MAKE ‘EM LAUGH
Make ’em laugh
Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?
Movie musical fans will remember these classic lines from one of the most beloved musical numbers of all time. This song was featured in Singin’ in the Rain from 1952. The vision of Donald O’Connor gleefully dancing and singing his way through this memorable scene still fascinates me today. If you have never seen it, check it out on YouTube. You are in for an old-fashioned Hollywood treat of brilliant gags and clowning, break dancing, back flips, and landing hard on concrete. I understand he was bedridden for 3 days after shooting this scene. He had to do it twice when something happened to the film on the first take. And, most importantly of all…of course, Donald made us laugh. We all love to laugh, and why not? It’s feels great to let loose with a chuckle or a hardy guffaw as often as possible.
THE BENEFITS OF LAUGHTER
It’s true: laughter is strong medicine. It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter burns calories. Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.
Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.
THE FUNNY SIDE OF SPEAKING
So, if laughter is so good for us, why don’t more speakers incorporate a good chuckle into their public speeches. The answer is quite simple. Things that, on the surface, seem easy to do, never really are.
You may not think you’re a natural, but anyone can learn how to be funny. Humor is a powerful tool. If you can get your audience to laugh (or at least chuckle or smile), you’re golden. While you may not have the desire to do a full-on humorous speech, there is no reason why you can’t add some humor to your presentations to mix things up and engage your audience.
This is not to say every speech you deliver should drip with humor. However, the occasional use of humor, whether peppered lightly throughout your presentations or used heavily in the occasional dedicatedly funny speech, can have a few benefits:
- Appropriate humor that’s true to you let’s your audience get a sense of your personality.
- People like to laugh. If your speech is funny, your audience will stay engaged.
- Good humor stands out and is memorable.
Below are five things you can do to tap into your inherent humor and add it to your next speech:
1. Identify things that make you laugh.
Chances are there are things that make you laugh – TV shows, movies, books, certain blogs, etc. Pay attention to the stuff you find really funny, and ask yourself, “What is it about these things that makes me laugh?”
Do you like puns, rants, observational humor, slapstick, or double-entendrès? Whatever it is, make note of it. The style of humor that makes you laugh is a good style for you to start weaving into your speaking.
2. Add more of those things into your life.
It’s easier to write funny presentations when you feel funny. Consistently watching, reading and listening to things that make you laugh will help you feel funny.
You can learn from the things you laugh at. You can learn structure, style, construction, and pacing from observation. Listen to stand-up comedians because they make you laugh, but pay careful attention not to what the comedian is saying, but to the nuances of how he or she is saying it. Identify things you already do that make others laugh.
3. Learn the basics of humor.
Some people are fortunate enough to automatically be funny. If you are not one of these lucky people, then you should learn some of the fundamentals of humor and joke construction.
There are many ways to weave words into humor. Once you understand some of the techniques comedians and funny speakers use to create humor, you can easily edit your material to add some humor of your own.
Here are a few techniques to consider:
- Exaggeration: “Then I talked to a woman whose voice was so high only the dog could hear it.”
- Puns: “Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.”
- Self-deprecation: “And then, even though I knew it was too hot to eat, I bit into the pizza anyway. Because, clearly, I am an idiot.”
- Wordplay: “She brought me a plate of French fries instead. At least I thought they were French because they had an attitude and wore berets.”
4. Understand that humor comes in the rewrite.
Sometimes you get lucky and your first draft is very funny. Usually, however, the first draft is content-focused. It may have some funny ideas you need to develop, but it’s not going to be funny as is.
Here’s a simple draft-writing plan you can use:
Draft 1: Write your speech, funny or not.
Draft 2: Go back and add as much humor as you can.
Draft 3: Remove anything that isn’t funny, doesn’t support your point, or breaks the flow of the piece.
5. Keep working at it.
Like anything else, humor takes time to develop. If you expect to come out of the gate and immediately start creating hilarious material, you will be disappointed. If you are committed to gradual and steady improvement, you will find that, over time, your presentations will get funnier and the work easier.
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BILL PATTI Founder & President at YourVoiceProfessor Bill is an award-winning radio and TV announcer, voice-over talent, and college professor … (Read full bio)