YES Education Systems

Do you notice people yawning or fidgeting when you give a speech? Some speakers can captivate an audience without even saying a word. The secret lies in your degree of personal magnetism. Humor is a great magnet. When you are light-hearted, people get attracted by the light. Here are ten cascading principles you can use to become a more a light-hearted speaker:

1. Immerse yourself in humor. Garbage in equals garbage out. If you spend most of your day taking in negative information, that is what will come out. Create a library of uplifting, clean, quality humor in the form of videos, audio, books, magazines, etc. Although you do not want to plagiarize other humorists, you can vicariously learn the “feel” of what makes people laugh by continuous exposure to their expertise.

2. Discover your humor style and build from there. Some people avoid using humor because they don’t tell jokes well. Jokes are one of a hundred ways to get an audience laughing. Think of a time when you made people laugh. What were you doing? Some people are good at witty one-liners, others at impressions. Perhaps you have a way of describing an incident that has people in stitches. In that case, storytelling is your forte. Start with what you are good at, to gain confidence. Then you can branch out into other forms of humor.

3. Get yourself in a fun mood. I spoke at a conference that had so many logistical nightmares, I was ready to kill the organizer. I knew I had to change my mood before speaking. I decided to walk through the hotel wearing a giant sombrero, blowing bubbles on passersby. Even though I had a murderous look on my face, people started to smile at me. I couldn’t help but eventually smile back. Children started following me hoping I would lead them to a pinata. By the time I was ready to speak I was in a playful, and therefore, more captivating, mood.

4. Create structures that encourage fun. If you are a “non-performer” type, don’t fret. Certain structures will magically let the laughter happen naturally. Audience participation activities that access people’s creativity will automatically inspire laughter. For example, ask people to problem solve by first role playing the opposite of their desired outcome. Include a simple joke, cartoon or story in your written material. Put out fun food at the snack table. Use outrageous props. Once I put out a pair of tongs at the food table that were shaped like a set of teeth. People were laughing about those tongs the entire day.

5. Know the humor style of your audience. Humor is very personal. What works with a room full of mostly male accountants may bomb with a group of nurses. Find out as much about your audience as you can. During your talk, if what you are doing is not making people laugh, switch to another style of humor. If you only feel comfortable with a certain humor style, make sure you are presenting to audiences that appreciate that style. For example, you may find an audience of lawyers not laughing at your Donald Duck impression, but a group of teachers may love it. For a mixed audience you will need to incorporate several different styles of humor.

6. Harness the power of your performance anxiety. Using humor is risky. If your humor bombs it can create great discomfort in the room. However, if it works, it can win over the toughest audience. Even after 30 years of doing the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson’s heart rate went from 64 bpm up to 134 bpm just before going on stage. Like many performers, he let that increase in heart rate add to his magnetism. Anxiety is very close to excitement. Expect your humor to work, instead of fearing it will bomb. A positive focus easily turns anxiety into excitement. It you are excited, the audience will feel excited, too. If your humor does bomb, have some saver lines memorized to turn around the discomfort.

7. Decide when, what and how. As a general rule, use three styles of humor per point you want to make. Use humor in your opening so that people will know to expect it from you, and to immediately win people over. Personalize humor for your audience by finding out such things as what is annoying to them, who is having a birthday, who is the class clown, what is a mistake that people commonly make, etc. Decide how much humor to use based on the nature of the event. If it is a relaxed celebration such as an awards banquet, use humor liberally. If people are pressed for time, and the subject is heavy, be more sparing.

8. Practice your timing. If you plan to deliver humor yourself, rather than play a more passive role in it’s creation, you will need to learn proper timing. Humor is an art, not an exact science. What works one time, with one group, will not necessarily work another time, even with the same group. Effective timing is a combination of practice and intuition. You need to be able to feel out the mood of your audience. Study your favourite humorist. Write out one of their monologues and practice saying it with the same timing. Especially note their use of pauses. Then practice saying it with different timing. Listen to yourself on tape. This is the best way I know to discover how timing works.

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