Art of Public Speaking:
Humor PlacementYou are probably wondering how you decide where to put the humor you
have so carefully selected to use in your presentation. You weren't
wondering? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway, because this is yet
another part of the art of public speaking you need to learn.
First of all, starting with a funny story or joke is expected and
trite. You may want to postpone your story until the audience is
resolved that you will be bestowing a rare case of sleeping sickness on
them and then you surprise them with the humor. A cardinal rule in the
art of public speaking is "Don't be afraid to do the unexpected." Humor
is one of the attention getting devices that can take your audience to
the peaks of intensity, which is evidence of your mastery of the art of
To get started in figuring the placement of your humor, first find out
or decide how much time you are expected to talk. Divide this time into
equal segments. If the percentage of humor is to be low, you might make
a humorous comment each six to eight minutes. If the percentage of
humor is very high, you might be making a humorous comment every
minute. Going through this process tells you roughly how much humor or
other attention gaining devices you need to accomplish your goals.
Planning ahead for each audience is part of the art of public speaking.
I'm assuming at this point that all the humor you have selected is
relevant to your audience and your topic. If it is not, throw it out
now and search for something to replace it that is relevant to your
program. The art of public speaking means having fresh, not canned,
humor, or canned speeches.
Next, you should be ready to place the humor in your program. An artist
in the art of public speaking doesn't make the mistake of forcing humor
and other material to fit. It makes no difference if one segment goes
several minutes longer than another or if you don't hit the funny bone
exactly every six to eight minutes. Just use that time length as a
guideline. All you have to do now is decide if you want humor in your
opening and/or closing.
Finally, the third aspect of timing in the art of public speaking has
to do with 'planned spontaneity.' This term seems like an oxymoron, or
contradiction in terms, doesn't it? (see Oxymoron article on this
website). When it comes to professional presentations, preparation will
be a big factor in your ultimate success.
Prepared remarks that appear spontaneous deserve a mention when talking
about timing. During the course of a presentation, windows of
opportunity for witty remarks open and close. They are usually related
to 'expected/unexpected' happenings during the presentation, or
questions from the audience. Let's say you are writing on the flipchart
and your marker runs out of ink. Your window of opportunity is now
open. You might jump through the window and say, 'I guess I've come to
the dry part of my presentation' Window slams shut. Everything is fine.
You look like a quick wit and a pretty cool NO ZZZZZs presenter, all of
this is part of the art of public speaking.
What if you waited until you searched out a new marker to say the same
line? The window had already slammed shut 30 seconds ago and now you
are trying to jump through. You lose. The spontaneity is gone and so is
the impact (except for smashing your head into the glass). What do you
have to do to be sure you will be ready when a window opens?
Many problems can be anticipated. If you are using a slide projector,
the bulb might blow. You may be interrupted by a loud noise. Your
microphone might squeal, etc. Prepare comments in advance so you can
recall them immediately when needed. If you let too much time pass
between the incident and your comment, you're better off foregoing the
comment. It's too late to make it funny, so timing is also part of
humor used in the art of public speaking.
Questions (see Funny Question and Answer Sessions article on this
website) from the audience can be treated the same way. Dealing with
awkward questions with pleasant humor is also a part of the art of
public speaking. If you've been presenting your material long enough,
you can probably anticipate most of the questions that come up. Prepare
a witty answer to each question and use it when the question arises.
Then go on and give your serious answer. Be careful when using this
technique your witty answer doesn't make the person asking the question
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