Humor 101

There’s more to humor than slapstick silliness and joke telling.

Is that joke fresh and new enough to make ‘em laugh? How do you know it won’t offend or bore your audience? And if your best joke makes people yawn, how do you keep your chin up and your clown nose on?

Perhaps you’ve had a bad joke-telling experience – the audience sighed while your joke died – and you’d just as soon remain serious the rest of your life. In an article for the Toastmaster magazine, Dave Zielinski writes that you should shake off that fear. Humor’s ability to poison a presentation is exceeded only by its capacity to lift it to another level.

The magic of mirth
Well-executed humor holds the power to deliver messages in an entertaining fashion and can jolt us into seeing things from a broader perspective. It can enliven dull topics, diffuse tense situations and help the speaker connect with the audience.

Bring out your “Kitchen Person”
Many professionals force themselves into the button-down and deadly serious mold – very different from the person they are at home. But most people would rather hear the wit and warmth of that relaxed person. Noted speechwriter Peggy Noonan says, “Humor is gracious and shows respect. It shows the audience you think enough of them to want to entertain them.”

The joke is on jokes
There’s no sin in being mildly amusing instead of eye-dabbingly funny, particularly if humor is connected to your message. Of course, you should use your judgment to avoid upsetting or offending the wrong people. Relate some gentle humor to the situation at hand, and you’ll probably be right on target. Just remember, there’s more to humor than slapstick silliness and joke telling.

What’s a sorry joke-teller to do?
The safest jokes you can tell are about yourself. Self-effacing humor is least likely to offend others, and also finding humor in your own life will make it fresh and appropriate to the audience. It’s important to keep track of funny things that happen in your own life, especially those that relate to the messages of your speeches. But be sure that your stories are truly your own – never pretend that someone else’s story happened to you. Someone in the audience will know you’re not being honest.

Fixing the failing funny gene
Even if you feel that you don’t have a funny bone in your body, there is hope. Start small. Add a funny line or two to memos and work your way up to sharing short stories over the cubicle wall. Once people begin to see that you do have a humorous side, you can expand your repertoire until you’re adding funny quotes to your presentations. Look for opportunities to exercise spontaneous wit and show off your lighthearted talents. You may find that taking a class in improvisational theater will help arm you for such opportunities. Keep this up and before you know it, you’ll be adding humor to your speaking arsenal and you’ll become one of the outstanding presenters in your business.

From an article in the Toastmaster by Dave Zielinski.