The Art of Speaking  

Self-deprecation and humour are powerful talking tools

Make them laugh

YouTube /Wade Paterson

What’s your most embarrassing story?

While many people cringe at the thought of reliving an embarrassing moment, what I’ve come to realize is that embarrassing stories often get the most laughs from the audience.

I learned this about seven years ago while embedding my most embarrassing story into a presentation I delivered at a work conference. I figured the story would be a nice change of pace and hopefully the audience would find it funny. But I was blown away by how much laughter the story drew from the crowd.

Why was the audience laughing so hard? Because self-deprecating humour is powerful.

When you poke fun of yourself, you’re voluntarily stepping into a vulnerable position, which often causes the audience to reward you with laugher. They sympathize with your story because they know they easily could find themselves in a similar predicament.

This realization has been reinforced during my time as a Toastmasters member. In Toastmasters meetings, a portion of the agenda is set aside for the Humorist role. The purpose of the Humorist is to make the audience laugh. The vast majority of the time, there is more audience laughter when the Humorist tells a personal story rather than trying to tell jokes they found online. This is especially true if the personal story includes self-deprecating humour.

If your most embarrassing story isn’t appropriate for a general audience, think about stories you’ve told friends in the past where you poked fun of yourself. If any of those stories were well received by your group of friends, it’s likely those stories will also work well in front of a larger audience, or built into part of your speech.

One tip that compliments self-deprecating humour is to try to get your audience to laugh early. If you can make the audience laugh within the first 30 seconds of your speech, the laughter will likely increase as the speech goes on. Crowds can be quick to judge whether a speech is going to be funny or not, and if you can tickle the audience’s funny bone quickly, they will relax knowing that you’ve built a speech worth listening to.

A final tip is to leverage strategic pauses throughout your speech. It is a common mistake for speakers to cut off their audience’s laughter. If the crowd is laughing, let them.

Pause and allow the laughter to happen before jumping to your next part of the speech. Sometimes subtle facial expressions (such as raising your eyebrows) can help stir up the laughter as well.

So the next time you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, rest assured knowing that you may just be collecting hilarious and powerful content for your next speech.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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