In August 2008 Marc Hogan was bet £1 that he couldn’t become a stand up comic in less than 12 months and perform a one man comedy show at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in August 2009 for 21 nights. He won the bet!
Over the years delivering speeches all over the UK and Europe, I’ve found that audiences are delighted to laugh during a presentation and release any tensions that may have built up during hour after hour of serious PowerPoint. I’ve also found that the best time to deliver a serious point is generally after a well timed joke.
Let’s face it, comedy is very similar to business, both require great timing, being quick on your feet, seeing opportunities, avarice and the relentless self belief to carry on (metaphorically and actually) after your ideas have been kicked in the tenders by your supportive crowd / team. You have to respect anybody in business or comedy who can say, “I’m so clever, you’re going to pay to listen to my ideas!”
Yesterday after a talk, one of the audience asked how you make a talk funny (and why hadn’t I done that).
The thing is unless you are a naturally hilarious person (and I’m yet to meet a comedian who feels they are) comedy requires one thing more than anything else – effort.
In today’s blog I thought I’d share some ideas for how you can add humour to a presentation / speech.
Don’t be afraid of spiders.
One of the first exercises a comedian will use to come up with new material is to write the subject they wish to explore in the middle of a piece of paper. Then like a spider diagram / mind map use arrows, subheadings and diagrams, to start writing down everything they can think of related to the subject, no matter how mad it seems. They’ll then take this further by branching off from those subheadings and so on. As they consider this growing spider diagram, they’ll ask themselves whether there are there any strange connections, or possible funny situations or jokes. This exercise doesn’t just work for comedy, it’s a great exercise for flexing your creative muscles.
So for example, I’ve recently noticed how many company cafeterias have a Starbucks or a Costa franchise.
“It’s great the way the company have put a Starbucks in the restaurant, I love the way we all arrive at the meeting nervous and caffeinated, however we are now at least finishing every meeting 20 minutes early. But for the love of God people, please, please remember the breath mints! It’s never a good thing when your nickname is Maxwell House…”
So you think you’re funny.
Many comedians derive comedy from their persona. Jack Dee is morose, Lee Evans is nervous, Bill Bailey is a hobbit. For most business presentations you will want to be taken seriously so it’s far better to have a serious presentation with one great joke than attempt to be funny all the way through. If you appear nervous, or afraid that your joke won’t get a laugh, then the audience will pick up on it and, I’m sorry to say it, but you won’t get a laugh.
You see but you do not observe.
The simplest thing is to make observations about your life, your work environment and your colleagues. These are probably the best and easiest ways to get a laugh. But let me just underline something (although I’m sure it goes without saying!) you should never ever ever be cruel, instead derive the humour from situations you found yourself in, or talk about situations in the past.
For example I’m actually writing this blog in a cafe in a bookshop. Right in front of me is the section on relationships. There are all these all these guides for woman on how to have a happy marriage, with titles like:
Take back your marriage
Marriage for dummies
Drive your husband wild in bed
The second time round (all these are true by the way – you can buy them in Waterstones!
If those books were written for men they’d be entitled:
How to loose gracefully
Shut up and live longer
Build and escape to your man cave
You’ll always be free inside your mind…
Any observation can become a joke. A lot of cars have those powered by fairy dust signs a simple joke could be
“My mum has one of those signs on her car that says ‘powered by fairy dust’ clearly it should say ‘powered by fairy cakes’” (no actual mums were harmed in the making of this joke)
Play with words
This one’s a very simple idea – take a common saying or phrase and then twist it
I’m on the phone to my dad and I’m trying to help my him set up his Wi-Fi network;
“Dad is your wireless on?”
“Of courses it’s on, I’m listening to the Archers.”
The Boss is always right.
Always be careful when making jokes about superiors (if in doubt run it by them). I told this to an American company recently and it got a big laugh, but I did run it by their boss.
“I’ve finally made it, your boss today gave me the keys to the ‘Executive Rest Room’ it was his office…”
Telling true stories about your life (and your family) can always get a laugh.
“My nephew just turned 13 and he’s joined Facebook. He’s not very bright though when asked for his ‘Religious Views”, he wrote “I can see a church from my bedroom.”
I remember when I gave a speech a man actually collapsed with a suspected heart attack. He was fine, but when he was asked by Doctor, “do you remember what happened?” He replied, “One minute I was laughing, the next thing I knew I was on the floor”. Now I don’t care what anyone says that’s a great testimonial…
My final word of advice, writing jokes requires effort, but no matter how funny you think the joke is, you should rehearse it (preferably in front of an audience), and remember it’s not just how it’s written, it’s how you say it that makes it funny!