Jenny, a manager in a large manufacturing firm, is required to deliver several presentations per month. She feels confident about putting together the speaking points, which cover technical material, but feels that she is “inflicting” a boring lecture on her listeners, since the material is so dry. She worries that the important information will not be memorable. Jenny wishes she could add an element of humor to presentations, but all her life, she’s told herself that she’s not a funny person. She secretly dreads each presentation and wonders how to pep things up.
Jim’s office is right across the hall from Jenny’s, and as a manager, he is required to present frequently. Jenny marvels at his skill in engaging his audience, each and every time. Jim manages to inject humor into the most technical material, and he obviously has fun doing it. In addition to being a humorous presenter, Jim laughs easily and often, even under the stress of an approaching deadline. Jenny figures that Jim was born with his ability, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jim deliberately developed his skills, and he knows that anyone can do the same.
Laughter wins. Adding humor to your speech will make your intellectual content easier to remember and a whole lot more fun to deliver. Research has shown that laughter stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, accelerating learning. Your audience will retain more of what they hear because humor reduces stress. The lower the stress level, the more we learn.
You don’t have to be a professional comedian or even a class clown in order to infuse a presentation with humor. You don’t have to tell jokes. You can cultivate a unique sense of humor, develop funny material and acquire skills for delivering humor. Here are some tips to help you get started:
• Fun is the bottom line. If you are having fun and feeling good, you are more likely to laugh and to create laughter. Confidence, enthusiasm and likeability flourish when you are enjoying life in the moment. Loosen up and practice the art of not taking yourself too seriously. Cultivate a sense of playfulness and focus on having fun, even in mundane things. Visit your local comedy club or watch standup comics on television, taking note of what makes you laugh. This will tell you a lot about your sense of humor.
When you’re having fun, your audience can sense it. Fun is contagious, and the audience will be pulling for you. Even if one of your lines doesn’t get a laugh, when you stay in the moment and have fun, it won’t make a difference. You’ve made friends with your audience, so a self-deprecating “saver” comment such as, “That was funny at my house …” or “My mom laughed …” can pull you out of the comic ditch.
• Developing your brand of humor. A lot of humor comes from looking at things from one specific vantage point. What’s your personal spin, your take on things in the news, in pop culture or on daily mundane situations? Are you skeptical, enthusiastic, optimistic, defeated or depressed? Any or all of these can serve as a mother lode of humor.
Tap into what annoys you, but look at it with a humorous approach. Go on a rant – on paper. A sense of desperation, when you apply it in a funny way, can get a really big laugh. Conversely, what are you excited about? What do you really love? Write it down. A pattern will emerge. Be yourself. Relax. Step back and find yourself looking at life from your new comic perspective.
• Prepare your mind to present. Preparation is essential in public speaking, and doubly so when using humor. Often presenters get so wrapped up in the words they are going to say, they forget the spirit, energy and passion of their message.
Humor requires enthusiasm, commitment and emotional investment. In order to get better connected prior to presentation, ask yourself these questions:
1) What am I bringing to the relationship with my audience?
2) Do I want my audience to benefit from the humor, or am I preoccupied with my own ego and the fear of my humorous lines bombing?
3) Am I speaking from the heart?
4) What do I love about this message and this speaking opportunity?
5) What do I love about my audience?
If you fill yourself with optimism and positive anticipation, it’s easy to savor the fun of creating laughter. When you let go of your ego, you relax and radiate confidence. Remember that confidence, likeability and relaxation are key to this process.
• Emphasize the present. Stage presence, cadence, timing and platform skills will develop with practice. But an audience needs to like you in order to laugh. They need to pick up on your confidence. One way to radiate confidence, or at least an illusion of confidence, is posture. Stand up straight. Throw your shoulders back. Stand with your feet planted, your weight distributed evenly – that is, don’t shift from one foot to the other. Always move toward the audience. Never appear to shrink back or retreat.
Smile and keep on smiling. Make eye contact. Remember the audience wants the same thing as you do: they want you to be funny and do well. When they laugh, stop and let all the laughter die down before continuing. That way you simply ooze confidence– or appear to!
Comedy is always in the “now.” Stay in the present moment, and you will be aware of opportunities for extemporaneous humor.
Humor energizes, relieves stress, and improves learning and memory. Enjoy the process of sharing and enjoying laughter. And above all, remember to have fun! •
Marti MacGibbon is a certified mental-health professional, humorist, motivational speaker, standup comic, author and member of the National Speakers Association.