This week at my local Toastmasters meeting I stepped way outside my comfort zone… I gave my first ever humorous speech. I shared the topic in last week’s blog – 10 contestants vying for the title of “Miss Communication.” Not only did my fellow Toastmasters laugh, and vote for the “winner,” they gave me a standing ovation (something we generally only do after “Ice Breaker” speeches), and made me promise to compete in a future humorous speech contest. Who would have thought!? I guess it pays to try something you never thought you’d be good at.
Humor is such a powerful and effective way to communicate. It’s too bad we fear to use it more often. Are we avoiding not seeming “professional”? There are certainly many ways to do humor wrong. We can say things that are in poor taste, offensive, or rude. But, when done right, a humorous message can be much more effective than our usual “just-keep-it-to-the-facts” approaches. When we poke fun at our own human frailties we form a common bond that makes us relatable and approachable. Laughter breaks down barriers. We recognize ourselves in funny stories. We become a little more “real.”
I have no doubt that my “Miss Communication” sash will get more use. A little prop like that goes a long way to set the theme and help convey a message. An award competition served as a great theme and provided a structure for my speech. Naming each of the contestants helped differentiate the ways we miscommunicate much better than simply describing various examples. I’ve been thinking of how fun this might be as an opener to a longer speech about how to correct these common communication mistakes.
How might humor enhance a speech you need to give? Go beyond the PowerPoint slide with a cartoon. Tell a personal funny story that relates to your topic. Make up a riddle or corny joke. Everyone likes to laugh. Have you ever considered that people of every culture laugh in the same “language”? There is no “Swedish laugh” or “Egyptian laugh.” If communication connects people, laughter may be a better human connector than other techniques.
Laughter is healthy. It reduces stress, boosts immunity, opens and strengthens the blood vessels, and feels so good. Lord Byron said, “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.”
Laughter strengthens relationships. It improves cooperation and empathy. John Cleese said, “Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.” If we’ve ever needed laughter, it’s now.
Laughter is contagious. Let’s spread some good humor today!
In case you’re wondering who “won” – everyone in the audience voted for a different contestant. Humor won!