Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Presentations Without Being a Comedian - A Guest Post by Avish Parashar



Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. 
-Victor Borge

Humor is a powerful tool. If you can get your audience to laugh (or at least chuckle or smile), you are golden. And while you may not have the desire to do a full on "humorous speech," there is no reason you can't add some humor to your presentations to mix things up and engage your audience.

This is not to say that every speech you deliver should be dripping with humor. However, the occasional use of humor, whether peppered lightly throughout many of your presentations or used heavily in the occasional "dedicated funny" speech, can have a few benefits:

  • Appropriate humor that is true to you let's your audience get a sense of your personality
  • People like to laugh. If your speech is funny, your audience will stay engaged
  • Good humor stands out and is memorable

Some people believe that you can't learn to be funny; either ya' got it or you don't. From my experience teaching people humor and comedy, I strongly disagree with this view. Humor is a skill that can be cultivated and developed.

Below are five things you can do to tap into your inherent humor and start adding it to your speaking:

1) Identify Things That Make You Laugh

Chances are there are some things in the world that make you laugh (if not, then please, get out more...). TV shows, movies, books, certain blogs, etc. Pay attention to the stuff that you find really funny, and then ask yourself, "What is it about these things that makes me laugh?" Do you like puns, rants, observational humor, slapstick, double entendres, etc.? Whatever it is, make a note of it. The style of humor that makes you laugh is a good style for you start weaving into your speaking.

Also, add more of those things that make you laugh into your life. This will help you in two ways:

It's easier to write funny presentations when you feel funny. Consistently watching, reading, and listening to things that make you laugh will help you feel funny.

You can learn from the things you laugh at. Structure, style, construction, and pacing - all can be learned from observation. I usually listen to stand up comedians because they make me laugh, but sometimes I will pay careful attention not to what the comedian is saying, but rather to all the nuances of how he (or she) is saying it. 

This helps my understanding of some tools I can use to make my presentations funnier.

2) Identify the Things You Already Do That Make Others Laugh

I firmly believe that everyone has some area in their life where they make others laugh. It may happen rarely, but I bet there is some environment or certain people that bring out your "inner comedian." Think back to what you do in those situations and ask yourself, "How can I weave that into my speaking?"

This technique led to an evolution in my own speaking business. I realized that the times I made my friends laugh the most were when I would go on extended rants making fun of things that annoyed me. However, at the time, I wasn't doing any of that in my writing or speaking!

Once I realized this, I launched my "Motivational Smart Ass" brand and starting weaving that ranting style into my presentations. The result is that my audience response has improved and, more importantly to me, my referral rates have gone up.

Start paying attention to what you are already doing to make others laugh and then weave that into your own speaking and you should see your audience response and referral rates go up too.

3) Learn the Basics Of Humor

Some people are fortunate enough to be able to automatically "be funny." If you are not one of these lucky people, then you should learn some of the fundamentals of humor and joke construction.

There are many ways to weave words into humor. Once you understand some of the techniques comedians and funny speakers use to create humor, you can easily edit your material to add in humor of your own.

Here are a few techniques to consider:

  • Exaggeration - "Then I talked to a woman who's voice was so high only the dog could hear it."
  • Puns - "Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now."
  • Self-Deprecation - "And then, even though I knew it was too hot to eat, I bit into the pizza anyway. Because, clearly, I am an idiot."
  • Wordplay - "She brought me a plate of French Fries instead. At least I thought they were French because they had an attitude and wore berets."

These are but a few; there are many more. I would highly suggest picking up a book on humor just to familiarize yourself with the different tools at your disposal.

4) Understand That Humor Comes In the Rewrite

Sometimes you get lucky and your first draft is very funny. Usually, however, the first draft is "content" focused; it may have some funny ideas that need to be heavily developed, but it’s not going to be funny as is.

The blank page can be daunting, and adding in the pressure of having to "write funny" in a first draft can make it doubly so. The best way to write a first draft is to write quickly without editing or worrying about the quality. As you practice writing funny, your first drafts will get funnier, but at first, they may not be so guffaw inducing.

Once your first draft is done you can review it and find places to add lines, reword things in funny ways, figure out where to use humorous delivery, apply many of the humor techniques from the previous point, and even remove things that you thought were funny at first but now realize aren't. For most people it is much easier to "punch up" a written piece using the humor tools above than to think of something funny to write.

Here's a simple humor draft writing plan you can use:

Draft 1: Get it written, funny or not
Draft 2: Go back and add as much humor as you can
Draft 3: Remove anything that is not funny, doesn't support your point, or breaks the flow of the piece

5) Keep Working at It

Like anything else, humor takes time to develop. If you expect to come out of the gate and immediately start creating hilarious material quickly and effortlessly, you will be disappointed. If you are committed to gradual and steady improvement, then you will find over time that your presentations get funnier and the work gets easier.

When I started speaking, I put very little straight humor in my presentations. I performed improv comedy from the stage, but other than that I delivered “straight” content. The first time I decided to add in funny stories and jokes, it took me weeks and weeks to get it done! There was a lot of uncertainty, fear, procrastination, and writer's block. Over time it has gotten much easier (and I'd like to think the quality has gotten better too) and I can add in new humorous bits to my speeches relatively quickly.

Give yourself time to find your voice and develop your humor. It may not be easy, but it's well worth it.

Adding a little humor to your presentations is not that difficult. Like most things, it takes 1) an understanding of how to do it, 2) a commitment to try, and 3) a little time and practice.

The techniques above can give you the understanding of how to do it - the other two are up to you!

***

Avish Parashar is the co-owner and operator of SpeakingExpert.com, a blog designed to show speakers and content experts of any level how to speak better, make more money, and have more fun! Visit the site to download you’re the report, "Six Figure Speaker Secrets: Learn the 7 Steps to Getting Paid Speaking Gigs in 90 Days or Less!" now.
For examples of Avish’s humorous writing and speaking, visit http://www.MotivationalSmartAss.com.
(Editor's Note: Thanks Avish, for stepping in for me today as I spend some time with my family!)


3 comments:

  1. Great advice Avish. Humour can be a perilous addition to a presentation. When done wrong it can be hard to recover from, but you have outlined well the steps to bring it into our repertoire.

    I recently wrote a short piece on this subject, which absent your advice, took a more traditional .. "just don't' approach and includes a high profile failed attempt that went viral on You Tube

    http://www.realworld.com.au/blog/?p=148

    I also like the way you reject the suggestion that one needs to be a 'born comedian' This is as untrue as the myth of being a 'born presenter' Yes both exist of course, but most of us are made by trial and error, hard work an practice. And it can be done.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Steve Martin puts a slice of baloney in each shoe so he 'feels' funny. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love the image, John, and knowing that my old posts still survive. Even the guest ones :)

      Delete

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