Hi Dave – I do a lot of presentations through my job. These are specific to the industry and I’d like to start speaking at related conferences. I’m not a stand-up comedian, but know the importance of humor in getting my message across to an audience. Many of my friends think I am funny in an I Love Lucy kind of way… Which I suppose comes naturally. However, I am not sure how to release that side of me when I am giving a humorous presentation. Thanks – DB
Hey DB – When it comes to giving a presentation as a humorous speaker or doing a set as a comedian, you must connect with your audience. That’s the bottom line – period. If you don’t connect, they don’t listen.
What’s a great way to connect? By doing what comes naturally and showing off your personality. Let me explain…
Working comics know performing stand-up is more than telling jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, and some better than others. But to be a successful performer, you need to show who you are on stage.
Comics, agents, managers and talent bookers call it your comedy voice. For our purposes, we’ll call it your personality as a speaker.
The classic joke-tellers like Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman (to mention only two) had GREAT personalities on stage. That’s what sold their material to an audience.
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They could do a series of basic (and clever) one, two or three line jokes that fans couldn’t wait to re-tell the next day around the water cooler or in school. The fans’ renditions might get laughs from their coworkers and friends, but rarely ever the same as the originals.
As imitators, we couldn’t match their personalities.
That’s why Dangerfield and Youngman (and if you don’t know these guys, brush up on your comedy history) were paid big bucks to do their jokes on stage while the rest of us (the fans) got detentions for re-telling their jokes in school.
Dangerfield’s jokes worked because of his personality – who he was on stage (his comedy voice). He had a talent for putting himself down…
- “I get no respect.”
Youngman’s personality made him a natural at making wise-cracks (another talent most of us shared to earn school detentions)…
- “Take my wife… please!”
Without showcasing their personalities, these legendary comics might never have stood out from the pack of other wise-cracking joke-tellers.
The same can be said of humorous speakers.
I always get a laugh at – as opposed to with – humorous speakers who call themselves humorous speakers just because they throw in a lame joke once in awhile during a presentation. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. For the opening of their presentation they’ll repeat a joke they found on the internet or even worse, take an old joke and re-work it to make it seem as if it were a true story that pertains to their topic.
This – they think – makes them a humorous speaker.
I’m almost gagging as I write this since it reminds me of how I’ve seen speakers do this WAY too often. For some reason they hide their unique and fun(ny) “real” personalities (we all have one, though some are more outgoing than others), because they assume it’s the only way an audience will take them seriously as trainers and educators.
That’s fine if you’re strictly a no-frills, non-humorous speaker, trainer or educator. But if you’re billed as a humorous speaker and want to stand out from the competition it’s important to use your natural talent.
So… your friends say you’re similar to the legendary Lucille Ball? Then there must be some truth in their opinions. I assume you’re not trying to imitate Lucy, but you just somehow remind people of her. It’s part of your personality.
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As a humorous speaker you want to find a way to bring your personality onto the speaker’s platform with you. It’s who you are and what makes you an individual and unique when compared to others who speak on the same topic. That’s what helps separate you from the competition – the other humorous speakers who want to be hired for the same gig.
You don’t have to imitate Lucy. In fact I recommend you DON’T imitate Lucy. Unless you’re hired to play her as a character it would take the believability away from your message. But if you have a talent for making funny statements or even physical humor – which is probably why your friends compare you to Lucy – then use your talent in your delivery.
But before you plan on filling your mouth with chocolate candy or presenting from a scaffold on the side of a building, (I Love Lucy fans know exactly what I’m talking about), keep in mind Lucy’s style of physical comedy doesn’t necessarily mean slapstick comedy. You don’t have to overdo it to stand-out.
Keep it simple. It could just be a look or way you naturally use your hands. If it’s part of your personality, what good does it do to hide it? If you’re in the humor game, it’s all about not being a stiff, boring speaker. Use your natural personality to connect with an audience.
Here’s the bottom line.
You don’t need to tell jokes to be an effective humorous speaker. If you have a signature story, examples or descriptions relating to your topic that an audience could find funny – make them funny. Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions, hand gestures or movement. Don’t get stuck standing in one place showing a power point or simply reciting solutions to problems – or telling old jokes.
Use your personality.
It’s a natural talent that you use everyday. Think of the last time you were together with a group of friends. Maybe you were sitting around someone’s kitchen table and you wanted to tell your family or friends about something that happened to you that day. It could be as simple as your drive to work, but something interesting (and hopefully) funny happened.
- How would you tell it in a way that would get the reaction you wanted?
- How could you tell it in a way that would make your family or friends laugh?
Here’s a good tip. Think of the audience as a room full of friends. How would you deliver your message (the topic of your presentation) to them in a way that not only informs, but also entertains them?
By using your personality.
They’ll remember you over a boring speaker – or one trying to entertain with an old joke you’ve probably heard before – with the same message. That’s how you stand out from the competition.
It worked for Rodney, Henny and Lucy – and more than a few humorous speakers and working comics. There’s no reason why it can’t work for you also.
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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!
Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.
For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubs, private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com
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