I thought I’d given a magnificent speech. And an elderly gentleman from the audience came up to me and exclaimed, “Well, your speech was both good and original.” Grinning from ear to ear, just as I was about to thank him profusely, he snapped, “but the good parts weren’t original and the original parts weren’t good!” 😜🤪😩 ( with apologies to Samuel Johnson)
This one candid observation brought me to my knees and I began my deep dive into being Good AND Original at using humor in my speeches. The following are a few tips I’ve picked up on my journey of self-discovery:
1. Have loads of self-esteem!
“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard” – Jack Lemmon
Even seasoned speakers shy away from using humour for fear of it bombing. So, each time you bomb, remind yourself that using humour scares even seasoned speakers. Your self-esteem must stem from the fact that it is okay to fail. It’s the moving on that matters. Talk to any stand-up comic or famous humorist and they’ll vouch for the blank stares, they’ve received from audiences just when they thought they’d cracked the ultimate joke, being an occupational hazard. 🤪🤪
I wish I had the ready wit of the speaker who, while walking towards the podium, tripped and fell flat in front of the audience. And from DOWN THERE through his lapel mike announced, “I am now ready to take questions from the floor.” The audience burst out into spontaneous applause for his gregarious attitude and presence of mind.
Look at the accompanying pic. Right under my nose came this honest feedback😜, that’d have rattled a lesser man but I had the gumption to carry on as if nothing had happened and live to tell the tale
Here’s an excellent resource for public speakers. Grab the kindle edition right away!
You don’t need to scan WhatsApp forwards to source content. Just put down that phone, open your eyes wide and look around. Humour is everywhere, all around us; among images, one-liners, ad taglines, your surroundings, be it school, family, workplace….. the landscape is teeming with funny material but we are lost within 6” screens, looking for inspiration elsewhere.
“It’s a banquet out there and most of us are starving.”
Try to recollect absurd and zany incidents in your life and fit them appropriately into relevant context within your speeches.
I found this image in a mag and used it to highlight the importance of public health. Mere words couldn’t have conveyed it as emphatically as this poster!
Sign in a pub at Anjuna, Goa! 😜😎
Attend Stand-up shows, Improv comedy shows, humour boot-camps or humour talks by celebrities.
Ten of us travelled from Bangalore to Coimbatore only to attend the Humor Club of Coimbatore session with Mr. Bharat Dhabolkar, ad guru, actor, playwright and the genius behind the AMUL BUTTER campaign. We managed to chat him up and get some pearls of wisdom from him.
3. Never miss an opportunity!
“Stage Time! Stage Time! Stage Time!”
World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix’s mantra!
Seek opportunities actively! It could be a cultural nite at your work-place, a farewell function, a friendly get-together or a Toastmasters, Jaycees, Rotary or Lions Club meeting. Offer to speak even if just for a Vote of Thanks! The more stage time you get to experiment with, the better you keep getting!
I used to travel extensively on business. Therefore, the moment I’d land up in a city/ town, I would first scan the engagements column, looking up Toastmasters’ meetings. In the pic below, I am walking back from the podium after regaling my audience at Morristown Toastmasters Club near New Jersey, USA, courtesy my dear friend Shreyas Rao, an MIT-ian.
4.If there is no ‘U’ in humour, there is no humour in ‘U’! – Karl Righter
Also known as self-deprecating humour, take a dig at yourself every once in a while. Trust me! it’s a surefire way to win your audience over.
Responding to a rather glorifying introduction, I opened with, “My public speaking coach’s sage advice was, ‘Whenever you receive a highly flattering introduction, don’t go saying you don’t deserve all these wonderful words.’ On asking him why, he nonchalantly replied, “The audience will soon find out anyways, won’t they?”
I continued, “I don’t know what you are going to find out at the end of our brief interaction but let’s just make the most of it!”
The audience responded with thunderous applause that set the mood for a lively interaction.
But be warned, never overdo the self-deprecation. It might just backfire, with the audience beginning to think, there might just be some truth to his words, after all. 😳😳
5. The more specific your humour, the more terrific it is! – Karl Righter
Analyse your audience. Use terms and phrases that are easily relatable and relevant to your audience. Last month, at my Toastmasters meeting, my friend Pramod K opened the meeting with “Please, put your sanitised hands together to welcome our President…”
Did he bring the roof down? NO! not even close.
Was it an earth-shattering joke? Nah, not really!
But the topicality of the ‘sanitised hands’ brought on an instant smile to everyone’s face and we still discuss it, even weeks later! This would be a good rule to stick by, when addressing audiences from different cultures and geographies.
Start working on these 5 tips on using humour, while I work on getting you 5 more!
Keep watching this space and don’t let that smile leave your face!
Do write in and share your experiences at being humourous.