A few months ago, Cindy a 16 year old high school student showed up as a guest at the West Side Talkers toastmasters public speaking club that I founded on the Upper West Side of New York City.
After seeing her do a great job at “table topics” (which is the segment of our program that helps people work on their impromptu speaking skills), I casually walked up to Cindy and asked “so what brought you to our club?” First she joked and smiled while pointing to her mom standing beside her. And then she told me something that brought an answer to the burning question that I had pondered while seeing her speak;
I thought, “How is a 16 year old high school kid this good at engaging her audience while thinking on her feet?” And then the words came out of her mouth, “I’m a high school student, and I’m involved with public forum debate as well as parliamentary and model congress debate and I want to improve on my public speaking.” Bingo! I got my answer. Now I knew why she was so good at “thinking and speaking on her feet.”
Thinking on Your Feet is an Acquired Skill
Contrary to popular belief, being great at impromptu speaking is not something you’re born with. In fact, being great at public speaking in general, is a skill that needs to be picked up and developed. Cindy was lucky to be going to a school that had put a strong focus on developing ones leadership and communication skills and when she showed up at our club, she was already well on that path.
It wasn’t just that she was good at speaking that impressed me, it was with the ease and effortless way that she went about responding to a spontaneous question during our table topics segment that really piqued my interest. She delivered a 2 minute spontaneous response that was not only well structured, but one which she engaged her audience with great content and humor.
What most people don’t realize is that the skills needed in mastering the art of delivering a prepared speech and those that are needed to mastering the art of speaking spontaneously are distinctly different.
Mastering the art of “thinking on your feet” will not only help you with being able to easily break in and out of your prepared talks and be spontaneous with your audience, but it will also help you with being better at speaking up at board meetings, mastering job interviews, or being hosted as a guest on a radio or talk show where being able to successfully respond to spontaneous questions is crucial.
The Unfortunate Consequences of NOT Mastering this Skill
To really get a grasp of the real consequences of not being good at impromptu speaking, one need not look further than our republican presidential debates that took place earlier this year.
According to a focus group that was conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz immediately after the 4th republican presidential debate on November 10th, 2015 on the Fox Business Network, Florida senator Marco Rubio won the debate. When asked to describe Rubio in one word, the focus group participants said:
Now fast forward just a few months to Feb 7th, 2016. Just a day after the 8th Republican debate, a headline in vanity fair summarized it all; “Marco Rubio short-circuits during GOP debate.” The Washington post went further by putting a damper on his days left in the campaign with the headline “Debate slip-up seems to halt Rubio’s momentum.” It was obvious to everyone that Marco Rubio was the biggest loser of the 8th GOP debate.
So the question begs, “what happened to the eloquent, passionate, and inspirational speaker that Macro Rubio was known to be just a few month prior? What was it that lead to his disastrous performance at the GOP debate on the night of Feb 6th which became a turning point in his campaign?
There was one distinguishing feature that separated the GOP debate on the night of Saturday Feb 6th at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire from all of the republican debates prior which became a game-changer for the participants.
If you were to re-watch the full debate you would hear the moderator ABC News journalists David Muir say the following in his opening comments, “Good evening everyone. This is the first time since Iowa and the only time before the new Hampshire primary that the republican candidates will have the opportunity to face each other.”
It would be worthwhile to watch the first 15 seconds of the clip below so you can actually hear it for yourself.
Having the “Opportunity to face each-other“ was what made the difference in Marco Rubio’s fateful and disastrous performance that night, where he short-circuited under pressure and repeated the same talking points 4 times during his spat with Governor Chris Christie.
For a quick reminder of Marco Rubio’s debacle take a look at this 36 second clip.
Marco Rubio is a great speaker and knows how to “prepare” and craft a great speech and then “memorize and internalize it.” And then he knows how to go out and deliver it masterfully and beautifully using his great skills as a speaker with great emotional dynamic vocal variety and storytelling abilities.
As long as he was delivering his “well prepared statements and talking points” to questions that he had anticipated in advance, he did well and looked “presidential.” But the minute that cycle was interrupted, and he was put under pressure, that all evaporated into thin air!
The very skill that Marco Rubio was great and excels at which is to “prepare, memorize and internalize” became his greatest enemy that night when it came to drawing on the skill of “thinking on your feet.” When Governor Christie kept jabbing at him, the pressure got too intense for him and he couldn’t think fast enough on his feet. His brain short-circuited and he went back to his “memorized” talking points making him sound like an old broken record player. And unfortunately this blunder cost him big and ultimately put a nail in his bid for the presidency.
The New Hampshire primaries came only a few days following this debacle, and with this experience fresh in the minds of voters they knew that this wasn’t a man to elect as president. The thinking was simple; “if he can’t handle a few jabs during a debate how can he withstand the pressures of running a country.”
It’s unfortunate that Marco Rubio had not realized this shortcoming of his with impromptu speaking and taken action man years prior to improve in this area of his speaking. If he had voraciously studied and practiced the “art of impromptu” in the years prior leading up to his run for president, things could have turned out differently for him in his bid for presidency.
Impromptu Speaking is a Distinct Skill.
Mastering the art of impromptu is a skill that incorporates the art of speaking but is a separate and distinct skill that when combined with the skills of being able to deliver a great “prepared speech” will allow you to take your engagement with your audience to greater heights.
When an audience hears and sees you be able to break out of your “prepared speech” at spontaneous moments before, during, and after your speech, the connection doesn’t only feel magical for you, it also has the same feeling for your audience and you will connect with them on an entirely different level.
Not all of us have been fortunate enough to be like Cindy and be involved in debate and speaking clubs from an early age. However, no matter what age we start we can still get on the road to developing this priceless skill. In fact, I was already in my 30s when I started on my path to speaking mastery.
Once I got on the path, In a very short time, I could identify where my strengths and weakness were. I found out pretty quickly that I was more comfortable in the “world of preparation” than being in the “world of spontaneity. ”
After watching the debate that fateful night of Feb 6th 2016 and seeing Marco Rubio fall apart like that, I could surely relate. In my early years of speaking development, I remember once putting together an hour long workshop and literally memorizing the entire script word-for-word because that’s what I was comfortable with. It was my crutch.
It worked for some time, but then one day it backed fired when I was unexpectedly cut off from my script and put on the spot and had to step out of my script and be spontaneous. When it was time to cut back into my script, I lost my place, drew a blank and froze. I did not only lose my train of thought that night, but worse, I lost the credibility with my audience.
After that fateful evening, I realized that mastering the art of impromptu is an essential and critical skill that cannot be overlooked if you want to be a speaker that really connects with your audience and as a result, I took concrete steps to mastering that skill.
Steps to Mastering the “art of Impromptu”
There are no magic solutions or quick fixes to becoming a master at “thinking on your feet.” And one of the biggest keys to successfully developing this skill is simply doing and practicing it often. However still, just as our GPS helps us navigate in taking the shortest route on our road trips, there are also a number of short cuts that you can take to developing the skills of impromptu speaking.
The following are steps that I took in order to fast track the development of my impromptu speaking skills and will surely help you do the same.
1. Join an Improv School
On top of all the countless hours of speaking courses and boot camps that I have immersed myself in, taking classes in improv was the second best thing that I did for my speaking development. It was like the cement that sealed and filled up the cracks in the foundation of my spontaneous speaking development.
Because of the training I did with improv, I am at a very different place with my skills at impromptu speaking than I was when I first started on the road to my speaking development. Today I embrace spontaneity with my audience whereas back then I had distanced myself from it.
Get on Google and do a search for an improv school within your city. Most major cities have improv schools with classes at varying skill levels from intro to advanced. If you live in the United States, major Cities like New York, Chicago, and Toronto have a number of very good improv schools that you can join.
2. Seek out Opportunities to Practice Spontaneous Speaking.
You can read up on improv and you can read books on speaking, but if you don’t ever take the stage and put theory into practice you simply won’t develop. It’s like anything else in life. There’s no substitute for experience.
So whenever you have the opportunity to speak you should take it. Being on stage in front of various audiences is where your skills will get anchored. If you are the type that always likes to work with a scripted speech, try changing it up and working without a script. If you are not a politician or in an arena where your words might be scrutinized by the media, then your speech really does not need to be scripted word-for-word. In fact it shouldn’t. Instead use bullet points to anchor your points and stories and speak freely and off-the-cuff. This will help build your muscles for spontaneous speaking.
3. Join a Toastmasters Club
If you’re not able to find opportunities to speak, then I’ve got a simple solution for you. Join a local toastmasters club and you’ll get plenty of opportunities. Getting involved with a toastmasters public speaking club would allow you to get increased stage time on a regular basis. Being with a toastmasters club is like having an on demand ready-made captive audience. When looking for a club to join, you’ll want to join one that puts a strong emphasis on impromptu speaking. If they also do improv it’s a definite plus. To search for toastmasters clubs in your area go to the following link.
4. Get Private Coaching
Coaching by far is the best method to fast-track your speaking development. When you combine the above suggestions with working with a qualified speech coach, the pace in your development will quadruple. Before I became a coach I had a coach. And looking back, I must say that working with my coach and mentors had literally cut many years off of my speaking development. Working with a coach is like taking the high speed highway versus the side-streets to your destination. You might eventually get to your destination, but with a coach you are guaranteed to get there much quicker!
Mastering the art of “thinking on your feet” will help take your speaking to magical new heights. You’ll be the kind of speaker that can seamlessly weave in and out of your structured speech and be “in the moment” with your audience. It is a skill that will not only help you when you’re on stage, but it will also help you with being better at speaking up at board meetings, mastering job interviews, or being hosted as a guest on a radio or talk show where being able to successfully respond to spontaneous questions is crucial. You will be able to handle anything that comes your way; whether it be a spontaneous talk, a high-Stakes Q and A, or even a political debate!
You’ll notice that the characters on some of our favorite cereal boxes that many of us have grown up with such as Fred Flintstone’s Fruity pebbles, Tony the Tiger (Kelloggs Frosted Flakes) and the Trix Rabbit all have one thing in common. They’re all looking straight at us.
You’ll also find this common phenomenon with other popular products like Aunt Jemima’s maple syrup , Quaker oats and the Sun-maid raisin girl. And there’s a very good reason for this, which may have more do with our subconscious craving for eye contact than with the actual taste of the products themselves. Corporate America knows this and that’s why they’ve put a lot of money behind their packaging because they know that great eye contact is also great for big business.
In fact, in April of 2014, a study called “Eyes in the Aisles” was published in the Journal of Environment and Behavior, where researchers at Cornell University manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands If the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.
The study went even further, and this may even shock you – especially if you’re a parent. From their research, they found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward, and can meet the upward gaze of children walking through the grocery store aisles.
This study conducted in 2014 by the researchers at Cornell University was actually preceded by another study done by noted biopsychologist Eckhard Hess back in the 70’s at the University of Chicago. Hess was quoted as saying “The pupil is the body’s natural lie detector and a type of window to the brain.”
Studies that Hess had conducted back then proved that the power of the eyes is undeniable and all emotional states are filtered through them – there are sad eyes, happy eyes, angry eyes, piercing eyes, and even bedroom eyes. Hess also claimed that the pupils work independently of our conscious control.
Hess said that our emotional states come across in our eyes and can be picked up by those we interact with. The pupil size is affected by one’s emotion – if you are excited, your pupils can dilate up to four times. if you are experiencing anger or another negative emotions, your pupils shrink in size.
These discoveries made by Hess in the seventies were successfully applied by corporations as an effective way of increasing sales of products, such as cosmetics, clothing and hair. This was achieved by altering photos of models to make the pupil area larger which, in turn, produced more sales.
As you can see, corporate America will go quite far to get our attention! And whether you agree with their marketing tactics or not, the bottom line is that corporate America knows that eye contact is critical when connecting and selling to their audience and so should we. And when it comes to speaking and presenting we need to take a cue from “big business,” because connecting and selling is exactly what we do when we take the stage.
When you are in speaking your are in sales
Whether we want our audience to buy into an idea, a vision, a product, or a service, we are selling them on something. And eye contact is a big part of that process. If you want to come off as authentic and trustworthy with your audience you need to make solid eye contact with them. And the lack thereof, will make you be perceived by your audience as inattentive and untrustworthy.
Even in the world of business where a lot of selling is done over the phone, most business deals of significant value still have to happen person-to-person, eye-to-eye, and sealed with a handshake. Why is this? Because eye contact conveys trust, confidence, and connection.
When we tell the significant people in our lives that we love and care about them, we do it not only by the tone of our voice, but we do it by looking them in the eye because our eyes don’t lie and our emotions are filtered through them.
Eye contact is so powerful that it can even cut through a crowded room of people where two strangers on opposite sides meet each other’s gaze and become magnetized with laser focused connection, and without even uttering a single word they know that “love is in the air.” Nothing needs to be said, because their eyes do all the talking.
Taking it to the Stage
Most of us already know how to make eye contact with people that we interact with in our daily lives. Whether it’s with our kids, our co-workers, our friends, or our lovers, we make eye contact and we do it well. It’s because our “humanness” has made us that way and we’ve become experts at it. We crave connection and we do it with our eyes.
However, the problem for many speakers begins as soon as they take the stage, and the great eye contact that they were able to convey just minutes before getting up to the podium gets thrown out the window along with the connection with their audience. For most, this happens because when they take the stage their confidence suddenly shifts and they begin to lose their “sense of self” – and their personality isn’t the same anymore.
A number of years ago, I had created a term for this phenomenon, and I called it “Stage Personality Disorder.” This happens when your offstage personality doesn’t match your on stage personality.
My creation of this term came from years of observing many speaker over the years. I would see speakers whom had vibrant personalities while socializing during breakfast, luncheons, or during the cocktail hour just minutes prior to taking the stage, and whom suddenly became stiff and monotonous as soon as they uttered the first words of their speech.
It was like watching two different people with two different personalities. And unfortunately, when ones confidence begins to go downhill when taking the stage great eye contact is usually one of the first thing to go along with it.
The good news however, is that there a number of sure-fire ways to quickly increase your confidence as a speaker which would result in greater eye contact with your audience with every speech that you give.
1. Know your speech well
This seems like a no-brainer, but from coaching thousands of speakers over the years one of the pitfalls that I often encounter is the sheer lack of preparation for ones speech. Many of my clients decide to come to me sometimes with just a week or two ahead of a high- stakes presentation. And luckily with intensive coaching we’re able get the job done.
This issue of ‘the preparation gap’ is even common among CEO’s and top executives and often the presentation is the last thing that they work on when it should really be their first. In fact, a 2010 survey conducted among executives found this startling fact. Over 86 percent of those surveyed said that communicating clearly impacts their career and incomes, but yet, only 25 percent put more than 2 hours into a very high-stakes presentation. Clearly there is a “preparation gap” here.
As you can see there’s a reason why I listed “know your speech well” as first on the list. It’s because this is the number one issue that I believe that speakers face with not being able to speak confidently. They simply do not know their speech well.
And when you do not know your speech well, you are not yourself. You become nervous and tense, and when you’re nervous, your mental focus goes inward instead of outward to your audience. When that happens, your confidence drops along with great eye contact with your audience.
2. Speak to one but look to all
Craig Valentine the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking coined the phrase “speak to one but look to all.” Too many speakers feel like when they are up on stage delivering a speech, that they are “speaking to all,” but instead they should be thinking that they are just having a one-on-one conversation with each individual in their audience.
Feeling like you are “speaking to all” not only puts that extra pressure on you, but also takes away that sense of one-to-one communication with your audience. When you start to gravitate towards the mindset of “speak to one but look to all,” then your eye contact on stage with your audience will become much more easy and natural for you and you will meet the gaze of your audience as if you’re just having individual conversations.
3. Get more time on stage
One of my Improv teachers said it best when one of our classmates asked, “How do you get good at improv? ” and everyone thought he would say ‘Well you have to read these books, learn those techniques, take these classes etc..’ But what he instead said was, ‘reading the books, taking the classes are great, but it won’t make you a great improviser’.”
He went on to say, “that being a great improviser really boils down to the hundreds and hundreds of hours of repetitions of scenes that you do. The more repetitions you do, the better you will be at improv.” And he was right. Because the biggest challenge that improvisers face is this; being stuck in your head “thinking” about doing the scene instead of “doing the scene.”
And this is exactly the same problem that speakers face. The more time and repetition you get in front of all kinds of audience the less you will be stuck in your head focusing your attention inwardly thinking about yourself and how you’re being perceived.
The more stage time you get, the more comfortable you will be on stage . And when you are more comfortable on stage, the more in tune you will be with your audience and as a result you will have more confidence as a speaker and make greater eye contact with your audience.
4. Acquire the tools of speaking
The reason why developing the art of speaking is listed last, is simply because the other three that had preceded this are not about learning new techniques, but are instead about your ‘psychological process’ which can easily be implemented by just changing you perception and actions when it comes to speaking.
Picking up the Art of Speaking is a process and takes more time to acquire. It isn’t a ‘quick fix’ as the other three listed here are. This is why I had developed my 52 Presentation Tips audio program around the idea of ‘incremental development.’
With developing the art of speaking, you will also have an overall greater sense of confidence which in-turn will also help translate into better eye contact with your audience. In addition, there are also speaking techniques that you can pickup which are also specifically targeted towards eye contact. In fact, there are techniques, do’s, don’ts and processes related to making eye contact with your audience when you are using notes, when you are using power point, and even when you are on a big stage in front of thousands of people.
As you can see, eye contact is “big business” and is a critical component to authentically building likability, trust, and selling your message to your audience.
When you combine all these processes; Knowing your speech well, increased stage time, seeing you audience as individuals, as well as acquiring the tools of speaking, you will develop greater confidence as a speaker and eye contact will be something that will become so natural for you.
You will notice that the great eye contact that you had done your entire life with those around you in your daily interactions, you will seamlessly be able to take with you to the stage. You will never have to think about whether you are doing it right or wrong. Eye contact with your audience will become such a natural part of your speaking experience that you won’t ever have to “bat an eye” over it!
I once had attended an event where there was this speaker who was introduced to deliver a speech and then about one minute into his 20 minute presentation he starts to talk about a popular sports magazine that he had been profiled in. The magazine had written an article where a famous athlete was teaching an amateur the “art of the game.” The game happened to be golf, the athlete happened to be Tiger Woods , and this amateur happened to be the speaker at our event.
The speaker jump-started his story about the article he was in, by first saying to his audience “and by the way this has nothing to do with my speech today, I just thought that it would be an interesting thing to mention”, and then he took the actual magazine of the article and started to pass it around to the 40 people that were in his audience.
When I saw him give the magazine to the person sitting on the table beside him, everything inside me wanted to yell, “No Don’t Do it!”, because I knew right then that his speech would be doomed from the start.
What would you have done?
If you were in that audience and the magazine with the interesting article about the speaker being profiled in a major magazine about himself and a pro-golfer was handed to you, what would you do? Would you rather continue listening to the speaker and pass the article to the person next to you, or would you stop and read the article?
If you are like most people, you’d probably stop and read. As human beings we all know that curiosity can get the best of us and that’s exactly what it did with the audience that morning. In fact, some people were so absorbed in the article, that they read the entire two pages before handing it over to the person sitting next to them.
The problem in perspective
Do you see what’s wrong with this situation? When an audience gets handouts – especially with handouts that are absolutely not relevant to the speech, they get distracted and begin to tune out the speaker. And with the speaker at our event, that’s exactly what had happened. Some people had even taken the entire 2 minutes or so to finish the article.
If the speaker looses each person in his audience for at least 1 minute, that also means that for every minute of his speech, 1 person did not tune in for a 1-2 minute slice of his speech. Which also means that everyone tuned out at a different segments of time. It’s bad enough when your audience as a whole gets distracted by one segment of your speech all at once, but when their minds are scattered at different intervals, the problem is even worse. At this point there is absolutely no synergy with the speaker.
And unfortunately, because we are living today in an ADD world where stimulation is the name of the game, If you are not keeping constant engagement with your audience, you will end up losing them. It’s so easy these days for people in your audience to simply pull out their smart phones and check their email, surf the net, or check their latest facebook news feed, that once you lose them, it will be very difficult to re-engage them.
How to NOT fall into the “handout trap”
Here are some guidelines to make sure that what you give out to your audience will not detract and only enhance your presentation.
1. If it’s not relevant don’t give it out
The speaker that was at that event handed out the magazine article which had absolutely nothing to do with his talk that morning. If he was trying to build credibility by bragging about himself being together with a pro-golfer, not only did it not build his credibility, but it ruined his speech. If for example, I’m brought in to talk to an audience about the ‘art of speaking’ and I begin by sharing my accomplishments in martial arts, it won’t build credibility and it will come off as bragging. In fact, even when sharing your successes that are relevant it also needs to be communicated to the audience in a way that makes it ‘you focused.’
2. Don’t hand out a brain dump of your presentation.
Most speakers give their audience handouts that are simply a brain dump of their content – and this is wrong. If you are going to give this kind of content out it should be only done at the end of your presentation. It will only serve as a distraction by handing it out in the beginning and during your presentation.
I’m sure you’ve seen speakers handout all kinds of material before a presentation such as colorful brochures, manuals, white papers, and a carbon copy of their slide presentation. And while their audience is supposed to be listening to the speaker, they are instead busy rummaging through all the material that was handed to them. This splits them and distracts your audience from being focused on the speaker. An audience should not have to split themselves by reading what you gave them and watching you at the same time.
3. Only create handouts that get them to think and reflect
The best kind of handouts to give your audience are ones that get your audience involved, engaged and allows them to reflect.
For example in one of my handouts on marketing, I pose the following question to the audience;
What’s the top selling word in the marketing tool box?
If you notice, I insert a blank space for them to fill in. The purpose of this is to actively engage them and allow them to think, reflect, and come up with the answer as I am speaking.
In that same handout, I also give my audience the following tool(a book) to anchor what I had discussed in my speech.
Pickup this book by Frank Bettger ” How I raised myself from failure to success in selling”
And then I pose the following question;
What question do you think Frank Bettger asked when seeing his customer for the first that sparked 2 hours of conversation? ”
Again, this question allows my audience to think and reflect off of the content that I am giving them in my speech. Handouts that cause your audience to ‘think and reflect’ are an excellent way to involve your audience – especially when you’re doing a longer workshop.
And by-the -way, if you’re wondering what the answer is to the above question about Frank Bettger, it’s “How did you get started in this business?” That 1 simple question had sparked 2 hours of conversation with what turned to be his client. Behind every successful business man or women there’s a great story. It just takes asking the right kind of question to get them started.
Don’t fall into the trap that most speakers make by handing out material that unwittingly causes the audience to get distracted from the speaker. When you are up there speaking, you and your message should be the focal point and the only thing that stimulates and engages your audience.
Don’t compete with yourself for the attention of your audience by distracting them with something that you are handing out to them that’s not relevant to your speech. And if it is relevant, craft it in a way that gets your audience engaged, involved and allows them to think and reflect.
Have you ever seen a speaker that was talented, successful, and seemed to have a solid message but yet, you still walked away from that speech feeling like there was something missing? It was like you felt some kind of disconnect with the speaker but you just couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Chances are, that the speaker failed to use the critical tool in speaking called “laugh at your failures.”
Plant any thought but this one.
One of the absolutely worst thoughts that you can plant in the minds of your audience is for them to think that you’re special. The minute that your audience puts you on a pedestal saying “well he is able to accomplish all that because he is talented. I’m not talented. I can’t learn anything from him.” Your message is doomed.
You can have the greatest message in the world, but if you come across as being someone who “has all the answers” without first sharing the experience that led up to that wisdom, then you will be perceived as the “guru of your own story” and your message will fall on deaf ears.
If you look at history, you will see that all great leaders had someone or an experience in their life that showed them “the way.” So by sharing your failures first and poking fun at them in a lighthearted way, you will go a long way in setting up your audience to accepting your message.
Lessons from the world of comedy.
In comedy they call it “self-deprecating humor” and successful comedians use it all the time within their routines to connect with and garner laughs from their audience. Unfortunately, what comedians wholeheartedly embrace most speakers will wholeheartedly avoid. Most speakers would rather run and hide than have to share their failures. Why? Because they think that sharing their faults will make them look weak and this is simply not true. On the contrary, when done with confidence, self-deprecating actually builds you up in the eyes of your audience.
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word deprecate as follows; “to criticize or express disapproval of (someone or something).” You will not see Self-deprecate in Merriam Webster’s dictionary because it is a hyphenated word. However, you will find other sources online define Self-deprecate as “belittling or undervaluing oneself.” When you add 1 part confidence and 1 part self-deprecation, the resulting effect will be self-deprecating humor.
Now let’s track back to the comedy world where self-deprecating is always associated with humor. When great comedians take the stage, the first thing they bring to it is their “stage presence.” They bring an aura of personality and confidence. And when they poke fun at their “miserable lives” you will always see them do it with confidence. As an example, listen to the following clips where you will hear Bruce Bruce a well know comedian (whom once weighed close to 500 pounds at one point in his career), as well as George Casey another comic who is known as “the clean comedian” use self-deprecating humor in their routines.
Comedian Bruce Bruce
Comedian George Casey
In comedy, the purpose of self-deprecating humor is for pure laughs – there is no real means to an end. However, with speaking, self-deprecating humor has two main purposes;
1. It takes you off the pedestal.
As we alluded to earlier, when you lighten up and you confidently share your failures with your audience, they see you as someone who is a fallible human being just like them. They see you as someone who has had similar struggles and challenges as they have. This make you authentic and real to your audience, and as a result they will buy into your message.
2. It’s used to prime the audience for your message.
To put it simply; When your audience is laughing they are with you. They are attentive and tuned in. At times during your speech you may not have the entire attention of your audience because you will not always be able to control 100 percent of the attention of everyone in your audience all the time. However, when you make them laugh, chances are that everyone will be with you.
And when you are feeling good and being joyful, you are more prone to being in a state-of-mind of acceptance and learning. So when you’re audience is sitting there laughing while you poke some fun at your failures, they will be primed and ready to hear your serious message that’s just around the corner.
My experience with laughing at my failures.
I’m often invited to speak to various audiences that are curious about learning the art of public speaking. Now these are people that may not have done much public speaking in their life and they’re testing the waters to see if they have it in them to be able to do what I do. They’re looking for someone to show them the way.
Now let me ask you, when speaking to these audiences what if didn’t share my failures? What if all I did was build myself up and never showed them my failures. What if just said something along the lines of ” You can be a great speaker if you just follow my 4 step process to speaking success. ”
In essence what I am saying without actually telling them is , ” hey look at me, I’m a great speaker and you can be just like me if you just do what I tell you to do” Who do you think is going to listen to me? Who in my audience is going to think that they can develop this skill? The answer, almost no one. Why? Because they’ll think that I’m special. They’ll thing that I’m a great public speaker because I was born that way and that I’m naturally gifted – which could be farther from the truth.
To see how I went about “laughing at my failures” with one particular audience, listen to the following clip of me laughing at my failures while talking about how I bombed when delivering an impassioned message of hope to an audience of well over 1000 people.
Lewis Roth self-deprecating
Now listen to this second clip and see how the audience reacts to the self-deprecating humor I used when talking about my past when it comes to my speaking.
Now after talking about my failures, what do you think are the chances that people in my audience will say “if he can make it as a speaker after bombing like that in-front of over 1000 people. If he can talk about his dismal experience with public speaking where he needed to take shots of Jack Daniels in order to get his courage up, then I can really learn something from a guy like that!” Probably almost everyone. Why? Because when you first laugh at your failures, your audience sees you as similar to them and not special, and as a result they’ll buy into your message.
While coaching and preparing one of my clients for a high level motivational speech contest we made sure that before she delivered her impactful takeaway message, that she first share and laugh at her failures. Now listen to an audio excerpt of how Teresa Palmer engages her audience with her failures first.
My coaching client self-deprecating
Because Teresa shared her failures first, she set up her audience to receive her powerful motivational message of “You are the only one that could be you.” You can watch her speech in it’s entirety by clicking here.
So now that you know the power of being able to laugh at your failures when you’re on the speaking platform delivering a powerful message, how do you go about bringing the power of self-deprecation to the stage?
Start looking for the humor in your own life
Before you are able to poke fun and laugh at your failures on stage, you have to be able to first do it off-stage. The art of being able to self deprecate humorously on stage starts with your own life first. If you find yourself being too serious in your daily life, you should work towards lightening up a bit. Start by looking around and finding the humor in your life because it is always around us. It’s there, you just need to look for it. And it all starts with having a positive attitude and being able to see the positive side of things even when things don’t always go our way.
Self Deprecating humor is a great bonding agent
In everyday life, within our daily interactions with people at work, at home, and at play, self-deprecating humor is common with many and easy to do. However, there are still those who will not laugh at themselves because they take themselves much too seriously or don’t have a healthy level of confidence. If you have experienced it already, you will know that using self-deprecating humor in life is a great bonding agent which pulls people together.
The use of self-deprecating humor is also a great way to create rapport with people. For example, many people are very self-conscious about their weight and it reflects on their self-esteem. And yet there are some that carry their weight with confidence. For example, at a wedding reception with a nice smorgasbord spread, a heavyset person with a high dose of confidence and doesn’t take himself too seriously might turn to his friends and say “well fellas I’m going to start a new diet starting tonight!” His friends say “what new diet John?” And John says, “A “See” food diet!” And they all laugh together. Because John pokes fun at himself, it make everyone around him feel good to be with him.
Give yourself the gift of humor
If you find yourself saying, “I could never poke fun at myself. I could never laugh at my failures.” Or perhaps you’ve had friends tell you at times, “You know, you’re way too serious. You need to lighten up a bit,” then you might be a good candidate for a prescription dose of daily humor. A good place to start is by actively tuning your brain into humor on a regular basis. Listen to or watch comedy for 30 minutes a day. If you’re time is tight then get a satellite radio receiver and listen to it while you commute to and from work. There are many channels on satellite radio that are dedicated just towards comedy. The bottom line is this; the more you tune into humor the more humor will be part of you.
Learning from our Presidents
Without thinking, which one of the presidents of our era immediately pops into your mind when I say “great communicators of our time.” I’m sure your reflexive thought instantly drew the names of Clinton, Reagan and Obama. With the exclusion of Obama (whom only recently had gotten good at self deprecation), Regan and Clinton had exemplified this throughout their presidency.
By now, it’s obvious to you as to why Presidents Clinton, Reagan, and Obama would use self deprecating humor. Because they know that doing so, brings them closer to their audience. And especially when it comes to “voting time” when the last thing a president would want is to come off as being on a pedestal and being seen as one who doesn’t understand the needs of the people.
Now to see this in action, listen to the following clips of Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama and hear how they use self deprecating humor to bring them down to the level of their audience.
Your takeaway message
When done with confidence, sharing and poking fun at your failures with your audience before talking about your successes and showing them the way -is “the way.” Laughing at your failures brings you off the pedestal and allows your audience to accept your message because they see you as similar and not special. They will no longer see you as the “guru of your own story” but one who has learned hard from his own experiences.
If you ever find yourself standing on the edge of the speaking platform filled with reservations and doubt as to whether you should share your failures with your audience, then always keep this thought close to your heart; “if the presidents of the united states of america can give themselves permission and allow themselves to laugh at their faults and poke fun at their imperfections, then so can you and I!
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if you have it, the feeling that comes with the anticipation of your upcoming speech. Even as you go about your normal day, you can’t stop thinking about your speech. Thoughts of the size of your audience and “all eyes on you,” are enough to set you off! And as the day of reckoning approaches, all kinds of negative thoughts start going through your head, “what will happen if forget or slur my words? what will happen If I panic? What will happen when I get that frog in my throat and can’t speak!” As the day of your speech comes closer, your thoughts grow stronger. You can’t stop thinking about it. All day and night, a minute doesn’t go by without the dreadful thoughts surrounding your speech. Now sleeping even becomes difficult. Your dreams are now dominated by nightmarish scenarios of embarrassing yourself on stage.
You now think about ways you can back out of your speech. But then you realize, “I need this speech, If I succeed, it will mean everything to my career.” And then you get a phone call, you find out that twice as many people as you originally had thought are going to be at your speech. Your anxiety just doubled. It’s off the charts. It’s redlining. And now there is no backing out. If you’ve ever experienced this, then you know what it means to have “Glaussophobia,” which is the Greek word for the “Fear of Public Speaking.” In broader terms, it’s also called Stage Fright.
So Where Does This Fear Come From?
The fear of public speaking and stage fright both point to the same subconscious process that causes a small almond sized shape set of neurons set deep inside the median temporal lobe of the brain called the Amygdala which triggers the “fight or flight” response to sudden stimuli (real danger), or “memory triggered” perceived danger which ultimately leads to the feelings of panic, anxiety, sweaty palms and wanting to run for the hills!
I know too well these feelings of panic and fear of public speaking, because for so many years, it was the 6 inch invisible clear glass wall that stood between me and my desire to speak and engage an audience. I would see others masterfully take the stage, and I would sit there just yearning to do it. The few times that I did manage to speak (by the prodding of others) were accompanied by fear and panic and without having the proper coaching or guidance, I just gave up and couldn’t make it to the other side of that invisible wall of fear.
Fast forward many years later, coaching and speaking has now become my career. What was once my biggest fear, has now become one of my biggest passions. As most people, I struggled for many years to find the path to getting past my fear of speaking, but it didn’t have to be that way. I struggled because no one ever gave me the road-map For many years, no one directed me on the path to speaking success.
For example, no one told me that most people’s fear of speaking could stem from just one 30 second bad experience in first or second grade. The teacher pushed and prodded to get you up in front of the class and do a loud reading and snickered, yelled or balked at you when you didn’t pronounce a word right. The yelling or snickering of the teacher and the class making weird faces was all that would be needed for your amygdala to record the emotional event and store it forever. The amygdala remembers all emotions and responses and then stores it in the long term memory bank. The amygdala is that part of the brain that also signals the “flight or fight” response. And the amygdala is quite immature, it can’t tell the difference between a real event such as running from a fire (flight) or the “false sense” of fear and panic of speaking to an audience (flight). It only knows a recorded emotion and treats the panic of a perceived fear (an audience) the same as it would a fire – both causing the “flight response” to be activated in the same way.
So years later, that 30 second event in grade school now gets transformed into what most people feel as the fear of public speaking. And who hasn’t had that bad experience of standing in front of class in first, second or third grade, and getting snickered, yelled or balked at by their teacher in front of the whole class. Now wonder why most of the world suffers from this fear!
Why Some People Never Developed the Fear
Have you ever wondered why some people just never developed a fear of public speaking? It all could point back to that scene in second grade. For example, John, Cindy, and Sam all had the same experience with their teacher snickering and yelling at them in front of the class. But John was a bit different. He didn’t have a highly sensitive amygdala and never processed the experience the same way Cindy and Sam did, so John never developed the fear, whereas Cindy and Sam did end up developing the fear of public speaking because of their more sensitive amygdala. Studies have shown that people with a highly sensitive amygdala were more prone to developing the fear of public speaking.
Conquering the Fear Doesn’t Have to Take Time
Many people think that phobias take time to overcome. This is simply not true. Most people say, “I have had this fear for so long, I don’t think I will ever get over it.” If you think back to the event in grade school, it only took 30 seconds to record a perceived emotional experience and tell the subconscious mind to run from anything related to getting up in front of an audience ever again.
People who have had a bad landing and develop a fear of flying, or people who have gotten into an accident and developed a fear of driving or someone who was pushed into a swimming pool at a young age and developed a fear of swimming, all had one thing in common; the onset of the fear took just seconds. If you think about it, with all these events taking just seconds to develop into a lifelong fear, shouldn’t logic dictate that a fear that took seconds to develop, be reversed in just the same time?
The good news is that it can. In fact, It has been scientifically proven that the field of energy psychology (Emotional Freedom Technique) can have a tremendous effect on the amygdale in that it can fairly quickly neutralize and desensitize the negative emotions attached to it for all phobias. And this includes the phobia of public speaking. The field of NLP (Neuro Linguist Programming) also can have a huge impact in desensitizing the amygdale to the fear of public speaking and other phobias.
I have seen these techniques work with my own eyes. Not only has it helped me years ago when I finally got on the road to conquering my fear of public speaking, but In my professional coaching practice, I now successfully use these techniques of both EFT and NLP to help my clients desensitize the fear they associate with public speaking.
Conquering The Fear Leads to Mastering The Art
Once you “conquer” the fear of public speaking, your true journey now begins. Being able to engage an audience and take them on a roller coaster ride of highs, lows, twists and turns of emotional experiences and leave them off at the gate saying, “wow, what a powerful message, what a speech, what an experience,” is truly an art form. However, you cannot embark on that road, until you have gotten off the road of fear. When you are thinking about sweaty palms, panic and sheer terror when you picture an image of yourself on stage in front of an audience, you cannot be thinking about how you can deliver a moving message or even make them laugh.
Only when you are able to laugh at yourself, will your audience laugh with you. But the good news is, that when you conquer you fear of speaking, (which can happen very quickly) you have allowed yourself to cross over and pass to other side of that invisible glass wall where you now find yourself standing on the foot of the mountain. And while you’re packing up you gear and readying yourself for the climb you look up and say, “I am now ready to journey up to the top and master the “Art of Public Speaking.”
Nothing will pull an audience into your speech more than telling them a captivating story and unfortunately, I have to say, that many speakers miss the mark entirely when it comes to this. I have watched speakers go through an entire speech – some even as long as 25 -30 minutes without telling a single story. They make point after point and talk about ideas and concepts, but they don’t tell any stories to anchor those points and ideas. And I have to say, that these speakers are missing out on a big opportunity to really connect with their audience and drive their message home.
Today, more than ever, in a time when we are living in a world where there is so much chatter coming at us from all angles, we need to be able to distinguish ourselves by telling our unique stories to help cut through the static noise that we get bombarded with everyday so that we can get our message across. A great speech is one that leaves an audience with a take-away message that lasts longer than the time it takes for the audience to sit through your speech. In fact, most speakers don’t even accomplish that! When you effectively tell stories with anchored messages, it helps your audience hold onto the message of your speech for months, years or even a life time. That is the potential power you can have as a speaker as you will soon see.
The History of Storytelling
The medium of storytelling has been around for thousands of years and used to engage and connect with people and the masses. it’s also the medium that is used in schools today to teach and educate our children. However, somehow as we grew older, we lost touch with this great art. The bible is full of stories. The first book of the old testament, genesis, begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And since the dawn of time, all great storytellers, from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day, have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.
Conflict is what people deal with in life on a daily basis. Your boss fires you, a big customer threatens to leave, your relationship with your spouse of 15 years goes up in flames. – Your life is thrown out of balance, and you seek to put it back. This is the essence of what we look for in story. Thousands of years ago, the problems and issues people had were not the same that we have today, but the conflict was still there. It was a different kind of conflict but the elements were still the same. And this hasn’t changed through thousands of years. From the walls of the caves in ancient Egypt, to the stage and theater in Shakespearean times, to today where the primary source of story is through film and television – the essence of story hasn’t changed, only the medium of which we tell it has.
The Powerful Effect of Story
Through the age’s, the power of storytelling was able move the masses to action for both good and evil. We saw it happen in our time to move people to evil , when Adolf Hitler used story to brainwash an entire nation to his way of thinking and he almost succeeded in taking over the world. In fact, this is precisely why Plato the famous Greek philosopher who was known as one of the best poets and storytellers in his time, put a ban on storytelling saying that, “Storytellers would conceal their ideas in the seductive emotions of art.” And this is exactly what Hitler did.
In contrast, we’ve also seen the power of story used for doing good. On September 12th 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered a captivating speech at Rice University where he envisioned and predicted that the United States would send a man to the moon before the end of the decade. And we succeeded and his vision was realized. Kennedy triumphed in rounding up an entire nation to this good cause, and he did it using the power of story. Because Kennedy was a visionary and was able to see the promise of the future, he was able to bestow that passion and vision on a nation. And he did it through the power of story. Although Kennedy didn’t realize it at the time, he was actually using “foreshadowing” which is a storytelling technique that has now become quite popular in the making of movies.
One of Plato’s prized students was Aristotle, whom we all know to be another famous Greek philosopher. Aristotle decided to write a piece called “Poetics” where he explained his beliefs on the art of story. In his essay, Aristotle outlined the framework of famous Greek tragedies and from this evolved the basic structure of a good story. And it’s this structure that has been used ever since in millions of books, movies and other storytelling mediums around the world.
Story is a Metaphor for Life
Robert McKee, the famous screenwriting guru who has trained thousands of successful screenwriters and novelists, and who also is the author of the popular book “story” said this; “story is a metaphor for life.” And what he meant by this is that we all look to story to try and make sense of our own lives. Have you ever watched a riveting drama and strongly identified with the character’s struggle? I’m sure you probably have. I know I have.
One movie that I remember watching where I had this kind of powerful identification with the protagonist ( main character) was when I saw “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith , and which was based on a true story about the life of Chris Gardner who struggled at a point in his life (like most of us) trying to make ends meet. His wife leaves him, and he is left with his 5 year old son living day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, and eventually ends up being evicted and put on the streets. The story has a very powerful climactic ending where we become so happy for the character (Chris Gardner) because he was able to triumph against all odds. Doe this sounds familiar? The movie exemplifies the struggle of triumph over diversity -which is something that we can all easily reflect on within our own lives. And watching these kinds of stories allows us to reflect and make sense about what’s going on in our own lives. You see, we strongly connect with these characters because we could reflect their struggle to the struggle that we are going through in our own lives. Watching a character struggle against powerful adversity and then triumph gives us hope for our own future and makes us believe that we too can triumph and get through our own challenges.
When it comes to speaking, to be able to get our audience to reflect on their own lives, is the number one reason why we must tell stories to our audiences. When our audience hears us talk about our own experience, they can take our experience and parallel it to what they are going through in their own lives. In fact, I remember a number of months ago a woman in one of my audiences who walked up to me after delivering a speech and she said, “ Lewis, I really needed to hear that message today. Your story about triumphing over your fear really hit home. Thank you!”
That experience reinforced in me as to why we as speakers are up there in the first place talking to our audiences. We are there to make a connection and leave them with an important message. And telling stories, not only is the best way to engage and captivate an audience, but it’s the way that will allow our audiences to take our stories and our experiences and reflect and make sense of what’s going on in their own lives. So in conclusion, don’t just make points like most speakers out there do when they deliver their speeches. Instead, do as the founder of the national speakers association Bill Gove had once said, “Tell a story and make a point.”
I delivered a message of hope to the 1000 attendees at the Kean University Holocaust Memorial this past Monday evening May 2, 2011. The audience was comprised of people from all ages and ethnic backgrounds. My seven and a half minute speech was about my father’s experience in the concentration camps. My father is currently 89 years old and is thankfully living a vibrant life.
Click the play button to listen
The Magic of Three
The number three is a magical number in the English language. We see it in movie titles as in “The Three Stooges, The Three Musketeers and The Three Amigos,” we see it as far back as being the most famous phrase in the Unites States declaration of independence – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, and we see it by speakers and comedians all across America.
I don’t know why this is so. We can theorize the reason for this phenomenon from today till tomorrow, and in fact some people have, but my philosophy is, “if something works – just go with it!” Why spend your energy trying to figure out the “why” of it when you can just be in the “now” and just go with it. If it is good for our founding forefathers, if it is good for Hollywood, then it is good for me – You see, there is the rule of three in action!
So how does “the rule of three” work to create humor? When comedians create their humor, they use what is called the “set up – punch”. Comedians use this set up-punch formula to get every one of their laughs. Comedians don’t always need to use the rule of three, they are so good at creating humor that they don’t always need to rely it, but for the rest of us speakers, using the rule of three is a technique that we should always use, and that if done right, can almost guarantee a laugh from the audience.
The psychology of the Set up-Punch Formula
What is the comedian’s secret to getting a laugh from the audience? Comedians are not psychologists, but they know how the human minds works – at least when it comes to getting a laugh. Comedians know three things about the human mind very well when it comes to humor.
1. That a “Spontaneous shift” is the key.
2. That proper timing is crucial
3. That the content must be appropriate for the audience
So what is a spontaneous shift? A spontaneous shift is when the speaker puts the audience on one track. The speaker fills up the mind of their audience with a vivid picture of one particular thought or idea and just at the point when the audience is expecting to continue on that track, the speaker suddenly puts them on a totally different track and Walla a laugh occurs!
The key here is spontaneous. From the speakers perspective, it may not seem spontaneous, because the speakers is prepared and knows what he or she is planning to say. However, from the perspective of the audience it definitely comes across as spontaneous. How many times have you had conversations with friends or family and laugh seemed to easily flow. If you think about it, you will probably realize that the instant the laugh occurred, someone said something spontaneous and which also put everyone else’s thoughts on another track.
Putting your audience on another thought track is not enough. You also need to have your timing down in order to make an impact and receive a laugh. Your punch line needs to come immediately after the set up. If you wait too long, you will lose the impact potential of your punch line.
When using the rule of three, you are essentially doing the same thing as what comedians do with their set-punch in their comedy routines, but your set up will be a bit longer.
The rule of Three in Action
A friend of mine and fellow speaker, Marry Cheyne, had used the rule of three extremely well when she delivered her speech “Nelly” at the Toastmasters 2009 international convention. She gave some background about how challenging and uncomfortable it was for her to come to Australia as a 7 year old Chinese. She then said, “I was so uncomfortable that I felt like a fish out of water, like a bird out of its nest, like a guest (pause) at a toastmasters meeting.” The last line, “like a guest at a toastmasters meeting” was the punch line. The other two lines were the set up for her punch line.
The background story gave the audience the “thought track” of her being uncomfortable, The first two lines went along that track – uncomfortable like a fish out of water , uncomfortable like a bird out of its nest and then she throws the twist – Like a guest (she pauses) and then says “at a toastmasters meeting”. The audience was expecting her to stay serious, but she doesn’t. She spontaneously puts their thought on another track and walla she gets a laugh!
The Rule of Three must be Adaptable to Your Audience
When coming up with the right content for the rule of three, make sure your content is applicable to your audience. When Marry came up with her content, she knew who her audience was. It was a room full of fellow toastmasters. So everyone in her audience knew how uncomfortable a guest at a toastmasters club meeting feels, because at one time or another everyone was a guest before they became a member. That is why it was funny to that audience. Her line would not have been funny to a group of people no affiliated with toastmasters and surely she would not have used it. So always make sure that your content is appropriate to your audience. Enjoy tinkering with “the rule of three” for your next speech!
You prepared a great speech, you infused your speech with some great stories. You incorporated a lot of good dialogue and you also uncovered some really good laugh lines. You honed and practiced your speech for hours on end. And then the final day comes. You get up on stage, start your speech with a really solid opening. You get to your first laugh line and receive the laugh you were expecting. Fantastic! You then get to your second laugh line and you get another good laugh from the audience, but then something strange starts to happen. Every next laugh line in your speech now seems to receive less and less audience reaction. You know that this has nothing to do with your lines because they are extremely funny, and some were much funnier than your laugh lines at the start of your speech where you had received great audience reaction.
Why did you lose your audience?
So what happened? Why did you receive diminishing audience reaction as your speech went along? It wasn’t your stories – because they were great. It wasn’t your laugh lines because they were funny. What probably happened to you and which most newbie speakers tend to do is step on their audience’s laughter. So what does stepping on the audience laughter exactly mean?
Speaking is a two way street
Remember, Speaking is not a monologue. It is a dialogue. Speaking is to way street between you and your audience. When you speak, you are giving the audience a gift. You give them the gift of uplifting inspiration, humor, and the ability to embrace change. The audience also gives you back a gift. Their gift to you is their involvement and participation, and when you are funny, they will even give you a good hearty laugh!
People want to give back
In his book, “The psychology of persuasion”, Kevin Hogan lays out 12 specific laws of persuasion. The first law he calls “The Law of Reciprocity,” which he defines as, “When someone gives you something of perceived value, you immediately respond with the desire to give something back (p. 24).”
When you give someone a gift, they want to reciprocate that gesture to you. That is why during the holiday season, there is so much back and forth gift giving. How would you feel, if all you did was receive gifts, but you never reciprocated and gave back – probably not to good. I know I wouldn’t.
When you give the audience the gift of humor, they reciprocate to you with the gift of laughter. Now, what happens when you don’t let the audience have their laugh and you interrupt and move on with your speech without letting your audience take it all in and finish the laugh they started? You know what happens? They just stop laughing. Why should they laugh if they know that you are going to interrupt and not let them savor in the joy of laughter? This is a common mistake that most speakers make.
The Audience gives you a gift
When the audience gives you a laugh, it is a gift to you. Think about it. Weren’t you happy when the audience laughed? As speakers, we work very hard to develop and uncover humor within our stories. So when we receive laughter from the audience, it makes us feel really good deep down inside. We get the feeling of accomplishment – like “we did it”. I know for myself, I always strive very hard to uncover the humor within my stories, because not only do I feel good when my audience laughs at my lines but I also know that through humor, you can get really educate and drive and anchor your points to your audience.
How to Not Step on Your Laugh
So how do you not step on your laugh? The solution is quite simple. Just don’t do it! Not stepping on your laugh is just simply allowing your audience to participate in your humor. Get used to pausing and allowing the audience to enjoy the laugh. There can also be times when some of your humorous lines can illicit what is known as a rolling laughter. This is when sections of your audience react off of each others’ laughter. This can sometimes last for quite some time (depending on the size of your audience). You do not want to interrupt this. This is what the audience wants – let them have it, even at the cost of cutting down your speech. Remember, you connection with your audience is of utmost importance – even at the expense of cutting some of your content out. Let the audience have their laugh. They will love you for it!
One evening a number of months ago, I was hanging out with my friends at the local Starbucks near my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Catching up with these friends was refreshing, because they were from out of town and I haven’t Seen them in a while.
Talking about the old times and each of us telling stories about the crazy stuff that we did back in the day, brought out so much laughter and humor that we all went home with our stomachs hurting. But I didn’t care – because I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time.
So when I sat down to write this blog, it was that evening out with my friends, that kept flashing into my mind because the fabulous humorous interaction that we had, could not of happened without dialogue.
The Heart of Speaking is Storytelling
Think about your own life. Isn’t the natural interaction that you have with your family, your friends and people you meet in everyday life the source of that spontaneous humor? When it comes to public speaking, the sad truth however, is that most people never even think about using dialogue in their speeches.
These speakers have absolutely no clue that the humor that they are always wanting and searching for to include in their speeches, can be found in their everyday dialogue. Bill Gove, the first president of the national speakers association said, “that telling a story and making a point is the essence of public speaking”. So the heart of every speech is storytelling and the heart of every story is dialogue. Without dialogue you don’t have a real-feel story, instead, what you have is pure narration.
Dialogue brings your speech to life
Narration of a story is boring, dull and feels like it happened ages ago. You see, off – stage most people have absolutely no problem interacting with other people using dialogue. Why? – Because dialogue is our natural way of interacting. It’s all happening in real time – it’s spontaneous. And that’s where the humor is. It is found – in the spontaneous interaction between people.
Most speakers are Newscasters
When most speakers take the stage, they turn into narrators and newscasters, and any story that is told. is done through narration and not dialogue. With narration you can’t bring the characters in your speech to life – with dialogue you can. With narration the audience doesn’t get drawn into your story – with dialogue your audience does. With narration your audience can’t experience the emotions of your characters -with dialogue they can. Use narration and you will be like most speakers. Use dialogue and you will be like World Class Speakers.
Find the humor in your life
So how can you invoke more humor into your speeches? You find it by using more dialogue. If humor is found in the spontaneous dialogue that people have in everyday life, wouldn’t it make sense that if you just transported that same dialogue into your speeches that you would find the humor as well?
Just think about it. Not only can you import your real life stories into your speech, but you also have the opportunity to create dialogue between yourself and your audience, and then comment on the interaction between you and your characters within your stories to illicit more humor – elements that will be discussed in future blog posts!