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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There’s another practical application of this idea. H.L. Mencken summed it up, “A good belly laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms.”