By Dawnna St. Louis
National Speaker and Coach
As a professional speaker and speaking coach, people often ask me, “How can I inject humor into my speech or presentation?”
This query is usually followed by some comical ideas. “Maybe I could tell a joke, fall down the stairs, or have a large flower on my lapel squirt someone in the eye,” they suggest.
While that makes me laugh, quite honestly the answer is simple. You can’t force humor into your presentation or speech. You just need to pay attention to the people and situations around you, and you’ll find a wealth of material to weave into a humorous speech.
A World of Comedy
The first rule for building a funny speech is actually the first rule of good speech-writing: 70 percent of what you share should be made up of real stories that drive home your points.
And it is in those stories where you will find the humor. Humor lives in dialog. Dialog lives in stories.
Think about great comedians, such as Bill Cosby, whose book “Cosbyology” is featured in this month’s Leadership column by my fellow Be Inkandescent columnist Robin McDougal.
The Cos told so many stories in his stand-up routine that his savvy producers decided to create a sitcom based on his act. If you are over 20, my guess is that you remember The Cosby Show, which aired for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984, until April 30, 1992.
It also blazed a trail for other programs such as “Seinfeld,” “Ellen,” “Roseanne,” “Home Improvement,” “The Drew Carey Show,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “The Cosby Show” also spawned the spin-off, “A Different World,” which ran for six seasons from 1987 to 1993.
Don’t worry! I am not telling you that you have to be a great comedian to deliver a humorous speech. However, you would be wise to take a tip from the great comics of our time and pay attention to what goes on around you.
I promise, if you sit back and watch, you’ll find that there is some really funny stuff happening. Just think of a time when you have gone out to dinner with a group of friends. You are having drinks, ordering appetizers, and engaging in great conversation.
Think back on the great conversation. Did you laugh? Of course you did. And odds are good that you were most likely laughing at a story that someone told. Think about how your friend engaged you and the others, and what it was about the tale that tickled your funny bone. Analyze it, then begin to tie similar stories to a point in your speech.
Keep in mind that the goal of a funny speech isn’t to be the comedian in the room. The goal is to inject the humor of everyday life into what you are sharing with the audience as way of relating to them, and helping them relate to you. Not only will this approach get you big laughs, it’ll endear you to the people you are hoping to impress.
To get you started, following is a speech I recently gave about the value of changing perspective to a group of corporate leaders.
Perspective Is Everything
Sometimes you have to change your perspective to get a clearer view of the problem.
When my sons, Brytt and Travian, were 5 and 8 respectively, they had bunk beds. The youngest, Brytt, was on the top bunk while Travian slept on the bottom. Every night, after we finished all bedtime rituals, I would tuck them in.
Specifically, I would tell Brytt the following: “Now tonight you are going to stay in your bed, right? No climbing down and sleeping in Travian’s bed right?” He would nod in agreement, and I’d turn off the lights.
Inevitably in the morning, Brytt would be comfortably sleeping in Travian’s bed. This went on for several weeks, and I could not figure out why Brytt kept moving. Although we talked about it; I never directly asked Brytt why he kept moving from the top bunk to the bottom bunk.
So finally one morning I said, “Brytt, why do you keep moving from your bed to Travian’s bed?” He said; “Because I have to potty and if I get back in bed my head will get hurt.”
Completely confused, I said, “I don’t understand how your head will get hurt. When I tuck you in your head doesn’t get hurt.” He said, “Your head won’t get hurt when you tuck me in. You have to come over here.”
He pointed to his bed, and still confused, I climbed in to get a glimpse of what he was worried about. “See,” I said, “my head isn’t hurt, and I just got up here.”
Brytt scurried down from the bunk, flipped the switch on the wall, and the ceiling fan started whizzing by my face like the blades on a helicopter. Suddenly the problem was quite literally right in front of my eyes. The fan was too close for comfort.
Only when I saw things from my young son’s point of view did I have a clear view of the problem. We separated the bunk beds that night.
1. Notice that there is a teaser point, a brief story, some dialog, and a little humor before I drive home the solidifying point.
2. While story creation is the first step in finding the humor in your presentation, the second — and mission-critical step — is the delivery. So practice your speech in front of the mirror, then in front of a friend, to be sure that your timing is right.
3. Remember to pause and smile so that your audience knows it is okay to laugh out loud with you — and they will.
Here’s to your speaking success!
About Dawnna St. Louis
Professional speaker and coach Dawnna St. Louis began her career in 1990 as a technologist. Hungry to learn, she dove into mastering computer hardware, enterprise networks, and software programming languages such as C++, Java, and C#. Her knack for converting techno-babble into concepts that business leaders could understand caught the attention of executives, who soon asked her to help solve their communications issues.
Her ability to speak confidently in public landed Dawnna her first professional speaking engagement, at 25, before a Congressional Committee for the U.S. District Courts in the Southern District of Florida.
Dawnna’s desire to share her personal knowledge and expertise with other entrepreneurs and business leaders led her to branch out on her own and form the highly successful Miami-based speaking and coaching firm, Dawnna St. Louis. Her clients include professional athletes and public figures, as well as C-level executives.
“My goal is to coach executives to create memorable and powerful messages, and public figures to answer those embarrassing impromptu questions fearlessly and flawlessly,” she says. “The results never cease to amaze my clients, who report that after my program they have higher sales, improved public profiles, and the confidence to deliver a well-developed, powerful message.”
For more information, visit www.dawnna.com.