Do you have a funny public speaking story? Here's one. Share your own story so we can all take a breath, relax . . . and laugh!
Did I ever tell you about the time I gave an entire lecture with a large piece of paper napkin stuck to my forehead? No? Well, I will in a moment.
First, let's talk about why funny public speaking stories are worth their weight in gold . . . and how you can help your fellow speakers, presenters, and nervous nellies!
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Humor Is Good Stuff . . . Seriously!
Jeff Fleming said this in the pages of Professional Speaker, the journal of the National Speakers Association: “Humor makes an audience more receptive to your message, improves retention of points made, reduces tension, improves creativity and provides entertainment value to any presentation.”1
Pretty effective stuff, humor! We might also add that humor allows an audience to see that you’re human and to identify with you. And it lets everybody in the room have some fun.
Like any presentation tool, however, humor must be used judiciously and in the context of your message. Below is what happens when those two considerations aren’t taken into account.
Remember, funny or not, your job is to positively influence listeners. That's speaking for leadership! Learn more in my Free Guide, "The 7 Leadership Qualities of Great Speakers."
Some years ago, I conducted a workshop at a large multinational manufacturing firm. Vice presidents from fully a dozen departments were represented, from finance to distribution. On the workshop’s second day, each participant had to give a 10-minute presentation that we videotaped and discussed afterwards. One of the executives started his speech with a joke. Now, this was a stretch-limo of a joke that ate up the first 3 ½ minutes of his allotted ten minutes. Even worse, it was about the Pope!
How’s that for living dangerously?
Hey, a key skill of using humor (and of stage presence) is timing. So, get my Free Tips and Tricks Guide, "The Power of Silence: How to Use Pauses Effectively in Public Speaking."
4 Tips on Using Humor Effectively in Speeches
This brief true story contains four valuable lessons about how to use humor in presentations:
- The humor shouldn’t take up so much time that it competes with the body of your talk.
- The humor should be culturally appropriate. In other words, you should have a reasonable idea of whether it’s safe to use. Who knows, for instance, how many Catholics would be in this executive’s future audiences and would be offended by a joke about the Pope?
- The humor must be closely related to your topic. In the above case, the presenter labored mightily to tie his punch line with the topic that followed, but it was an impossible task.
- Using humor is usually productive, while telling a joke is inviting T-R-O-U-B-L-E. There’s a world of difference, that is, between relating a humorous story an audience can relate to, and handing them a zinger of a sidesplitting gage—and hoping that they’ll laugh.
So keep your humor safe and in good taste—just like the products in those summer ice cream trucks!
Ever suffer a brain freeze while speaking? (Send us your story if it's funny!) In case you're interested, here's my Free download on "5 Ways to Recover From a Brain Freeze."
Ready to Share Your Funny Speaking Story?
On The Genard Method website, we have a page on Funny Public Speaking Stories. These are real-life moments people have contributed from their speeches and presentations that are funny, embarrassing, 'disastrous,' and sometimes, heroic on the part of the speaker! They are 'Oops!', and "Oh, no . . . I said that?" moments . . . and sometimes, things that happened that were culturally hilarious.
If you have such a story, I'd love to include it on our funny speaking stories page. Contact us and send your story, along with permission to use it on our site. With luck (and a few yucks), we'll have a new crop of stories to send your way . . . including yours!
Now, as I promised above, my own funny moment:
Some years ago, when I was a professor of international students in the Department of Communication at Emerson College, I taught a summer course entitled “Introduction to Graduate Studies.” Emerson’s campus is across the street from the lovely, colonial-era Boston Common. Kitty-corner to the park is a Starbucks, where I’d go before class to have a coffee and look over my notes.
Since this was a summer course, the day was hot. With the front door being opened constantly, the interior of the Starbucks wasn’t very cool even with the air conditioning on. I had to keep mopping my forehead with paper napkins as I sat and prepared for my lecture.
The lecture went fine. It was only in the men's room after the class, that I discovered I had a large piece of paper napkin stuck to my forehead! The international students--undoubtedly trained to be deferential to professors--had sat through my lecture without a wayward look or a snicker. Since then, I carry a small mirror with me and always check it before I “go on.”
1 Jeff Fleming, “Observational Humor: Seeing What Others Are Thinking,” Professional Speaker, November 2005, 10.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.
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