What makes one speaker better than the rest? It’s the wit and humor, most of the time. And it’s something that we all want to achieve – having the perfect dash of laughter to bring flavor to our speech. Whether it’s a business presentation or a best man’s toast – and yes, even a eulogy, we usually remember the one that humored us over the one that didn’t.
But how do you really accomplish that? Here are five pointers you should seriously consider when adding some lighthearted moments the next time you face an audience.
1. Know yourself.
Like a product that you need to sell to people, before anything else, you need to establish your brand– your brand of humor, that is.
- Know what makes you laugh and get ideas from there. It makes you laugh, because you can relate to it. And chances are, these are the same things that will sound naturally funny coming from you – although not guaranteed.
- Learn how to relax and be comfortable with yourself. Often, you mess up with the punch line, because of your nerves overpowering your whole act. You’ll also see that those who can pull off anything silly in front of a crowd are those who really don’t seem to care about any crowd, at least to a certain extent. One example is one of Australia’s best-known hosts, Larry Emdur, who, at one time, rapped with Vanilla Ice in his morning show even while knowing about the awkwardness that was to happen.
2. Know your audience.
There’s something you have to understand, too: everyone has their own kind of humor. Different personalities mean different kinds of humor. It’s as simple as that. And you have to accept that what’s funny to you may not be outright funny to the person next to you. So you have to make a bit of effort there.
- You can start bridging the gap by knowing who you’ll be talking to – parents, students, showbiz enthusiasts, political activists, etc. Then take it from there.
- Remember that something’s funny because people can relate to them; the funniest things are those that people could imagine happening or those that they’ve already experienced. Simply put – you can’t joke about business and finance to teenagers.
3. Learn a trick or two.
Choose a style that you really like and you think you can deliver. There are various ways to inject humor into your speech like puns, coining words or making a surprise twist in the end.
- You can read books by great speakers, comedians, speech writers, etc. to help give you ideas and find what type of humor works for you and would work for your audience.
- You can also borrow what Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and the other show hosts in America do – making fun of what’s in the news or who’s in the news. Just be careful not to offend someone in the audience; or be ready to take the negative reaction, at least.
- Another version of “cruel humor” is self-deprecation. Just make fun of yourself, your family, or your culture, if you wish. It’s surely something you can use when you host your cousin’s wedding or your school’s homecoming. Again, please be sure that it will more likely bring fun than feud.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
Try slipping in a couple of lines or styles that you want to use when talking to friends. Don’t mention that you’re practicing to see the real reaction. In this particular case, I don’t think practicing in front of a mirror will do, since it will just make you self-conscious – something that we really want to get rid of (see number 1).
Timing is the one that can make or break your whole plan. So learn how to pace your speech; learn when and how to pause and to just speak continuously.
All these usually go together with being comfortable with yourself. Going around in circles and fast often happens when you’re too nervous. You want to get it over with, leaving you and your audience not enjoying any minute of it.
5. Don’t push it.
If you think it isn’t funny, then it probably isn’t. Go back to number 1, and you’ll perhaps find the answer there. Usually it’s because the brand of humor isn’t really you. Although, of course, there are times that the wild laughter comes because it’s totally unexpected. But that’s another story. Just make sure that the wit isn’t forced. It has to come naturally.
Also check number 2. Not just a few stand-up comics don’t get the crowd reaction they want, simply because they’re just pushing it too hard – or on the wrong people. So talk to your audience, understand their reactions, and be ready to improvise if you think it’s going nowhere.
One last thing: don’t put too much. A little spice is nice, but a whole bunch won’t give it the needed punch. Yes, even if humor is your only vice, it’s still best to have it in moderation.
About the Author – Raquel Aldiosa Kato contributes articles on personal development and corporate subjects for various companies including Australia’s resource for international speakers and entertainers, Platinum Speakers. She writes to earn her keep and to keep her sanity.