Effective Speaking – 7 Ways to Be a Funnier Speaker

Even if you are not a humorist, or maybe especially if you are not a humorist, if you can add a little humor to your speeches you will reap some major rewards. Humor can loosen up the audience, get them to like you, engage them, and actually improve the audiences learning and retention. Many people don’t think they are funny, but by using the following seven tips you can add humor to any presentation.

1) Use Humor You Find Funny

This one seems obvious, but in your quest to add humor you may try to think of lines that your audience will laugh at. While it is important to consider the audience, you must first start with things you think are funny. If you try to tell a joke or tell a story that you don’t think is all that great but you think the audience will like, chances are it will bomb. Find the intersection between what you find funny and what your audience will find funny.

2) Use Humor You Would “Offstage”

This point builds off of point #1. If you are thinking about telling a story (funny or not, quite frankly), think about whether you would ever tell that story in that way to your friends or family when you are just hanging out. If the answer is yes, and you think your audience will like it, then go with it. If not, let it go, no matter how much you think the audience may enjoy it.

3) Watch Funny Movies and TV

It’s very hard to be funny if you don’t feel funny. Exercise your funny bone by watching TV shows and movies that make you laugh. Not only will you be in a more playful and fun state, but you will learn a tremendous amount about comedy structure and timing, even if accidentally.

4) Ask “Humor Questions”

The one thing that separates comedians from the rest of the “normal world” is that comedians process the world by constantly asking themselves, “what’s funny about this?” It may be so ingrained that they don’t realize it, but that’s what they do. Good, bad, happy, sad, whatever; their first response to everything is “what’s funny about this?” Start asking that question a lot. Not only will you start finding more humor you can use, but you will also be training yourself to be a more naturally funny person (and yes, that is possible!)

5) Pause

You can have the best material in the world, but with bad timing it still won’t get a laugh. Comedic timing is an art that can take years to master. To start, just remember to pause at the moments when you expect the audience to laugh. It doesn’t need to be too long a pause, but give enough time for the audience to catch up and laugh. What if the audience doesn’t laugh? Well, that leads us to…

6) Don’t Care If You Get a Laugh

Perhaps the hardest tip of all. Watching a speaker or comedian not get laughs is uncomfortable. Watching a speaker or comedian be flustered or bothered by not getting laughs is deadly. You are not a comedian, so if you don’t get a laugh, that’s ok. Just keep going as if everything is a-ok. Chances are, if you don’t get flustered the audience won’t even notice. The best way to do this is to tell your jokes in the context of stories. That way if you don’t get a laugh you just keep telling your story.

7) Commit 100%

Humor takes commitment. If you are uncertain about a joke and don’t tell it with full belief that the audience will laugh, the joke will fall flat. (this is why points 1 & 2 are so important). Some speakers have the self-delusion, “if I act like I don’t think this is a great joke and people don’t laugh, then I won’t look as bad.” That never works. Tell your stories and jokes with 100% confidence, and you are much more likely to succeed.

Use these seven tips and watch as your speeches and presentations quickly get bigger and bigger laughs!

Improv Lessons: Be Willing to Fail

Let’s face it: failure stinks! Nobody likes to fail, and failure is very rarely rewarded. And yet, if you are unwilling to fail then you may never ever really succeed.

Improv comedy is an art form that is wrought with the potential for failure. Every time you take the stage, you have no idea what to expect. You don’t know what kind of suggestions the audience will give you. You don’t know what your partners are going to do or say next. Heck, if you’re doing it right, you don’t know what you are going to do or say next.

With all that uncertainty, it is easy to get stressed out and get overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Novice improvisers often let this fear get the better of them. Even experienced improvisers sometimes spend too much time being afraid of failure.

In my experience, the best improvisers are those who realize that every time they take the stage they might mess up (maybe even mess up big) but then let that fear go. They’re willing to take risks and do their best, and if they fail they simply get up, brush themselves off, and try again.

When you accept the very real possibility of failure, you release yourself from the chains that fear puts on you. Ironically, once you let go of that fear, you are able to perform much more naturally and relaxed, and your chances of success actually go up.

The same principle applies off-stage. If you are speaking, you need to let go of the fear of failure before you take the stage. If you are about to go on an important sales call, remind yourself that if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world and you’ll move on. Whatever is making you nervous, simply tell yourself, “I’m going to do my best, and if I mess up I’ll figure it out and move on.”

This is not to say that failure is ok. Failure can have real consequences – financial, physical, relationship, etc. However, once you are committed to a course of action, worrying about failure will accomplish nothing other than make you more likely to fail.

There’s an old saying, “what we resist, persists.” Once you accept what you are resisting, it loses its hold over you and washes away. Whether you are about to do an improv performance, give a speech, go on a sales call, or have a difficult conversation, accept the possibility you might mess up, let it go, and then go out and do your best.

Effective Speaking: What’s Your Point?

When you are putting together a presentation, it is absolutely critical that you have a “point.” That is, you must make certain that you and the audience know why you are speaking, why they are listening, and what they can expect to take away.
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Effective Speaking: Volume Control

If there’s one simple thing that anyone – anyone – could do right away to be a more effective speaker, it would be to simply learn to able increase and decrease the volume of their voice on command.

In theater, this is called vocal projection, because your goal is to “project” your voice all the way to the back of the venue so that everyone can hear you clearly.

It doesn’t matter how great a speaker you are; if people can not hear you, they will not get anything out of your presentation. Even if they can kind of hear you, if they have to focus and struggle they’ll get frustrated and stop paying attention.

As an improv comedian, I learned this lesson early on. We would perform in small coffeehouses and large theaters, indoors and outdoors, in for quiet audience and for raucous groups. Improv doesn’t lend itself well to proper staging, acoustics, or mics, so we learned how to make sure everyone could hear us, all on our own.

Even if you never plan on being a performer or think you will only speak from time to time, there are a few great reasons to still practice increasing your volume:

It Gives You Authority

People who can be louder (without shouting) sound more confident, powerful, and in charge. These are all great qualities to have when you are speaking.

Microphones Can Fail

You may be assuming that you will always have a mic at your disposal. Bad assumption. Sometimes the planner assumes you won’t need one. Sometimes they have one and it won’t work. I once spoke at an outdoor event where the company brought a portable mic/speaker system. It didn’t work well and kept cutting in and out. The speaker before me wasn’t loud enough to go without, so he had to struggle with the bad system. I just bellowed without it. One of the most frequent comments I received afterward was “thank you for being so clear and easy to hear.”

Technology is great, but don’t rely 100% on it.

Volume Control Can Add Power

If you can increase and decrease the volume of your voice, you can add drama and effect to your stories and points. Increase your volume to make a powerful point. Decrease it while telling a moving story.

When you have control, your voice becomes one more tool in your tool box.

Working on your volume may not sound like an exciting way to develop as a speaker, but trust me: give it a try, and you’ll see people respond to your presentations more than you ever have before.

Effective Speaking: 7 Ways Improv Comedy Can Make You a Better Speaker

Effective speaking isn’t all that complicated. It really just takes developing and practicing a few core skills. The challenge is that a) a lot of people don’t what these skills are and b) these skills aren’t commonly taught.

One great place to learn this skills is through improv comedy. Whether you find a class in your local area, use the Improv for Speakers DVD, or attend The Speaking School, improv comedy can help you be a better speaker in many ways:
Continue reading Effective Speaking: 7 Ways Improv Comedy Can Make You a Better Speaker