Episode 74: December 31, 2009
by Lisa B. Marshall
This week I thought I'd continue talking about humor. I already wrote one popular episode on how to add humor to your presentations, and last week I wrote about three common humor mistakes. In this article I'll cover a few more quick and dirty tips to help you get more laughs when you deliver a presentation.
How to Make People Laugh During Presentations
I've said this before, but if I’m able to get an audience to laugh, you can too. I am definitely not a naturally funny person, but with time I was able to add humor to my talks; it just took a bit of effort and confidence to give humor a try. Today I'm going to share with you what I've learned about how to get more laughs.
Tip #1: Encourage Laughter
First, I discovered it’s important to encourage laughter. And there are three things that I do to encourage laughter that really work. At first, it didn’t seem like these would make much of difference-but in fact, they do.
For me, it helps if I’m laughing before I go on stage, and so that’s the first thing I do. It is not only relaxing, but it also helps me be more spontaneous and playful. The second thing I do is I always request semi-circle or theater-style seating in a room 10% smaller than would hold the registered number of attendees. The closer together the audience, the more infectious the laughter. Oh, and make sure you are close to the audience too. Keep most of the lights on and be sure the speaker system is good. For humor to be effective you need to be seen and heard.
Finally, the third thing you can do is to encourage laughter by explicitly encouraging participation. I almost always tell my audiences to “interrupt me, please!” Again, it may not seem as if these things are important, but both interaction and laughter increase when I do them.
Tip #2: Record All Of Your Presentations
Everyone occasionally gets a laugh with a spontaneous remark--the trick is to capture those comments so that the next time you make a presentation, you can recycle the off-the-cuff remark.
My next tip for getting more laughs is to record all of your presentations. Until I started regularly recording my presentations, I never realized that I was already getting laughs--not that many laughs, but some. Everyone occasionally gets a laugh with a spontaneous remark. The trick is to capture those comments so that the next time you make a presentation, you can recycle the off-the-cuff remark. An off-the-cuff remark creates an illusion of spontaneity--and no one has to know that your seemingly spontaneous comment was actually not so spontaneous. That’s why recording presentations is helpful--it's highly unlikely you will remember exactly what you said, or how you said it unless you do so.
Tip #3: Use the Humor Of Others To Develop Your Own
Actually, anytime you hear something you find funny, whether it comes from your mouth or someone else's mouth, you should record it in some way. That way you can recycle the line. I like to repeat the line several different ways. Play with the timing. Play with the words. Modify the line to get the most out of it.
The idea is to plant a seed in your mind and think about the comment and how you might use it. Later, when you need to create a laugh line or you need a spontaneous quip, you'll have material to draw from.
For example, a few years ago I heard Lewis Black say, "I have N'Sync and Aerosmith and Britney Spears. I have a trifecta from hell." I thought that line was very funny. I know it doesn't sound very funny out of context, but trust me, it was really funny. And besides trifecta is just one of those words that just sounds funny. Trifecta. Anyway, I wrote the line in my humor file and thought about the line from time to time--mostly when I was watching Lewis Black on the comedy channel.
Eventually that led to the creation of a line which you may remember from the better conference calls article. "A flushing toilet, a crowing rooster, and a crying baby? Did you figure it out? Yep, I once heard all those sounds on the same conference call—I felt like I had won a conference call trifecta."
Tip #4: Follow the Rule of Three
Actually that line also takes advantage of the rule of three. Things presented in threes are inherently more satisfying and more enjoyable. Notice it's not just that I grouped three items, the parallel structure and matching cadence also helped to make it more memorable and interesting. Flushing toilet, crowing rooster, crying baby. Roy Peter Clark, who wrote Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer describes the rhythm as "boom, boom, boom".
Tip #5: Break The Rule of Three
By the way, you can easily create humor by breaking the rule of three. Roy Peter Clark describes the humorous pattern as "boom, boom, bang." The idea is to set the topic with the first word in the triad, establish the pattern with the second item, and then deviate with the third element. Make it shorter, or longer, or change the meaning. Although the third element still needs to be related, it should be unusual or unexpected.
This advice for public speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt is a great example: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” A variation on that same theme: “Stand up, speak up, shut up.”
One of my favorite examples is from a Beatles song, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four" The reason why this line is so catchy and memorable is exactly because it breaks the rule of three. The curse of knowing the rule of three is that you’ll now hear it all the time.
So there you have it: more quick and dirty tips to help you add humor and get more laughter when making presentations. Remember it’s important to encourage laughter, record your presentations, be on laugh alert, use the humor of others to develop your own, and finally to follow and break the rule of three.
This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.
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If you have a question, send email to email@example.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.
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