Whether preparing for a business presentation, raising money from investors or like President Obama, working with your anger translator to hilarious effect at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, remember one thing at your next public speaking engagement: Once you step on stage you'r expected to be funny.
Today's generation has been socialized to receive info via humor. They want infotainment, not information. They don't watch "20/20 or "Nightline" for news; they watch Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. They want and expect information delivered with a punch line. Deliver raw information, devoid of humor and an engaging story and your message will be lost among the ringtones, vibrations, and swipe-rights of modern life.
President Obama is not the only one turning to humor
On a laughs per minute basis, (a metric often used by comedians to gauge their performance) there are several TED talks that produce more laughs than the classic comedy movie, The Hangover. Needless to say they are also a lot more informative. At the time of writing, every one of the ten most popular TED talks moves the humor needle.
Why are leading speakers using humor to stand out?
Because science says so. "The brain doesn't pay attention to boring things," notes John Medina, a biologist and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules. "Laughter triggers a dopamine release, which aids memory and information processing. It's like a mental post-it note that tells your brain, remember this."
Carmine Gallo is a news anchor turned author, columnist, and keynote speaker. In short, he's a guy people actually want to listen to. He says humor is one of the nine key items in successful TED talks: "Humor is proven to increase the likelihood that your pitch or presentation will be successful, whether you're pitching to one person or speaking to thousands." It also "lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message."
But adding humor is risky.... To the untrained it often is. Murphy's Law states that what can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy's Law of Public Speaking states that what can go wrong will be 10x worse and go viral.
The good news is that you don't need to be naturally funny to get laughs, nor have a supporting cast from Comedy Central. ( That would be nice though)
The safest humor involves personal stories because they are guaranteed to be original and can be practiced and perfected. Happily this approach also greatly reduces the chances of unwanted YouTube stardom.
This three-step formula will help you come up with an easily scripted joke:
1) Start your funny file: Think back through your life experiences and make a list of funny stories you like to tell. Great stories often come from seemingly mundane topics.
2) Find the funny: Identify the key funny part in your story. When you tell it to friends and family which point generates laughter?
3) Get to the funny part faster: Once they lock onto something funny, standup comedians, top TED speakers, and even Presidents tend to follow the below structure (You should too!): - Set-up: establishes the premise of the joke by providing the audience with the necessary background information. Three lines with no funny are too much. - Punch line: this is essentially the laugh line/the key funny part in your story. - Taglines: (optional) they are additional punch lines delivered after the initial punch line. The set-up leads your audience in one direction and the punch line surprises them by suddenly going off in a different direction. That twist, that element of surprise, is a punch line's chief ingredient and often the key to you getting big laughs.
If the President is using humor, you can too. Can we all be funny? Yes we can.
People love a funny story. As our good friend Science tells us, we are wired to appreciate it. We are also wired to love laughter. Our brains make this so by releasing dopamine. Dopamine feels awesome, so by making your audience laugh during your presentation or speaking event, you can actually make your audience feel good, giving your speech a natural endorphin-fueled evolutionary advantage over those who opted for a typical, boring business presentation.
The world is awaiting your funny and only you are qualified to bring it.