Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Biggest Fear Public Speakers Face Using Humor !

 Speakers face myriad of fears when they attempt to use humor to connect with their audience.  How does one get their material, how to intro the jokes or how much humor to inject are all valid concerns.  However, the biggest fear is what if they don’t laugh!  As a professional comedian and speaker for twenty-five years, I can fully sympathize with this plight. In our business there's an old saying  " Dying is easy. Comedy is hard" !

Telling a joke or relating a humorous observation that receives little or no response can throw a speaker or a comedian into a tailspin from which they might not recover. There is one simple technique you can use that works like magic when your material is not hitting the mark.  Most comedians write jokes with the expectation that people will laugh at them.  I do that but I take it one step further.  I write another joke that can be waiting in the wings.  It’s called a throw away line in our business.  It is effective because if your audience doesn’t laugh at the initial joke, you have a second joke that makes fun of how bad the initial joke was or you can make fun of the audience for not laughing at the joke.  If you have a backup line or several backup lines you will have the confidence to try your funny material with the benefit of a safety net, thus taking the fear out of attempting humor in your presentation.

Let me give you an example of a throw away line.  I was speaking at a corporation in the very early morning and my material didn’t seem to be working so I just paused and said to the audience, “You know what folks, I don’t care if you laugh, or not.  I’m not even your scheduled speaker today, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!  Most of the audience got the reference to the Holiday Inn commercial where seemingly unqualified people were doing extraordinary jobs just by sleeping at their hotel chain.  It broke the ice and more importantly signaled the audience that I would be interjecting humor along with my content so they were inclined to pay attention. 

Years ago a comedian and good friend of mine, Auggie Cook, said to me after a particularly challenging show, You know what Buddy, you are great with a difficult audience”,  It was because of my throw away lines.  The audience hung on my every word just waiting to see if the preceding sentence was a bad joke or part of my message.  What a powerful effect to have on an audience!  So remember, the next time you’re hesitant to incorporate humor into your speech or presentation, do what comedians do and use a throw away  line.  

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