My daughter (age 10) reminded me today while driving in the car about a class that she saw me teach a few years back (we had conflicting schedules and I got the special treat to have my kids with me they sat in the back while I taught a class in a university MBA program).  I asked her what she remembered about it, and she said, “They really liked you.”  I asked her why and her response was a childishly simple, yet amazingly astute observation (next generation speech coach?!  She can count ums and ahs with the best of them): “Because they laughed.  You were funny.

Interesting that she equated laughter with liking the speaker.

I frequently coach my clients that audience laughter — assuming it’s at something you say and not at YOU — is perhaps the highest compliment you can receive.  It means they are listening, they understood (and humor is sometimes quite complex or takes processing), and they had a positive emotional connection to what you said.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

I coached a client today whose opening remark to me was, “I’m worried about my opening.  I don’t get a laugh until I’m three minutes in.”  We reviewed some of his material and considered the goals of the presentation and made some alterations to get a laugh (or two) earlier.  In this case, it was important to get the audience on board and enjoying themselves.

While humor is personal, varies widely from person-to-person (and sometimes audience-to-audience), and does not come without risk, it is a great thing to include to connect with an audience and get them in a positive emotional state.  And — probably — it means they like you.  Audiences listen to speakers they like.  That sounds like a great reason to use humor to me.

Use (appropriate) humor liberally.

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