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!