Prospect your past to dig up
“Laugh and the world laughs with you.”
As a professional speaker and co-founder of the Toastmasters specialty club LaughLovers, I am often asked about how to find funny material to put in future speeches. People always say, "Nothing funny ever happens to me." And yet when I'm coaching them, as we explore their lives we find myriad experiences that are, in retrospect, funny. Even better, the humor found in their unique stories is universal. We can all relate to their seemingly personal experiences.
What about you? Can you readily recall experiences that would make for humorous speeches? Even past travails and traumas may now be ripe for comedic retelling. After all, that classic comedy formula often rings true: Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
For you as a speechmaker searching for humorous material, I recommend you eschew using other peoples' humor, the retelling of apocryphal stories or recounting of clichéd jokes. Instead, I invite you to become a raconteur of your own stories. You are seen as a confident speaker when you can tell humorous stories that are self-effacing, making light of your own weaknesses, foibles and mistakes. We've all fallen short, said the wrong thing, meant well and messed up, and made boneheaded mistakes. Laughing at them is actually therapeutic.
Laughing At the Man in the Mirror
"You endear yourself to listeners when you share vulnerability," according to Mr. Jollytologist ®, Allen Klein, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). Klein is the author of The Healing Power of Humor and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying. "Poking fun at yourself in stories and speeches shows your humanity," he says, "and helps listeners relate to your experiences, which they relive with you when you retell your stories. When we laugh together, like crying together, we bond!"
Next are some questions to ask yourself (or have a partner ask you) to identify personal material from which to fashion humorous stories for speeches.
Congratulations, you've now uncovered great stories to tell in your presentations. Now what?
Developing Your Stories
After answering the questions above, take a particular experience and now, close your eyes and relive the experience in all its rich detail. According to humorist Ray Engan, ACB, of SenseiHumor.com, and member of Toast of Petaluma club in California, people often fall down on remembering and relating the story details."They leave out details that would make something funny. They'll just say, 'I drove a car to the bar.' Yet if they really went back and remembered, they'd recall that they were driving a pink 1972 Ford Pinto that had half its side caved in 'cause it rolled three times and it really looked like a terrarium on wheels, and they walked up like a human gecko." These details delight the audience and add to your presentation's humor.
You may choose to record your reminiscences into a microphone, or perhaps recount the experience to a friend or family or club member. You may want to tell it a few times times to different people to see what else you remember, and also to gauge how others react to it. Consider telling it at a local story swap or gathering where tales are told. For some, this may be at a café; for others, a tavern!
Crafting Your Content
Now, write your story down for telling conversationally. Details are key here. Remember, specific is terrific! Answer the following questions about each particular experience:
Finding the Funny
Through the use of this process I've reviewed experiences in my life and uncovered numerous events that helped me complete the Entertaining Speaker, Humorously Speaking and Storytelling speech manuals:
As a child I erected my lemonade stand — during the Berkeley (California) riots of the late ’60s, with tear gas and mayhem in the air.
For a junior high school English assignment to write original poetry, my
The (Wh)y in Funny
What makes such stories funny? I asked Engan, a past District 57 Humorous Speech Contest winner, about his definition of humor. He cited the work of HuRL, the Humor Research Lab and the definition put forth by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner, the authors of The Humor Code: "Humor is a benign violation of a norm that surprises you." As Engan explains it,"If I fall down and don’t hurt myself, it's hysterical to you. If I’ve hurt myself then it's not funny, but if there's no pain, then that's funny."
No doubt you, too, have stories that can be funny when related to others. We've all had bad hair days, bad school days and bad work days. We’ve all had family functions that flopped or performances that fell flat. It's what makes us human! If we can laugh at it, our audience can too.
Keeping Your Audience Safe
Horror to Humor
So sharpen your pencils, sharpen your wit and story on!
Distinguished Toastmaster Craig Harrison, a Past District Governor,
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