What is the best way to include relevant humor in your speech?
One of the biggest challenges for speakers is crafting relevant humor for their speeches. Many make the mistake of inserting jokes, or telling funny stories simply to get a laugh.
Although you get the laugh, you may lose credibility when you employ humor in this manner.
That question was the subject of a recent interview I conducted with Tim Gard. Tim is a Hall of Fame speaker. He built his career as a humorist. He is a fantastic speaker — obviously, or he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. He has a unique approach to humor.
Tim’s philosophy is about having fun; he speaks to corporations about adding humor into their culture so that work is less stressful, more enjoyable and ultimately, more productive.
He was very gracious with me after a recent NSA meeting. We spent time discussing how you can best employ humor in your speeches. Here are some gems from that interview:
Tim, What is one of the biggest humor mistakes made by speakers?
“I think that one of the biggest mistakes is when they try to force it, they force it into places it doesn’t belong. Humorists, or anyone, need to use humor strategically. Use it to either reinforce a message, to bring the audience up, or to get permission to laugh. There can be many reasons, but it’s doing it intentionally.
“People who use it indiscriminately are comedians. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a speaker uses humor to make a point. Professional speakers use humor with a purpose — Strategic Intentional Humor.
Tim, what is the best way to create humor in your speech?
“One of the best things you need to do is find out where your humor strengths are. If you’re a visual person, use visual humor. If you’re more of a storyteller, work on your storytelling skills. Find your strength, make that better and get stronger at it. Then work on your weaknesses.
“But, more than anything, remember that a joke is simple in its elegance. A story is as long or short as it should be. If your audience is looking at their watches, your story is too long.
“But I would say intentional use of humor — see if it adds to your point rather than detract from it.
Tim, what do you think of starting your speech with a joke?
“Starting a speech with a joke is a mistake because we need to get permission from the audience for them to laugh. And the more they know us, the more likely they are to laugh. We also need to earn their trust. You can get people laughing with the right joke but, more than anything, it’s about connecting as quickly as you can.
“We speakers have a short time to get connected to our audience. We don’t have weeks the way some trainers do; we have forty-five minutes, or thirty minutes. The quickest way you can do that is usually by saying something that relates to the audience and that you can give them context to your point.
“If you can make it funny, that’s a bonus. Understand what they do and get them to accept you for a short time. That’s going to be a better start than some lame joke that people laugh at because they’re being nice.”
Time, what are some Dos and Don’ts when using props?
“Any prop that adds to your program is a positive, anything that detracts from it or distracts from it must be left out. If it adds to, then use it.
“One aspect to consider is the size of your props. If they’re small and difficult to see, your audience will get frustrated. You want to use props that are visible, and provide context to your message.
“For example, I sometimes have to travel on red-eye flights. People used to come up to me and say, ‘Tim. I caught the red eye on the airplane.’ And I’d say, “Show it to me. You know, I have mine right here.” I would hold up a red eyeball that I picked up at a prop shop. We’d laugh because both of us understood what the red eye was about.
“The bottom-line is: If it adds to your program, add the prop; if it doesn’t, then definitely take it out.
Thanks to Tim for granting me a few minutes of his valuable time. He is an excellent representation of what NSA is all about; helping each other grow as speakers so that we can have a greater impact on the world.
If you’d like to learn more and dive deeper into the subject of humor in public speaking, visit Tim’s website: www.TimGard.com. There you can pick up several tools, books, and articles about humor in speaking.
You’ll can also purchase props that he uses. They’re simple and inexpensive. I highly recommend that you buy some. They’ll help you with your frame of mind and how you think about the world. They’ll also help you ‘think funnier.’
Also, visit YouTube and check out some of Tim’s presentations.
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