Among the lamest public speaking tips that one can find online is advice to seek out and study examples of humorous speeches in order to somehow garner “valuable insight” on how to develop and deliver a speech that gets laughs.
An equally lame approach involves watching comedians perform and extracting the stand-up comedy “tactics” that are used by a comedian to get laughs then apply those same tactics to a speech or presentation.
These sorts of public speaking tips are just a few of the mainstream misinformation tactics available for the unsuspecting who don’t know any better.
Well, in just a few minutes, you will know better. As a matter of fact, you will know exactly why these sorts of activities are major time wasters when it comes to developing a speech or presentation that generate audience laughter on demand.
What I Found Online
In just a few minutes searching online I was able to pinpoint a half dozen articles that claimed one of the easy ways to make your speeches funny was to watch online videos of comedians to discover the methods that they get the laughs, then “all you gotta do is” use those same techniques in your speech or presentation.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Hint: Anytime you run across anything that falls into the “all you gotta do is” category, you should be IMMEDIATELY ALERTED that the thing that is being described is the MOST DIFFICULT part of the process or method being discussed.
Some of these articles actually listed and described the stand-up comedy techniques that they “learned” from watching comedians.
Not every stand-up “technique” described was identified as being used in the author’s speech or presentation. It was was simply noted that it was one of the techniques the author was able to recognize and could use if they so desired.
One or two of the stand-up comedy tactics that were listed were identified as having been used or attempted to being used in a speech or presentation.
But the biggest red flag indicator that what was being presented was pretty much hooey was this:
How This Boondoggle Works
What I have just described is a very typical bait-and-switch tactic used prolifically online to present or “sell” academic, non-actionable information (ie: descriptive definitions) as valuable actionable information.
Let me give an example of how this works:
You are standing on a corner and a blue car drives by. Once you have seen the car, you know what color it is right?
Now what if I told you that being able to identify the color of any car as it drives by, you will be able to apply that “valuable” information that will allow you to repair any aspect of any car.
Honestly, would you buy into that nonsense?
Well, if you think watching comedians or humorous public speaking professionals in order to identify, gather and somehow apply the “techniques” that they used to get laughs in your own speech or presentation, that’s exactly what you are doing.
Here’s why I can say that with the utmost confidence:
ANY idiot can identify any particular tactic or technique that is used to generate laughter AFTER THE FACT – after it has been used and has been proven to generate laughter.
Every single identified “joke formula” represents an after-the-fact identification of any “proven” technique used to generate laughter. It can be easily demonstrated that these “techniques” are used by any variety of people to get laughs.
But you tell me – how EXACTLY does being able to recognize any technique, tactic or “joke formula” after it has been used help anyone develop or deliver a humorous speech or presentation BEFORE you deliver it to an audience?
Let me put this another way – how does being able to identify the color of a car as it drives by help you know how to repair any part of a car? It doesn’t.
There are few things more aggravating to me than academic information with little if any actionable value being peddled as actionable or useful beyond simple recognition value.
But just so that I am crystal clear, please allow me to expand on what I have presented.
Some Important Details
Arguably one of the most intricate and highly complex processes known to man involves a person’s sense of humor – specifically when it comes to concrete details on how it is developed and how it is applied and expressed in any given situation.
But wait, there’s more! Let me ask you some questions:
When you said something in a casual conversation that caused others to laugh, did you stop and think about what “tactic”, technique or joke formula you were going to used to generate that laugh beforehand?
You didn’t? Really?
So answer this question for me:
How are you able to get any laughs during any conversation if you don’t know what technique, tactic or joke formula you are going to use before you even open your mouth?
How it is that you are able to cause other people to laugh in casual conversations with little if any thought at all beforehand, yet…
A supposed easy was to get the laughs you want from a speech or presentation is to identify and apply “tactics”, techniques or joke formulas that you observed somebody else use?
Let me be more specific – other people who use and express their sense of humor:
- Don’t look like you
- Don’t express themselves like you do
- Don’t use the same verbiage as you do
- Don’t have the same posture as you have
- Don’t use the same body language you use
- Don’t have the same facial expressions and micro expressions that you have
- Don’t have the same voice inflection and tone variations
- Don’t have the exact same experiences, personal interactions, or points of reference that you have
Yet somehow, studying someone else’s means of generating audience laughs has some sort of value to you?
Well, I guess it does if you believe that identifying the color of a car as it passes by has any value when it comes to how to repair ANY aspect of that car.
Now if you really want to know why this sort of approach is so widely peddled and consumed by the public at large…
Why This Grift Works
The reason why people can get away with the “study someone else getting laughs to help make your stuff funny” grift of peddling non-actionable information as actionable involves a simple, yet highly effective deception that the vast majority of people accept which is this:
Now don’t get ahead of me – YES, there are some significant differences between causing others to laugh when shooting the breeze with people you know and presenting to an audience with the intent to cause laughter to happen, including but not limited to:
- The venue where the speech or presentation is happening
- Use of a microphone and podium
- The number of people listentening
- Monologue instead of dialogue
- People listening who don’t know you
- Seating arrangements
- Audience expectations
- Content being presented
Notice anything interesting about the items above? Not ONE of those things has anything to do with the actual mechanisms that are used to cause laughter to happen.
Note: The mechanisms for laughter to happen in any environment are EXACTLY the same. It involves some sort of baseline information being presented (called the set-up in stand-up comedy) and some sort of response, statement, or comment related to that information (called the punchline).
So the notion that talking and expressing ones sense of humor in front of an audience of strangers is somehow vastly different than talking and expressing ones sense of humor with a group of friends, family and coworkers is patently FALSE.
Let me ask you some related questions:
Have you ever been around a stranger or group of strangers and caused them to laugh from something you said or were talking about? If so..
EXACTLY how is that different as it relates to using and expressing your sense of humor (besides being in a dialogue situation instead of a monologue situation) when speaking to a more formal audience?
If you want to study other people getting laughs – comedians or humorous public speaking pros – that is 100% your call.
Professionally, I think it is a serious waste of a person’s time to do that. The reason is simple:
While people use and express their sense of humor with little forethought, the reality is that the process is extremely complex and involves a multitude of aspects working together in tandem to cause laughter to occur. Not only that…
This extremely complex process is unique to the individual, just like a fingerprint. That’s why a sort of “plug and play” approach tends to flop in a big way when people try to use it.
But here’s the good news if you are able to handle it:
You don’t need to “learn” a single tactic, method or technique to generate audience laughter that you haven’t already developed, used and proven for yourself to work to get laughs when you talk.
You simply need to give your tailor made, already developed comedy techniques that you use in causal conversation the credit that they deserve for getting you the laughs you want from audiences when you speak.
But if you want to believe that the sense of humor a person uses on stage is vastly different than what they use off stage and go for studying humorous speech examples and comedian routines to try to “discover” how to be funny for audiences…
Just be prepared to be stuck in what I can only refer as the “persistent vortex of flopping” when it comes to getting the laughter results that you want from your speech or presentation.