Public Speaking Humor!
I wrote an amazing speech, stood on stage in my shiny new pants, Versace belt, and Hugo Boss shoes. My posture was straight, arms relaxed, my head high, and I sported a big ass sexy smile. The speech I had written was going to blow people away, and it did.
It blew the audience away like a broccoli fart in the elevator!
I opened up with by saying, “What’s sexy and hums,” then I stood for a few seconds looking at the crowd. I started to hum!
I thought it was hilarious, but the audience looked at me like I had slain the worst speech joke in the history of man. There were dead stares all around, and when I couldn’t think of a saver line, I did the only thing I knew… I continued my speech with confidence.
What else could I do, there was no out? I had memorized the speech, but for some reason I was on a different plane then my audience.
I realized speech humor is not the same as friend humor. My friends would know I’m joking if I talked about flying the skies with 3 Asian prostitutes. My friends would probably laugh their asses off if I started talking about child abuse, or taking advantage of a teenage mom.
I blew my speech, but what is a man to do- excuse himself from the stage? Carry on speaking? Or try to change the subject matter in the middle of a memorized speech?
I don’t need to know if I did the right thing or not, too late! Instead I tracked down some saver lines from my good mentor Tom Antion to help speakers overcome obstacles. (Ps. I don’t know if there is a saver line for disgusting your audience. Maybe you just need to throw yourself under the bus!)
Saver Lines are what you say when your supposedly humorous statement does not get a laugh. You shouldn’t be ashamed to have to use saver lines. The top comedians in the world need them and some purposely make mistakes so they can get a laugh from the saver line. Johnny Carson was an expert at this. After a poor response to a joke he would say a comically insulting line like, “May an aroused herd of Yaks make an everlasting commitment to your sister” or “This is the kind of crowd that would watch Bambi through a sniper scope.”
When it comes to saver lines there are two schools of thought:
The First School of Thought is used more by comics and speakers who use a very high percentage of humor. This method is most effective when a speaker shows a high confidence level and is fairly experienced. Say a witty, mildly attacking line to force them to laugh after they didn’t laugh at your joke or one-liner.
- Do any of you out there speak English?
- Looks like o forgot to bring something with me, my audience!
- (If one person is laughing) Will you be kind enough to run around the room so it looks like everyone is having fun?
- I’ve got 20 more bad jokes just like that one and no one gets out until you start laughing.
- [Pick out a well-known person in the crowd] Joe that’s the last time I’m using one of your jokes.
- I know you’re out there, I can hear you breathing.
- That was a Polaroid joke. It takes one minute to get it.
- Everyone doesn’t have to be funny all the time and I just proved it.
The Second School of Thought is used by less experienced speakers and speakers who don’t use much humor anyway.
If you don’t use a high percentage of humor, the audience may not realize what you said was meant to be funny. All you have to do is keep right on talking and delivering your message (do give them that short pause we talked about to give them a chance to laugh). As long as your humor is making a point, you will be forgiven if it is not tremendously funny.
Trick (advanced technique): Purposely set up a mistake or marginally funny joke so you can use a saver line.
Trick: If no one laughs, you laugh. Then they think they are stupid because they didn’t laugh. Then they laugh.
Another way to keep from bombing is to always “expect the unexpected.” Canned or pre-planned ad-libs are pre-written responses to unexpected happenings or mistakes that occur during a presentation, i.e., microphone squeals, projection bulb burns out, you say the wrong thing, etc. Prepared ad-libs keep you mentally ready so you won’t fumble for words when problems come up in a presentation. Prepared ad-libs actually do more than just save you. They make you look tremendously polished.
Here’s the continuum: A bad presenter will stammer around when a problem occurs. A ZZZZZs person will say nothing and try to ignore the problem. A great NO ZZZZZs presenter will make a witty comment that appears to be spontaneous.
This is especially important when you make a big mistake during a presentation. You should be the first one to joke about it. If you do, the chances are that your mistake will immediately become a nonissue, or a source of good-natured teasing later. If you don’t joke about or at least acknowledge your gaffe, the audience will think poorly of you. There is a good chance they will be joking about you later behind your back or someone could start to heckle you and hold your feet to the fire over the mistake. At this point, you are going to have an uphill battle explaining away the mistake.
In truth, most of the problems that come up during presentations can be expected. All you have to do is write or search out a witty comment for each type of problem you think may occur. Go over your list before each presentation and soon you will have many of these lines ready to go instantly when needed.
NO ZZZZZs presenters are just waiting for a loud noise or for someone to yawn, or cough, or go to the bathroom, or write something down or for anything to happen so one of these lines can be used.
The audience believes you are originating humor on the spot. You are just quickly recalling pre-planned responses. Ad-libs impress listeners more than prepared jokes and they do not have to be as funny to get good laughter.
Only work on one or two responses from each category until your experience level increases. If you try to remember too many, you will hesitate when the time comes to ad-lib and ruin the effect.
I’ve included several common problems along with their possible responses. I’ve also included space for you to jot down some problems that you typically encounter. You can create some of your own canned ad-libs to deal with them.
(substitute name of actual item)
- That item must have been nervous.
- I must be so boring that item tried to commit suicide.
- I guess that item disagreed with my last point.
- Is that the signal that I have talked too long?
- I hope my point hits as hard as that item just did.
- If it wasn’t for gravity, that would never have happened.
- I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen.
SOMETHING IS BROKEN
- I would fix this, but the only thing I learned in shop class was how to call for estimates.
- That’s what I get for buying this at a flea market.
- I’ll fix this right up. Just give me a hammer.
- Does anyone have some SuperGlue?
- I know it’s time for a BREAK, but this is ridiculous.
- This item just took a break so why don’t we take one too. Let’s resume at . . .
LIGHTS GO OUT
- I guess I’ll have to donate a portion of my fee to the electric company.
- The caterer will be here shortly with carrots for everyone.
- I hope my talk hasn’t left you in the dark.
- It appears that I need to shed some more light on this subject.
- This is the portion of my presentation where I do my elephant impression.
- That is a result of many years of inhaling helium.
- I’ll bet you never heard anyone clear their throat like that before.
- Don’t worry. I pass out earplugs at all my talks. If I don’t, someone else will.
- If you think that’s bad, wait until I start singing.
- Is there an ear, nose, and throat specialist in the crowd? You’ll have plenty of business tonight if this keeps up.
- For those of you who can still hear, welcome.
PROJECTOR LIGHT BURNS OUT
- This is the first time I have been brighter than my equipment.
- I don’t understand. I left this thing on day and night for six days to make sure the bulb worked.
- [Talk to projector lovingly while patting it] Now, don’t be shy. These nice people really want to see you. [Sternly] And so do I.
- [Wave hand in front of the lens] Wake up in there! Yoo Hoo. Wake up!
- I have a joke. How many projectors does it take to mess up one presentation?
- Does anyone happen to have a model 921 EYB, 125-Volt, 250-watt overhead projector lamp on them?
- These overheads/slides are a little darker than I expected.
- [Refer to blank screen] Don’t you enjoy the vivid colors of my visuals?
SLIDE IS UPSIDE DOWN
- This slide looks good no matter how you look at it.
- You may want to stand on your heads for this one.
- I have reversed my position on this issue.
- I really want you to try to understand my position on this.
- Maybe if I turn the screen over, you’ll be able to see this one better.
- It was really difficult to take this picture.
- This is my favorite slide and I didn’t want anyone else to see it.
HIGHLIGHTER RUNS OUT OF INK
- This is the dry part of my presentation.
- I’m out of ink. I’ll be back in a wink. (“K” words are funny.)
- I wish I’d bought the extended warranty on this.
- Does anyone know where I can get this serviced?
- No comment.
CAN’T FIND IMPORTANT DOCUMENT OR VISUAL
[Make one of these comments then go smoothly to your next document or visual. If you have a break coming up, tell the audience you will find it then.]
- My dog ate my visual/paper, etc.
- I had it here just a month ago.
- Just give me a few hours. I’ll find it.
- Is there a magician in the house that can make my (visual/paper etc.) reappear?
YOU RUSH INTO THE WRONG MEETING
- I guess you are all wondering why I called you here?
- [Directed toward the speaker in the room as an apology for interrupting] Let’s have a big hand for your speaker.
- I think everyone here except me is in the wrong room.
- I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.
- Is this where I sign up for squash lessons?
- Did someone here order a pizza?
SOMEONE POINTS OUT A MISSPELLING
- Oh! I apologize. My word processor had a virus.
- That is the Swahili/pig Latin spelling.
- That was put in there to test you.
- I knew I shouldn’t have had my dog proofread this.
YOU TRIP GOING TO THE LECTERN
- I also do magic tricks.
- It took years of finishing school to learn to do that.
- I’m the only speaker who can fall UP a set of steps.
- Is there a doctor in the house? [Say this in a playful manner so you don't alarm the audience.]
- All that money I spent at Arthur Murray’s was a waste.
- OK. Who planted the banana peel?
- Give me an inch and I’ll take a fall.
YOU HEAR A LOUD CRASH
- God must be throwing lightning bolts at me.
- I always like to start off with a bang.
- I’m flattered. You ordered fireworks for me.
ALARM GOES OFF
This is a special category because there is a real physical anger involved. Whether you like it or not, you are in charge of the calm evacuation of the room. You should already know where the exits are located, and have a plan in mind for an orderly exit. You must stay absolutely calm. The audience will take their cues from you. If you sprint off the stage screaming, you will be morally responsible for someone getting crushed in the ensuing stampede.
I keep the following comments in mind at all times:
[Calmly] Well it looks like it’s time to take a break whether we need one or not. Please stay seated. It’s probably a false alarm, but as a precaution we will go outside and see what is happening. Are there any disabled persons who may have a difficult time moving toward the exit (you should know this already in smaller crowds)? One person on either side should assist them. [Now direct the crowd, by rows if necessary, to calmly move toward the emergency exits].
To recite the above directions calmly takes about 30 well-spent seconds. After returning to the presentation room, and if nothing really serious occurred, you can use humorous ad-libs to regain the group’s attention.
- Boy, I knew I had a hot topic but this is ridiculous.
- I must really be a hot speaker to set off the fire alarm.
- “I feel like the javelin thrower who won the toss and elected to receive.” George Bush
- This (broken or malfunctioning item) must have been made by (competing company). Note: Be careful with this one. You might want to work for this competing company someday.
- For an encore ladies and gentlemen I will now juggle chain saws. I think it would be easier than being up here right now.
I’ve always loved sarcasm as well, so let’s look at some examples of sarcasm while we are at it:
- “You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking 5 miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is.” — Ellen DeGeneres
- “When I was a kid, I had two friends, and they were imaginary and they would only play with each other.” — Rita Rudner
- “I haven’t taken my Christmas lights down. They look so nice on the pumpkin.” — Winston Spear
- “In the last couple of weeks I have seen the ads for the Wonder Bra. Is that really a problem in this country? Men not paying enough attention to women’s breasts?” — Jay Leno
- When the sun comes up, I have morals again. — Elayne Boosler
- “Did you ever walk in a room and forget why you walked in? I think that’s how dogs spend their lives.” — Sue Murphy
- “Some women hold up dresses that are so ugly and they always say the same thing: ‘This looks much better on.’ On what? On fire?” — Rita Rudner
- “I was raised by just my mom. See, my father died when I was eight years old. At least, that’s what he told us in the letter.” — Drew Carey
Another type of joke telling is the liberal use of funny observations regarding similarities and differences between people and things. Most all comedians are great at this and I Laugh out loud many times on the Comedy Chanel.
Chris Rock on Gun Control
- Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost 5,000 dollars. Because if a bullet cost five thousand dollars, we wouldn’t have any innocent bystanders.
Russell Peters on Shopping in China
- I have to go to this mall in Beijing to buy some clothes. I didn’t know this until I got there, but apparently in China I’m Shaquille O’Neal. I go to mall. I walk into the store. I’m like, “Hey, you got a 10.5/11 in those shoes?”
- “Ah no! How about an 8?”
- “How about I can’t negotiate my foot size with you?”
Russell Peters on Louis Vuitton
- Lets suppose there is a Louis Vuitton store. The Indian guy will walk past this Louis Vuitton store everyday of his life and will never step foot into it. “Like not even on their best sale will I be going in there. No thank you”. Now Louis Vuitton is having a sale, Jewish guy is going in, and he’s buying shit. “It was on sale, what do you want? Maac-us” Chinese people. Sale or no sale. You’re going into Louis Vuitton everyday. You never buy shit. But you go in every day. Sales guy: ‘Can I help you sir?’ “No, we’re just looking”. Minute the sales guy turns his back the Chinese guy whips out a camera ka ching, ka ching, ka ch-ch-ch-ching. Goes home, emails the pictures to Hong Kong: “Make this bag quickly. We’ll sell it to the Indians”. That’s a sale you never wanna see happening. A Chinese guy trying to sell an Indian guy a Louis Vuitton bag! Neither one can say Louis Vuitton properly.
Practical Jokes seem to get audiences riles up. Just for laughs and Candid Camera smacked many innocent bystanders with shear embarrassment. You probably don’t want to get up on stage and pull your pants off to a business crowd, prank call the radio station, or loosen the lid on the salt shaker to have things to talk about; but you can surely express an opinion using observation jokes to draw funny conclusions of what you have seen.
Take care and good luck on winning audiences