Having sat thru many listless presentations where a lot of “data dump” happens, I wonder, is it a crime to be interesting when you speak in public ? Why can’t we use situational humor to sparkle our presentations ?
A routine answer I get from my trainees is, humorists are born, not made ! You have to have it in you ! My rejoinder to that is “only babies are born !”
It is possible to develop a sense of humor and I can say it with some authority as I was a serious schoolboy with lofty ambitions of getting into IIT and the like ( I only made it to a Central School within the IIT Campus in Chennai….. well, that’s a different story altogether…) pardon the digression … And in college, although I was an avid debater, a psychologist friend of mine gravely pronounced that i will never be able to make it as a public speaker because I suffered from ‘anxiety neurosis” .
Today, as a corporate trainer with some of Fortune 100 companies as my clients, one of the redeeming factors about my sessions is my sense of humor which helps me connect, build rapport and educate as I entertain ! I make a living out of my Public speaking skills !
Here is a homegrown recipe for using humor in your presentations (with liberal help from a lot of sources- please remember ‘Originality is the art of concealing your source”)
The O.W.L. technique
Observe….. You don’t need to stack up your shelves with 1000 jokes for public speakers or some seedy joke book. Just look around. Observe. Your life, your family, your workplace… there’s a banquet out there but most of us are starving…. In my eighth grade, our class teacher summoned my good friend’s parent for some feedback and said ” Your son is bellicose, cantankerous and boisterous at times”. The dazed father said ” Can you please tell me whether my son is good or bad ?” I use this example in my presentation skills session to highlight the importance of simplicity in communication. I always get a hearty laugh and the point stays long after the laughter has died down. You may not find this anecdote in any joke book ,( at least not yet…) However, if you are not sure about using your own experiences, do look up good books which teach you how to use humor as against joke books. I’ve listed my favourite books on using humor in a separate post. Do check them out !
Write it down…. “A short pencil is better than a long memory !
The next challenge is how do i remember all these quips, jokes and anecdotes to use it appropriately ? I’ve learned that the best way is to carry a small scrapbook with you always and jot down a one liner, witty retort, anecdote or conversations soon after you read or hear. And refer to this book frequently and use them in your speeches. As a Toastmaster, I get an opportunity to speak almost every week and make it a point to use my material at the right moment. And that may take quite a bit of time.
I’d noted an anecdote about a honeymoon couple and was itching to use it in a table topics session in my Toastmasters club. I waited for three weeks to get an appropriate topic and finally, yes, the table topic master did give me a topic related to divorce ! I sprang up and said ” Within two days of getting married, my wife wanted to divorce me. Well, I’d promised to take her to an exotic place for our honeymoon and took her to a graveyard ! She was furious and asked ” Is a graveyard your idea of a honeymoon location ?” And I said ” What do you think ? People are dying to come here !” My wife was not amused and called up my parents and said ” Your son has a corny sense of humor. i want a divorce !” My parents then put some sense into me by talking about marriage having a lot to do with give and take….”. i obeyed them and am happy to report that for the past seventeen years, we’ve never had a fight ! the secret – She goes her way and I go her way !”
I sat down to a thunderous applause and got voted as the best table topic speaker and the General Evaluator commented ” This CK is too much ! He gets a topic and BINGO, he has a deadly (the pun was intended..) response ! But only I know, it took me three weeks to get that BINGO response !
Learn… from others and your mistakes…
Whenever you attend a meeting, seminar or conference, be curious and find out what made a particular speech humorous ? Why did the audience laugh – Did the speaker deliver the joke well ? Was the timing apt, was the punch line crafted well or his gestures ? Conversely, find out why did the speaker bomb ? Was he insensitive to the audience needs ? Was the delivery weak or did he belt a well known joke recycled from the net or a joke book ? More you learn, more you know about what not to do !
Here is my important learning on using humor
When in doubt, cut it out !
Everyone can follow this rule except the surgeons !!!
If you are not sure about the appropriateness of your remark, joke,statement or anecdote, cut it out !Yes, you can bring the audience down with blue humor but it is much more satisfying if you have managed to get heartfelt laughter, with good, clean humor ! I recently participated in Laughathon, a Humor event in Coimbatore, a vibrant city in South India and gave a seven minute talk on the art of using humor in communication and although I didn’t bring the house down, I was extremely gratified to know many in the audience liked my pitch for good clean humor. here is a comment from one of the audience- ” But, on the whole, I enjoyed it. Especially the bit where public speaking expert T. Chendil Kumar from Bangalore spoke on effective communication, the needlessness of off-colour jokes and making women the butt of humour.”
Earlier, i had visited Colombo, Sri Lanka to take part in an international conference of Toastmasters and was again gratified to receive this mail from, Chrisanthi, a Past President of Colombo Toastmasters – ” I want you to know how much I appreciate the quality of your jokes and one liners . They are witty, truly funny, charming, and never, never resort to being vulgar or nasty. So many of the men , both old and young, feel that a joke is not funny unless it is vulgar . I never once heard you say anything that was crude or tasteless. Bravo – long may you endure ! I wish everyone would learn from your example.”
So, it’s a simple rule : Observe, Write it down, Learn.
And as someone wisely said ” Don’t take life too seriously. You are not going to get out of it alive anyway !