Monday, July 18, 2011

The all-in-one on humor and public speaking: 10 ways to make it work

Speakers love to inject humor into their talks and presentations, believing it relaxes the audience (and themselves) and puts folks in a good mood. But that's not always the case. Humor, like a banana peel, can result in something funny--unless it trips you up. Use these tips from the blog to find the right places and cases where humor in public speaking will work for you:

  1. Inject introductions with humor. Whether you're introducing yourself or someone else, use humor to take charge of your introduction. You'll make it memorable and avoid the usual trite start to a talk.
  2. Use it along with "I don't know." Saying you don't know the answer to a question is one of the strongest speaker statements--and you can make an "I don't know" even more effective (and less embarrassing) if you say it with some humor.
  3. Recover gracefully with humor. If you can pull out of a problem or stumble with well-timed humor, you're on your way to being a top speaker. Check out this video of California Governor Jerry Brown, flubbing his lines during his swearing-in...and getting a laugh in the bargain, thanks to his smooth recovery with humor. Then read my tips for dealing with mistakes, including humor as an important tool.
  4. Humor? In a eulogy? Absolutely. Read that tip and others offered by our readers when one of them had to deliver her mother's eulogy and turned to The Eloquent Woman for help.
  5. But lose that joke or cartoon right at the beginning. That's because a joke will waste those precious moments when audience attention is highest.
  6. And the most important reason to avoid jokes for humorous touches is that jokes are the toughest thing to remember...and awful when you forget the punchline. Don't set yourself up.
  7. Using humor to connect with an audience is high on readers' wish lists. Here are 6 core tips for using humor that will help you make that happen.
  8. Listen to a speechwriter: Make 'em laugh says Peggy Noonan, in this advice to politicians in the last presidential election in the U.S.  She makes the case for humor eloquently.
  9. Listen to a comedian: It doesn't have to be angry humor to work. Marlo Thomas's memoir about growing up in a houseful of comedians yields wry and useful insights for speakers who want to use humor (and she's got lots of great stories, too).
  10. Don't turn humor on yourself. Most speakers know they shouldn't make fun of the audience, but often, they fail to recognize when self-deprecating humor doesn't work. A thoughtful guest post that every speaker should read.

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