Two more tips for using humor in speeches

She still has that look this week!
She still has that look this week!

Last week, I posted a couple of tips from a recent speaking experience about practical humor for speakers. Let’s continue with that this week.

Humor really is learning

I’m not sure you can say that all humor works this way, but a lot of it works by taking two things you wouldn’t normally put together and putting them together in an unexpected way that works.

As I mentioned last week, I spoke at the District 63 Toastmasters Conference about making parliamentary procedure interesting and understandable.

I started the session by explaining the title: “Colonel Henry Robert, Vampire Slayer: Making Parliamentary Procedure Exciting.” First, I explained that I had initially wanted to call the session “50 Shades of Robert’s Rules: Making Parliamentary Procedure Sexy.” The organizers thought it was hilarious, but they feared it might offend someone. (If you haven’t become aware of the cultural phenomenon behind it, it’s parodying the book Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic novel that has topped best-seller lists around the world.) The fact that I am explaining this in the session where we feared someone would be offended came off as funny, but even before that, the audience laughed heartily right after I told them the original title.

The laughter resulted, I think, from the instantaneous recognition of how those two unrelated items went together, a sort of “Aha!” moment. By the way, that’s the same experience you have when you are learning something. Humor sharpens the mind’s ability to learn!

Humor helps credibility

Dr. James C. McCroskey spent a career digging into the factors that help an audience view a speaker as credible. As you would expect, it’s a complex question, but my simplified breakdown of his findings are that for an audience to find a speaker credible, they have to view the speaker as “scoring” acceptably in three dimensions: competence, trustworthiness, and likeability. The latter factor is fairly complex itself, but we can reduce it to a bumper sticker this way: we tend to like people we view as being like ourselves.

I think humor helps especially in the likeability dimension. If you get someone’s humor, you connect with that person. You tend to view that person as being like yourself–same sense of humor, etc.

Obviously, that can backfire if you’re telling jokes that do not connect. But if you’re telling stories that draw on the natural humor that is life, you are likely to get a connection on several levels. As we said last week, that kind of humor is safe because it has a point that remains even if the audience doesn’t find the story funny.

Thank you! I’m here until Friday!

That wraps up this twofer on humor for speakers. If you’re looking for more resources, consider Make ‘Em Laugh & Take Their Money: A Few Thoughts On Using Humor As A Speaker or Writer or Sales Professional For Purposes of Persuasion by Dan Kennedy. He is a well-known expert on marketing and sales, and an in-demand speaker. Like us, therefore, he’s not just seeking to make audiences laugh for the sake of laughter.

What have you learned about humor in your speaking?

Photo Credit: notarivs cc

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.