There is a vicious rumor circulating that modern business speakers are facing more and more expectation to be funny. David Nihill may well have started this rumor with is new book Do You Talk Funny, 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker, which has been ranked No. 1 in public speaking for Amazon Kindle since its January 13th (2015) debut. He makes a compelling case for adding humor to your talks and gives actionable steps to those who want to tickle the funny bone in their next speaking engagement.
Whether preparing for a business presentation, giving a wedding toast, defending your thesis or raising money from investors, remember one thing at your next public speaking engagement: Once you step on stage you are in show business.
I know, I know, I can hear your objections now: "But I am not a speaker nor do I want to be in show business."
You will be. More and more people are finding financial success outside traditional companies. Sooner or later you need to self-market. To do this, you need to tell your story and how you tell it makes all the difference.
Today's generation has been socialized to receive info via humor. They want infotainment, not information. Clients don't watch "20/20″ or "Nightline" for news; they watch Colbert and Jon Stewart. They want and expect information delivered with a punch line. Deliver raw information, devoid of humor and an engaging story and your message will be lost among the ringtones, vibrations, and swipe-rights of modern life.
Keynotes are becoming a thing of the past
Who has the time or focus to listen to one person intently for an hour? Very few it seems. Talks are becoming TED talks; short, funny and information packed. Studies by noted educator Wilbert McKeachie demonstrate that "typically, attention increases from the beginning of the lecture to 10 minutes into the lecture and decreases after that point." The lesson? Keep it short.
Carmine Gallo is a news anchor turned author, columnist and keynote speaker. In short, he's a guy people actually want to listen to. He says humor is one of the nine key items in successful TED talks: "Humor is proven to increase the likelihood that your pitch or presentation will be successful, whether you're pitching to one person or speaking to thousands." It also "lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message."
On a laughs per minute basis, (a metric often used by comedians to gauge their performance) there are several TED talks that produce more laughs than the classic comedy, The Hangover. Needless to say they are also a lot more informative. At the time of David's book writing, every one of the ten most popular TED talks moves the humor needle.
Why are leading speakers using humor to stand out?
Because science says so. "The brain doesn't pay attention to boring things," notes John Medina, a biologist and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules. "Laughter triggers a dopamine release, which aids memory and information processing. It's like a mental post-it note that tells your brain, remember this."
Modern day presenters are expected to be entertainers. Those who do, do much better. Those who grab attention are more likely to hold it.
But adding humor is risky...
To the untrained it often is. Murphy's Law states that what can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy's Law of Public Speaking states that what can go wrong will be 10 times worse and go viral.
The good news is that you don't need to be naturally funny to get laughs
This five-step formula helps anyone come up with an easily scripted joke and greatly reduces the chances of unwanted YouTube stardom. It is based on the belief that the world needs more stories and fewer opinions.
Wondering how to get started? David led me through this exercise in his book: Think back through your life experiences and make a list of funny stories you like to tell. Great stories often come from seemingly mundane topics. Find a personal story that relates to the topic you're presenting and use it to connect to the audience. Remember a good story is about how the listener can image himself or herself in the story.
Once you find that story, you'll need to:
1. Set up the story in a relatable way. You ideally want everyone in the room to be like, "yeah, that happened to me."
2. Get specific and make it about it you. Start telling them about your own funny experience.
3. Deliver the unexpected. At this point, the audience assumes that they know where you're going with this. But you're most likely to get a laugh if you can surprise them.
For example: Say you have a funny story about a time you are in China. Many people will not have been to China so to start the story and grab maximum attention make it more relatable. Eg. "Sometimes being in a new place can be challenging" (relatable to many). "I was in China last year" (specific to you). Many people will never have travelled overseas, many will never have been to China but all will have been in a new place at some stage in their lives. Now you can get to the funny part. This is always in the details of what actually happened to you.
4. Remember brevity is levity: Once you identify the funny part of your story use joke structure to get there as quickly and effectively as possible. Joke Structure is Set Up (Opening statement), Punchline (the funny part or twist in the story), Taglines (additional laugh/joke lines). Using joke structure forces you to cut out the unnecessary.
5. Keep testing it - Permanent Beta: To get a story to its most effective, funniest form is a process of continuous testing and refinement. Tell it, record it, and review it to see what worked.
People love a funny story. As our good friend Science tells us, we are wired to appreciate it. We are also wired to love laughter. Our brains make this so by releasing dopamine. Dopamine feels awesome, so by making your audience laugh during your presentation or speaking event, you can actually make your audience feel good, giving your speech a natural endorphin-fueled evolutionary advantage over those who opted for a typical, boring business presentation.
The world is awaiting your funny and only you are qualified to bring it.