Develop Your Sense Of Humor

by Speaking Tips | February 16, 2004

The funny thing about humor is that it does a lot more than make people laugh. Among other things, it helps people to get acquainted, groups to bond into teams and strangers to feel welcome. Used correctly, it can improve performance, promote creativity, energize meetings and encourage positive thinking.

Humor and laughter are recognized as so important that a cottage industry of consultants has developed to teach humor skills to business and professional people. Presenters and trainers especially value and use humor because in addition to the above, it helps their audiences to remember the main points, see the big picture and retain information longer.

Humor allows the speaker, presenter or trainer to interact with members of their audience, address a sensitive idea or topic without causing offense and encourage members of the audience to feel free to express themselves. In public speaking, humor can take many forms, for example:

  • Using zany props.
  • Skits or parodies.
  • Witty or wry observations.
  • Puns, metaphors or analogies.
  • Fable, fairy tale or other literary narrative.
  • Personal stories or anecdotes.

Humor looks easy but "humor producers" know it takes thought and practice. The good news is that to use humor in presentations and training, you don't need to be a stand-up comedian. What you need to do is make a connection with the audience. Do it by promoting an atmosphere of interaction, amusement, and openness. Sprinkle some levity in your title, opening story, and closing or surprise the audience with unusual connections.

In spite of the many compelling reasons for us to use humor, many speakers and trainers resist designing it into their material because they simply do not see themselves as being funny and lack confidence in their ability to make an audience laugh. Yet these same people probably create and share humor with family, friends and colleagues on a regular basis.

One possible reason for this is that many people have not learned to be themselves in front of an audience. They need to become as familiar with their persona as they are with their face in the mirror. If this is part of your problem, then you need to discover your inner clown, find your voice and unearth your preferred humor format.

People are more inclined to use humor in an atmosphere of trust and familiarity: when there is as existing relationship between the people involved. But it works both ways. Humor and laughter are like "social glue" to help create trust, familiarity and relationships. One sure fire technique speakers/trainers use to develop humor is to talk to some of the audience before the presentation/training. This builds familiarity plus the conversation will invariably entail an idea or feeling that can be shared with the audience.

Here are some things you can try in order to develop or enhance your sense of humor:

  • Surprise your family, friends and co-workers with puns, parodies, props or pranks.
  • Collect personal stories to use for future presentations.
  • Customize anecdotes so they are relevant and pertinent to your message. Make sure they are inclusive not exclusive and bring the audience together.
  • Use unexpected illustrations and examples in your presentations and training
  • Exaggerate and alternately understate when you talk with people.
  • Use gestures or facial expressions that are the opposite of your words.
  • Use graphics that are literal but contradict what you are saying.
  • Look for something funny in the unexpected.

There are also some things that you should avoid. Do not:

  • Use canned jokes that have no connection to your purpose.
  • Read your jokes and stories instead of telling them.
  • Laugh at your own jokes; better yet start laughing before you tell them.
  • Announce that you are going to tell a joke; apologize if it bombs.
  • Berate the audience for not laughing: "That was supposed to be funny."
  • Tell stories that make fun of others or make them look ridiculous.
  • Be sarcastic and act superior.
  • Use humor that the audience may not understand because of cultural, professional, gender or age differences.
  • Play practical jokes designed to embarrass people.
  • Tell off-color stories.

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