Have you ever been to a family function or event in which someone DECIDES that they are going to be the comedian for the night even though they have no formal training, experience or talent? They have taken it upon themselves be the ones that put the whole audience in stitches…except that they are painfully not funny…and they don’t know it?
Perhaps it was at a wedding where the best man got up and brutally embarrassed the groom (formerly his best friend) by bringing up super painful humiliating inside jokes and anecdotes in which the groom looks like a jerk/loser or idiot. How is that helpful in the context of a wedding? Inevitably though the speaker bombs and the audience doesn’t laugh but is instead left feeling anxious and uncomfortable. What a horrible way to celebrate right?
To be honest, I don’t know why the heck they do this, but I can tell you what is at play when someone TRIES to be funny vs. using humor in a speech.
I actually just had a participant in one of my public speaking courses attempt to be “funny” in a speech and it was beyond painful to watch. The student initially came off very sweet and well natured. However, when he worked on the assignment which was to create a mock ceremony speech (similar to the one you would do in a wedding or family gathering) he made a choice to use “comedy” and wrote material that he thought would get a good reaction from an audience for its harshness and offensive perspective. As you can imagine there was a big disconnect from what he had envisioned in his mind when he wrote the speech to what ended up happening when he delivered it.
Experiencing the presentation felt like when you hear an opera singer try to sing pop. In most cases, it can be jarring to your ears and feel really off for everyone involved.
In the case of the student, I noticed that he was not using his authentic voice or point of view, he was also trying to make FUN OF and be mean as opposed to simply finding humor in a situation, and he also kept looking to the audience for approval which he wasn’t getting (unfortunately he kept going regardless).
Fortunately, though, the incident became a great teaching lesson for me in terms of how people perceive comedy and humor and how they ineffectively incorporate it into their speech completely missing the mark every time.
Here are 3 things to be aware of when you are crafting a presentation and want to use humor in it:
- Be Genuine: Write your material for your unique speaking voice. Are you someone is very direct and to the point? Do you like to compliment people? Or are you someone who is very theatrical and likes to use funny voices? Be aware of the kinds of things you do in conversations that you like and that you feel are effective in getting your point across.
2. Tell a story instead of making FUN OF: I think a lot of people look at comedians (especially stand-up comics) and try to envision how they (the comedian) would deliver a certain line or how they would spin a cynical perspective on a subject. The way I always suggest clients use humor is by sharing something personal in which they messed up or a scenario in which something didn’t work out the way they had wanted it to. If the speaker positions themselves at the center of the narrative as a character that wanted to achieve a goal and a catastrophic huge/awful/silly/crazy/weird/or stupid force stopped them from getting what they wanted then they have the foundation of humor. Conflict is the foundation of comedy. All humor grows from tragedy, not from merely saying hurtful things about someone else. A clear conflict and point of view go a lot further in terms of entertaining an audience than just talking dirty or bringing up someone else’s painful past. Again, share a story in which you and the other person did something heroic and overcame a challenge together…instead of just ripping them a new one. The more detailed you are about everything that stopped you from getting what you want the more the audience will relate to your struggle and laugh as a form of identifying with your plight.
3. Connect with the audience by giving them a GIFT: When creating your speech think of yourself as someone who is providing a gift to an audience. That is why you went up and decided to present. If you are tasked with giving a speech at a wedding then think about who the audience is. More often than not they are there to celebrate and support the bride and groom on a huge turning point in their lives. I don’t care if EVERYBODY at the reception knows that the couple is not going to last the year together, it is not the time or place to call it out when the toasts are happening. Remember, people are just enduring the toasts until dinner comes out. The gift you can give the audience is being sincere and getting to the point faster. Craft your speech to be clear, concise, and helpful in some way. Another gift might just be keeping things super positive. If there is some “backstage drama” going on behind the scenes (like a shotgun wedding for example) then don’t be the one to call it out, but instead, bring up something optimistic and hopeful. It might put everyone at ease, and help them feel good as they dig into their chicken or fish entrees. Positivity also feels better to receive than anger and cynicism which is what happens when speakers “TRY” to be funny.
It can take years (YEARS-trust me) to figure out what painful things you want to share with an audience on stage, as well as acquiring the necessary skills and experience to be so proficient at it that you elicit laughs. Many speakers think they can “kill it” at a wedding or ceremony by writing down hurtful offensive things about the people being celebrated and imagining how a famous comedian would deliver it. As we know, the results are often abysmal and painful to watch. I invite you to instead create a compelling story in which you are being authentic and sharing something positive. This approach will definitely make you look great, and perhaps make the evening more fun!