about getting free publicity in a local newspaper.
I knew his point was going to be about promoting his business within his community. But, when he said, “I cut out the article and sent it to…” he paused.
At that moment, in my head I heard the words, “my mom.”
He didn’t say them, but they would’ve created a funny moment and not taken away from his point. It would’ve been a believable twist to his story. Who doesn’t want to brag to their mom about their success?
Train your brain to think about how you can make a scene or a situation unexpected to create humor.
Humor Speaking Secret #2 — Non-verbals
Most speakers don’t utilize one of their most impactful humor tools, their face.
Laughter is not always generated by words. Some of the funniest stories and humorous bits are born from silence or our facial reactions to the scene we’re describing.
As my friend Darren LaCroix says, “Reactions tell the story.”
A common mistake I see is speakers who describe their emotions or their reactions rather than portray them. Emotions that can generate laughter are surprise, fear, and disgust. There are many others and the important point to keep in mind is humor isn’t generated from the emotion itself but from the contrast and context within the story.
Review your stories and ask, “where can I use facial or body expressions, or silence, to convey the feeling or emotion in this scene?
Humor Speaking Secret #3 — Dialogue
As powerful as non-verbals can be, sometimes dialogue is more effective to convey a humorous thought.
In one of my signature stories about my client Patti, I talk about how she was nervous and stressed out about giving a speech. In the early versions, I told my audience, “She had a problem with rambling and going off-topic.”
One of my mentors suggested I change this specific part to dialogue because it could create humor while still making the point about her fear.
This is what we created:
Patti said, “I’m really nervous about this speech because I have so much to say and it could have a big impact on our Foundation.”
I said, “That’s not uncommon. Tell me, why are you so afraid to speak?”
“Michael, I didn’t say I was afraid to speak. My problem is… I don’t know when to shut up.”
This line always gets a big laugh. The audience is expecting her to elaborate on her fear and some external reason for it. They’re surprised when she makes a self-deprecating comment.
This works because she says it. If I had said, “She didn’t know when to shut up” or even quoted her, “She said she didn’t know when to shut up” it wouldn’t be funny.
Your speeches and stories don’t need to be forgettable, like a bland meal. Add some spice by asking the question, “Where can I use dialogue instead of describing the scene?”
You’ll create a more memorable and enjoyable experience for your audience.
These are just three of many ideas you can use to implement humor in your stories and speeches. I took these ideas from my friend Ray Engan. If you would like more tips, feel free to download his 10 Humor Tips — CLICK HERE
If you’d like to do a deeper dive into this topic and discuss how you can implement more humor into your presentations, feel free to schedule a time to talk with me. For your no-obligation, no-cost conversation, CLICK HERE
Great stuff Mike ! I’m truly with the self improvement aligned with public speaking and Toastmasters. I hope to take advantage of your knowledge, experience and skill in the near future,
You are a true speech guru and personality development professional.
w/ high regard,
Thank you for your kind words, George I’m glad to see you’re benefiting from the posts.