Whether you are a professional speaker, a speech contestant, or a pastor, most presenters love getting laughs. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t just love it; the pursuit of laughter was an obsession.
“There is nothing like the feeling of being on stage getting laughs.”
As you probably know, my goal at the beginning of my career was, quite simply, getting laughs. I didn’t care how, and I would sacrifice whatever I needed to in order to get them. I lived for the ha-has. Now I live for Ahas!
One big mistake I see presenters making is in the process of creating their speech. I often hear speech contestants say, “My speech is good. I just need to add some humor.” It is not an incorrect statement. In fact, it fits in perfectly with my main point. The problem is with the definition of a single word in that statement, the word good.
What is your definition of good? It could be interpreted many different ways. It’s the same as saying I worked really hard on my speech. Hard compared to what or whom? You may think working hard means an hour a day for a few days. Well, how about comparing your efforts to someone who is world-class? Just because you worked more than you ever did before does not actually mean that you worked hard enough.
Let’s look at the definition of good again. What is a good speech? Is that a speech that people like? Is that a speech where people tell you they liked it? Is that when people tell you that you are a good speaker? No. I invite you to consider that a good speech is when people come up to you talking about themselves and what they need to do differently. It could also be good if they tell you that your speech changed their perspective on a subject. Make your goal of good to mean that you want to create a life-changing speech. Or at least make it perspective-changing before you focus on funny!
Focusing on making your speech funny too soon creates problems. First, it takes away from your efforts to make your speech life-changing. Focus and concentration require effort and time. You only have so much time to invest in creating and improving your speech. When you focus on one area, you are not focusing on another, and that is most important.
Second, what if you create a very funny joke and it always gets a laugh. You love it, and your audience does too. Now, it becomes even harder to sacrifice it for the sake of the message. We are easily seduced by the laughter. We live for the feeling of getting the laugh, but we must remember,
I had this problem when I was creating “Ouch!” I had a very funny joke about “Funsuckers,” people in your life who suck the fun out of everything. It got a big laugh, and people loved it. In fact, they loved it so much that it is what they were talking about afterward. The term and the joke were so strong that they detracted from my message. Ouch! It had to go. It was painful to remove it, but when a joke detracts from your message, it dilutes the power of the message.
If you ever catch yourself thinking, “My speech is good (or done); I just need to add some humor,” go back and look at your definition of good or done. If you get ideas on how to make it funny along the way, by all means, capture those ideas. Do not, however, get married to your laugh lines until you see if they create feng shui with your message. Humor can be a beautiful satin finish on a powerful message, but make sure your message is perspective-changing first. If someone comes up to you after the speech and tells you your speech was great, ask them, “What part and why?” Make sure your speech is so good that they are talking about themselves, not you.
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