Show Me the Funny! 5 Steps to Quickly Becoming a Funnier Speaker
Updated on January 15th, 2015
Speaking both in person and via webinars has been a very important marketing tool for Adam and I. Just before Xmas we were talking about how we could inject more humour into our presentations.
So when Tom Morkes introduced me to David Nihill, I realised it was a great opportunity to learn from a pro. And not just any pro – he’s a self-taught, trial by fire kind of guy. And just like any good comic, his timing is perfect. To align with our goals for the year, this guest post (and an upcoming podcast) are gold.
His story is a fascinating one.
David set himself a massive comfort challenge to learn comedy through a one year intensive experiment. It was an experiment performed on himself, by himself. It took him from the business community with a huge initial fear of public speaking to doing gigs in all of the comedy venues in California, features in Inc. and Forbes, writing a book called Do You Talk Funny and launching the best selling Udemy course, 7 Comedy Habits (50% off if you follow that link!). He also founded the Funny Bizz conference which is planned to be in Sydney soon.
My favourite part is that he has deconstructed humour into a 5 step process (check out the subheader below) that anyone can apply. I’m certainly going to.
Whether preparing for a business presentation, giving a wedding toast, defending your thesis, or raising money from investors, remember one thing at your next public speaking engagement: Once you step on stage you are in show business.
But I am not a speaker nor do I want to be in show business
You will be. More and more people are finding financial success outside traditional companies. Sooner or later you need to self-market. To do this you need to tell your story and how you tell it makes all the difference.
Today’s generation has been socialized to receive info via humor. They want infotainment, not information. Clients don’t watch “20/20″ or “Nightline” for news; they watch Colbert and Jon Stewart. They want and expect information delivered with a punch line. Deliver raw information, devoid of humor and an engaging story and your message will be lost among the ringtones, vibrations, and swipe-rights of modern life.
Keynotes are becoming a thing of the past
Who has the time or focus to listen to one person intently for an hour? Very few it seems. Talks are becoming TED talks; short, funny and information packed. Studies by noted educator Wilbert McKeachie demonstrate that “typically, attention increases from the beginning of the lecture to 10 minutes into the lecture and decreases after that point.” The lesson? Keep it short.
Carmine Gallo is a news anchor turned author, columnist, and keynote speaker. In short, he’s a guy people actually want to listen to. He says humor is one of the nine key items in successful TED talks: “Humor is proven to increase the likelihood that your pitch or presentation will be successful, whether you’re pitching to one person or speaking to thousands.” It also “lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message.”
On a laughs per minute basis, (a metric often used by comedians to gauge their performance) there are several TED talks that produce more laughs than the classic comedy, The Hangover. Needless to say they are also a lot more informative. At the time of writing, every one of the ten most popular TED talks moves the humor needle.
Why are leading speakers using humor to stand out?
Because science says so. “The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things,” notes John Medina, a biologist and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules. “Laughter triggers a dopamine release, which aids memory and information processing. It’s like a mental post-it note that tells your brain, remember this.”
Modern day presenters are expected to be entertainers. Those who do, do much better. Those who grab attention are more likely to hold it.
But adding humor is risky….
To the untrained it often is. Murphy’s Law states that what can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy’s Law of Public Speaking states that what can go wrong will be 10x worse and go viral.
5 Step Process
This five-step formula helps anyone come up with an easily scripted joke and greatly reduces the chances of unwanted YouTube stardom. It is based on the belief that the world needs more stories and fewer opinions.
Think back through your life experiences and make a list of funny stories you like to tell. Great stories often come from seemingly mundane topics. Find a personal story that relates to the topic you’re presenting and use it to connect to the audience. Remember a good story is about how the listener can imagine himself or herself in the story. Once you find that story, you’ll need to:
1- Set up the story in a relatable way. You ideally want everyone in the room to be like, ‘yeah, that happened to me,’
2- Get specific and make it about it you. Start telling them about your own funny experience.
3- Deliver the unexpected. At this point, the audience assumes that they know where you’re going with this. But you’re most likely to get a laugh if you can surprise them.
For example: Say you have a funny story about a time you are in China. Many people will not have been to China so to start the story and grab maximum attention make it more relatable. Eg. “Sometimes being in a new place can be challenging”(relatable to many). “I was in China last year” (specific to you). Many people will never have travelled overseas, many will never have been to China but all will have been in a new place at some stage in their lives. Now you can get to the funny part. This is always in the details of what actually happened to you.
4- Remember brevity is levity: Once you identify the funny part of your story use joke structure to get there as quickly and effectively as possible. Joke Structure is Set Up (Opening statement), Punchline (the funny part or twist in the story), Taglines (additional laugh/joke lines). Using joke structure forces you to cut out the unnecessary.
5- Keep testing it – Permanent Beta: To get a story to its most effective, funniest form is a process of continuous testing and refinement. Tell it, record it, and review it to see what worked.
People love a funny story. As our good friend Science tells us, we are wired to appreciate it. We are also wired to love laughter. Our brains make this so by releasing dopamine. Dopamine feels awesome, so by making your audience laugh during your presentation or speaking event, you can actually make your audience feel good, giving your speech a natural endorphin-fueled evolutionary advantage over those who opted for a typical, boring business presentation.
The world is awaiting your funny and only you are qualified to bring it.
Have you had any experience with making jokes work in your presentations? Or flops? Please share them in the comments!