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Can Your Serious Speech Be Fun?

Last month, my blog was “Do I Have to Be Funny?” My conclusion is “Not necessarily – – but it wouldn’t hurt!” The gift of laughter connects you to your listener. Here are three humor techniques you can incorporate into your driest information:

1. The act-out

This technique is widely used in comedy. You’ve even used it yourself, when you tell a story to a friend. You say, “So, then she said ‘How could you?!’” You are acting out the shocked tone of voice. You are doing an act-out. Without the act-out, you would say, “So then she was so shocked, and she actually asked how I could do this to her…in a tone.” That’s describing the scenario in a narrative. It’s not funny. Where you get the funny is when you actually perform the dialogue, vocal tone, and personality of the person.

We tend to narrate a client’s rave: “A client wrote me that my service increased her business.” Instead, quote the letter: “A client writes ‘Thank you for your service. It increased my business – – I got two new clients!’” When you act out the voice, your speech comes alive and so does your listener. To see great examples of this, watch any episode of John Oliver’s show on HBO, Last Week Tonight. He uses one act-out after another.

2. Series of 3

Here’s a useful structure for humor writing. In a two-person comedy act, the straight person sets up the pattern that the funny person will break with the punchline. The first sentence sets up the funny sentence. The series of three uses a similar structure. The first two items set the pattern, and the third one breaks the pattern with a twist, a curve, the unexpected. An example from George Carlin: “I live in Florida. Everything is in the eighties: the temperature, the ages, the IQs.”

You can do the same. In a keynote speech, I use a series of three this way:
“We have impending-disaster scenarios in our heads like, “What if…there’s traffic? What if…the car breaks down? What if…the freeway is…GONE!?” Big laugh. Why? Series of three. Traffic is plausible. So is the car breaking down, but less so. These first two are the buildup to the third in the series – the punch line. “The freeway is gone” is hardly plausible, but because of the buildup, it’s funny.

3. The call-back

Another technique comedians use is the “call-back.” You literally call back a previous phrase or sentence so that it becomes sort of a rally cry. It’s a technique that creates a closer connection with your audience, helps them remember your material, and possibly gets you a laugh.

The call-back in a speech doesn’t have to refer back to something funny in order to be effective; it just has to connect with the audience emotionally. In my football book speech to women conferences, I tell the story that got me hooked on the value of football, and all sports. My boyfriend pointed out, “The whistle blew–the play is over.” It gave me pause. I point out to the audience how important that is for women, and we need to have short memories. All of us need not drag the bad stuff into the next moment; we need to shake off the bad plays and move on. During the speech, I repeat the sentence, “The whistle blew–the play is over,” and each time, the response is a reverent quietness from the audience. I know they “got it.”

Repetition builds relevance and reinforces the relationship between the speaker and the audience.

Please call me to schedule your complimentary 30-minute phone call. I can help you “find the funny.”