Where did we learn that we have to be serious all the time to be taken seriously? In my experience, it’s just not true. When people laugh, they learn. With this in mind, let’s explore how you can be funnier when you give a speech or presentation.
I’ve coached hundreds of speaker and have come to one simple conclusion: everybody is funny. But most of us have spent years trying not to be funny in professional situations in an attempt to be taken seriously. As a result most people don’t have a clue what their funny looks, sounds and feels like.
The challenge of humor is to be as funny when you are in front of an audience as you are with colleagues and friends at work or at a cocktail party. You must be able to witness your naturally funny behavior in order to bring that “funny” to the platform. That behavior includes vocal rhythms and volume, physical gestures and mannerisms and a sense of joy and playfulness.
Let’s focus on three elements that will make you funnier: comedy writing, exaggeration and playfulness.
Comedy is structure combined with delivery. While delivery is essential, structure is equally important. In fact, when the structure is excellent, almost anyone can deliver the same material and it will get the laugh.
Let’s look at a technique called a “triple”. In this example, I use a triple to illustrate the difference in personality styles between myself and my teenage son.
“My son Bennett and I couldn’t be more different. I’m an extrovert - he’s an introvert. I’m creative - he’s linear. I’m verbal - he’s (hold for two beats) an engineer.”
In a “triple”, rather than using one or two examples to explain something, use three instead. The first two set a pattern and the third breaks the pattern with a humorous twist.
Triples get a laugh because of structure. In the example used above, I always get a good laugh on the word, engineer. Why? Let’s break it down.
First of all, I’m playing off of common knowledge of personality descriptions. Everyone is aware of the personality categories of introverts and extroverts. That example lays the foundation for the “triple.” Introverts and extroverts set up the pattern of opposites. “Creative” and “linear” continues the pattern because creative people are known to be non-linear thinkers.
To aid in this second example I use a gesture with my hands to indicate the difference between creative and linear. On the word “creative” my hands fly all over the place. On the word “linear” I hold my hands in front of me with the palms facing each other about three inches apart. I then move them from right to left as if organizing my socks by the day of the week.
In the third example, when I say the word “verbal”, the logical progression of opposites would be “non-verbal.” By substituting the word “engineer” I have used the ultimate weapon of comedy structure, surprise. It is an illogical, logical substitution. Engineers are non-verbal. Since there are engineers in most business audiences, and since engineers are known be be more cerebral than verbal, the device works.
Where does this kind of structure evolve? In the writing. It happens when you are writing your script and rehearsing their delivery. You may get lucky and discover something funny spontaneously on the platform every once in awhile, but if you want results that you can count on day in and day out, write your comedy.
Exaggeration in comedy simply means that you take something to the extremes. Take your idea, gesture or situation and keep going, broaden it - blow it all out of proportion.
There are three forms of exaggeration:
Exaggerating the facts: I tell all my students, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” What I mean is that embellishment is the backbone of comedy. When you want a laugh, stretch the truth. Here’s an example.
Truth: I fell down a couple of stairs and skinned my knee. Exaggeration: I was walking down a flight of steps and I tripped and went flying through the air. I grabbed for the railing and it came off in my hand. As I was falling forward, a nine foot railing in my hand, I swung around and let go of the railing. It went sailing through the air and crashed through the windshield of my boss’s car. Luckily for me, I only scraped my knee.
Exaggerating vocally: Emphasize emotional states with vocal exaggeration such as volume. Get loud for panic or if something is ridiculous.
Exaggerating physically: I have yet to work with anyone, including high level executives and accountants, who wasn’t able to get a laugh simply by exaggerating a physical or facial reaction. Physical comedy is non-verbal. It takes place in reaction to an inner or outer stimulus.
Physical comedy, whether it’s a gesture, a melodramatic freeze or a facial expression, takes time. You have to deliver a sentence, take the time to fill the next moment with a reaction, and then go on. Without completing the reaction, the bit won’t work. It always takes longer than most non-comedians think – so triple the length of the reaction.
If you observe yourself closely, you may discover that you are more animated off the platform than on it. In other words, you exaggerate naturally, and then tone it down for performance. That’s backwards. Exaggerate and you will get laughs.
Playfulness is a quality, but also is an ingredient in comedic performance. Funny people have fun while they perform. This attitude of playfulness occurs on two levels. The first level is with myself. The second level is with my audience. When you are playful with your own personality, material and style, it gives the audience permission to laugh along with you. We know this as self-deprecating humor. I call it self-loving humor. Without loving yourself, it is hard to make fun of yourself in a way that creates connection and safety with the audience. Having created a level of safety with your audience, they will allow you to be playful with them, as well.
In conclusion, it’s not true that you have to be serious all the time to be taken seriously. So loosen up and get playful! You’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
PS: I have two resources that teach The 29 Disciplines of Comedy. The first is a 2 CD set called Get More Laughs. The same two CD's are contained in 21-Step Dynamite Speech System.