Presentations – to Joke or Not to Joke – Using Humour
The first time I had to make a speech it was my best friend’s wedding and I was terrified. I felt like a goldfish in a bowl with everybody looking in. I knew I had to break the barrier but I did not know how. So I limped along as best I could, and earned a courteous flutter of applause.
The bride’s father was up next to speak, and he was brilliant He smiled at us, arranged his notes and waited a few moments before he started. In my mind, there was still the shadow of a doubt as in ‘I really hope he knows what he is doing’. When he put his reader glasses on the room fell silent, and we were ready to engage.
He started with a light-hearted story about how he met his daughter in the maternity ward. It was straightforward leg-pulling stuff and we all laughed. He had successfully engaged with us around a common thought. We sat back, relaxed and egged him on. There was no glass between us and we were on his side.
The Art of Audience Engagement
The most important thing about connecting up with audiences is being human. The reason for this is simple. We work best with people whom we like, and we like people who are fun to be around with. This means a speaker needs a conversational style as if they were chatting over an informal lunch. Does humour have a place in this? You bet it does, and I am here to tell you how.
Before I start, the other half of getting all the gears in sync is telling stories (here I am thinking news, not lies). This is how we interact on social media and when we meet up with our friends in Tesco. We tell it like it is, we drop the jargon, and we explain the numbers as we go along. Pleasant moments like this reinforce friendships. They also increase the likelihood of us getting another invitation, because we made our point in an amusing way.
The 4 Types of Humour & How to Use Them
In speechifying, humour means ‘the quality of being comic’. Some speakers are 100% comedians and provide great laughs on television. In this article, we are thinking more of speakers with a message to deliver. A few jokes here and there can break the tension. We need to use the right humour type that is appropriate to the occasion.
- Self-Defeating Humour is where speakers tell jokes about themselves to their supporters, to break the ice. Politicians use this technique to bring themselves down to the level of the audience by proving they are human too. This is a great technique if you already command audience respect. If not, be careful you do not come across an idiot.
- Aggressive humour is a nasty way of poking fun at an enemy or minority. Examples are making jokes at the expense of other nationalities, or people with different gender orientations. The intended message is ‘we are great but they are not’. However mocking the competition in a team build is permissible provided it is light-hearted.
- Speakers use Self-Enhancing Humour to break the tension when something they do turns out wrong. This could be if they drop their notes, or when a piece of audio-visual equipment pops. When they express their humanity in this way, their audience comes across to their side of the situation. This is different from self-defeating humour because it is reactive.
- Affiliate Humour is the best technique to use when speaking to a friendly audience, or as member of a team. The example of the bride’s father is a good case in point. We all loved the person whose day it was, and we all enjoyed the light-hearted banter. Encourage your audience to participate in the spontaneous fun that follows, before you gently work back to your topic.
The Speaker as the Great Entertainer
There is an actor in every one of us, and it should show when we deliver an impassioned speech. We must be careful not to let this dilute the value of the content. There are times like funerals where our humour should be filled with pathos, and happier celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries when we can be a little ribald.
Finally, remember to be sensitive to your audience. Research it in advance before you risk aggressive joking. Stick to affiliate humour to avoid upsetting someone, unless of course you knock your glass of water over. That is when self-enhancing humour can be a godsend, as you use it to engage your audience with laughs.
Comment by Matt
Joking is a grear way to break the ice and make everybody involved feel more comfortable and relaxed. The jokes, however, have to be in good taste and not be offensive to anyone.
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