National Speakers Association Northern California: Laugh Your Ass Off!

Garr Reynolds recently remarked that stand-up comedy is the most terrifying presentation skill to master. Very few of us want to try doing a set at the local comedy club, no business person really needs that experience on their resume. But knowing the right and wrong way to work humor into a business presentation is a valuable skill for both speechwriter and/or speaker to master.

But surely no mere mortal is funny enough to make audiences laugh in the way Seinfeld, Woody Allen or the talk-show hosts make ’em laugh? Many speaking coaches warn that attempts at humor in a business speech are doomed to embarrassment and failure. Audiences want the facts, just the facts, ma’am. Fun has no place in the business world, damn it! This might be true…in Germany. But in many countries, a little humor goes a long way to connect with an audience. But what to do – if you don’t have the talent or courage? Are there any sure-fire techniques to build a laugh machine to turn ’em on?

The May meeting of the vibrant (and growing!) NSA/NC Chapter was the place to be Saturday to see two masters of the comedic arts share their trade secrets.

We leaned about “The Rule of Three”; “The Call Back”; “The Topper” as well as a bunch of funny lines and plain zany ideas to plant in your next script to wow your audience. These were not the idle suggestions of amateur funny men – they were practical, tried and tested techniques to get any business audience laughing.

David Glickman – ‘Be More Funny, Make More Money’

David is a superb stand-up comic in the tradition of the best of the Borscht Belt. His tips for creating great humor include:

  • The Rule of Three – use two ‘normal’ words, then a funny one – “I had dreams. I had hopes. I had…hair.”
  • Use call-backs -referring (calling back) to a laugh line earlier in the program. Let the audience know it’s funny with “Did I mention…”
  • Odd numbers are funnier than even numbers – “We drove for eleven hours before I asked for directions…” is funnier than ten hours – a mysterious but proven fact. Funny, that?
  • David shared other great insider tips. Such as using a graphics professional to create a glue-on cover that parodies a well known book with a new title the specific audience will find funny – Harry Potter and the Mystery of Hotel Banquet Pricing for a speech to a Meeting Planners Convention.

    Business audiences love jokes that are customized for them. Poke fun at the competition, mention product names, use corporate lingo. They’ll love being in on the ‘Inside Joke’.

    All this and more in his excellent book.

    Brad Montgomery – Got Mirth? Milking Your Material For All The Humor It’s Worth

    Wow! A stand-up comic who started in the business when he was 16, is a magician and he has his own blog! What’s not to like!

    Brad took an analytic approach to generating mirth in front of the mike. He spent time putting our fears to rest by sharing some groundrules:

  • Expect to bomb – the audience will still love you if they see you try, and who was to know that what you just said was meant to be funny? Get over it, just don’t let them see the fear. Johnny Carson made a career out of bad jokes, one golf swing later, America still loved him.
  • Lighten up. Any humor in a business setting lightens up the program. Engage with the audience by recognizing someone in the front row by name and asking them a question or two. It makes it more human.
  • Brad gave us great tips for livening up business audiences.

  • Planting a n obvious question works on many levels. The CEO would love to ask something nonsensical in a serious tone – they have precious few ways to demonstrate they’re an average Joe to the troops.
  • Rehearse some lines to deal with predictable failures – the mic and powerpoint will fail (“I guess the mic/bulbs here are supplied by [the competition]”), there will be a cell phone that will ring (“Gee, I didn’t know that 900 numbers now call you back…”).
  • Let the audience see you are having a good time.

    Laugh and the world laughs with you, fail and they’ll let you die.

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