Incorporating Humor into Your Talk

“She laughed. She cried. She came home changed.”

That’s what we’re aiming for. We want people to come home changed, and that usually means that we need to appeal to different emotions in your talk. I’ve talked before about the different elements that go into a talk, and the ways in which we can plan our talks so that we build towards the one major change that we’re encouraging people to make. (I have a great audio download and handout that walks you through preparing a talk, giving you a skeleton of a talk you only need to flesh out, right here!).

But here’s the issue: if our purpose in talking is to take people through a process where their hearts and ears and minds are open to hear from God, we have to earn their trust. You can’t just start your talk telling people what they need to do differently. They’ll tune you out! You have to instead earn their trust by opening up to them, telling them stories, showing them that they really do have a problem they need to solve, and showing them that you have walked that road, too.

Implicit in that, though, is a bit of humour. It’s hard to get people to bond with you or listen to you unless there is even a little bit of humour involved.

However, I recently received an email from a speaker who was concerned about this. She’s written her talk, but it’s about a very heavy topic. Most people, when they come to hear her, will be aware that that is the topic (think grief, or depression, or mental illness, these sorts of things). You can’t really make that funny, can you? Or should you?

It’s an excellent question, and I want to try to address it.

1. First, let’s re-evaluate what we mean by “funny“. When I’m saying you should add humour, I don’t mean that your talk should thus be a comedy routine. Absolutely not. For instance, a big part of my testimony concerns my son who died. That is not funny. Not in the least. It’s certainly not a comedy routine.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t give people a chance to laugh. You can throw in small anecdotes that make people smile. I tell a story, for instance, about my daughter when she was 3. She was at a playgroup, and she didn’t believe in sharing, and so she’d hoard all the toys she liked in a corner, guarding them. But here’s the point: the whole time she was guarding them, she wasn’t playing with them, either. And we do the same thing in our lives. We’re so busy clutching things because we’re scared God’s going to take them from us that we don’t enjoy them.

It’s only a small story, but it relates to the overall point I’m making. And I act out the story, and it always gets quite a laugh. It’s still making a serious point; but it’s a little more lighthearted.

It doesn’t mean that the talk is a comedy routine; it does mean that you’re adding a few anecdotes every now and then that make people smile.

Movies do that, too. Have you ever noticed that? Whenever there are really heavy points in a movie, there inevitably is something, even if it’s something small, that makes you smile. Often in the saddest movies there will be one character who is just there to add some lightheartedness to an otherwise bleak situation. If the movie didn’t have that kind of comedy release, it would just be too difficult to watch the rest of it. Because we’re able to smile, we’re actually able to take in the depths of the pain and hurt easier. If there are no opportunities to smile, we, as observers, tend to close off our hearts or our emotions, so that we don’t enter too deeply into the darkness. We protect ourselves. Give us a reason to smile, though, and you get through those natural defenses.

So even if your story is very difficult, you can, and should, still add an anecdote every now and then that can make people smile. It isn’t diminishing your story; it’s actually enhancing it. And you can make sure that anecdote still tells the same point.

2. You don’t have to be a comedian to tell a funny story. Telling a joke is very different from telling an anecdote or relaying a story. Some people just can’t tell jokes. I hardly ever tell jokes in my talks, but I am funny. Jokes have little to do with your talk; they’re just there to make people laugh, and they often make audiences uncomfortable. Telling stories, though, makes audiences automatically more comfortable, because they sense that you’re not preaching to them.

To be funny, you just have to find a story that make you laugh. Now practice telling it. Do so in a mirror. I have very precise ways in which I tell stories that I have found worked. Sometimes you have to speed your voice up, sometimes you have to slow down. Sometimes you use body movements, sometimes you stand perfectly still. Humour really is an art that is difficult to teach. You just have to try telling the story several times to see which ways make people laugh the most. Then, when you find that way, tell it exactly the same way every time. It sounds boring, but you get used to it, and then you tell it better.

Here’s one of my humour routines, for instance. This is all leading up to my big point that we feel guilty about stupid things because we’re afraid to let go and let God determine our priorities. It’s three minutes long, but it illustrates what I mean:

I use that same routine pretty much the same way when I speak. But by the end of the talk I’ve become significantly more serious. But I won the audience over with that humour.

If you don’t feel like you’re a natural comedian, don’t worry. You don’t have to make them laugh for twenty minutes straight. Every now and then, just use a few anecdotes that make people smile. It disarms them, so it’s easier for them to listen to the serious stuff.

I have heard people use humour really effectively even when talking about persecution, or depression, or abuse. These things are not funny. But when we show that we can also laugh, we show that God has done a work in our lives. It isn’t negating the pain to add some humour; it’s simply showing people that we have survived, and that God is still there.

If you’re trying to find those anecdotes, often movies or literature provide funny ones. And just check your own life for the things that have made you laugh.

But remember: mixing laughter with the serious stuff helps people take in the deeper message. So do try to include some humour, even if it’s only a little bit. You help everyone listen to you more!

If you want more information on how to include humour, and exactly when to use it in your talk, my audio download “Crafting a Life Changing Signature Talk” can help. Find more information here!

Considering Cultural Differences When Speaking

I’m cold. Really cold.

I’m just back from a trip to Regina, Saskatchewan, where I spoke 5 times in three days. Four of the events were at one church (two Christmas women’s events and two church services) and then the other was at a second church for a women’s outreach. It was a rewarding time, though I don’t like traveling.

But Regina is cold. Very cold. Minus thirty cold. Those who live there are special people.

As I was there, it occurred to me that I had better review my jokes before I get up there. I say something funny about two Canadian institutions: Tim Horton’s and Swiss Chalet. But I didn’t see any Swiss Chalets when I drove around. Turns around there used to be one, but it closed, so the joke was still safe.

So often we assume that those to whom we’re speaking are just like us, but they’re not. When we speak at marriage conferences, we’re often paired with another couple where the man is a real man’s man. He hunts. He fishes. He kills stuff. And his stories about hunting are side-splittingly funny. He tells them so well. And they illustrate some great points in marriage.

But one conference just happened to occur in Montreal. You don’t talk about hunting in Montreal. He realized that after the first night fell flat, and then changed his talk for the next day.

In the same way, we need to be really sensitive about our audiences. Let me give you another example. I think the biggest difference in Canadian and American audiences is that Canadians don’t see it as a plus to sell yourself. We don’t brag about ourselves; we tend to brag about others. Saying good things about yourself sounds odd.

So, when an American is speaking to a Canadian audience, for example, you should use yourself as an anecdote, for sure, but don’t do “I have arrived, or God has blessed me, and He will bless you, too”. That comes off as bragging and that’s a huge no-no. I see American speakers—even million-selling authors—do this all the time up here in Canada and they lose the whole audience. When you tell your own story, you must do it with humility, and with “here’s what God is still teaching me”, rather than “I’m so glad God taught me this. Now you should learn it, too.” Perhaps that sounds like I’m being mean to Americans, and I don’t mean to be, but in general Canadians are much more low-key about sharing our own successes. And it’s important to know this about your audience if you’re going to communicate effectively.

Another big difference: we’re not as dramatic. Twice I have seen American speakers actually get down on the floor and act out a horrible experience from their past, thrashing around down there and everything. Canadians would NEVER do this. (Note: both these speakers were speaking before audiences of thousands, and were headlining large events up here). When we tell our sad or difficult stories, we tell them quietly. We never act them out. It looks fake.

Where we do get loud and boisterous is in our humorous parts of our stories. So it’s not that we’re monotone; it’s just that adding drama to the difficult parts of life is seen as gauche.

Canadians, when we’re with American audiences, need to learn to turn it up a notch. Americans, when you’re with Canadian audiences (and European ones) need to learn to turn it down.

Speaking is a form of communication. You are saying something that you want others to hear. But communication is a two-way street: you put it out there, but your listeners have to take a hold of it. And that means understanding and researching your niche.

Whenever I speak, I ask who is going to be in the audience. Are they married? Single? A blend? What is their ages? Do they work outside the home? Is it multiculural? Are they mostly Christians, or not? You have to know these things, or your talk may go right over their heads. If I find out, for instance, that many in the audience aren’t married, I will always choose at least one anecdote that has nothing to do with marriage or children, and focuses more on one’s workplace or something.

So know your audience. Don’t assume they are just like you. Make sure you communicate in a way that they understand. And then your message is much more likely to get through!

Figuring Out Social Networking

What is Twitter? And I’m on Facebook–but what’s really the point? I’m sick of people “poking” me and adding things to my “fishtank”.

I hear you. I really do. Is social networking really necessary? And does it help us as we build our speaking ministry?

Well, the quick answer is Yes. And No. Let me explain:

1. We need a web presence

When someone goes to hire a speaker, here’s the usual steps they take. First, they desperately ask everyone they know if anyone has heard of a good speaker in the area. They’re always glad when someone gives a name. But do they email the person? Do they phone them? No, not yet. That comes later. The first thing they do, instead, is either visit their website or Google them.

In other words, they do online research. If you want to be hired to speak, you need a web presence. It’s more important for a speaker than a writer even, because most people won’t hire a speaker unless they have some sort of a connection, or some confirmation that this person is capable, professional, well-known, and confident. Your web presence, then, must show that you are these things.

What do you need for a web presence? A blog is perfectly sufficient, as long as it has a nice picture of you and a list of your speaking topics. WordPress works better than Blogger in this capacity because WordPress allows you to have extra pages, so that you can list your topics, or explain more about yourself.

On a blog you can also share your thoughts. You don’t have to blog about speaking; simply share thoughts that would be relevant to those you are speaking to. For instance, if you want to be hired to speak to moms and tots groups, make sure that you blog about issues relevant to moms with young children at home. If you want to speak to seniors’ groups, blog about these issues. Provide interesting content so that it shows you are actively thinking and engaging about the issues that matter to your target audience.

A web presence can also include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. To be hired by a church, Facebook still seems to be key. Twitter, while it’s wonderful for networking, isn’t as widely used for those outside the online world (ie. those who are on women’s committees at churches). Facebook, though, is quite common. Making friends on Facebook, then, and mentioning your new talks that you’re developing, or the places you’re speaking, lets others know what you are up to, and best of all helps others to think of you as a speaker. Update your status frequently to pertain to your speaking ministry, so that when your friends are asked if they know a speaker, they will automatically think of you!

2. Don’t let Social Media Take Over

That being said, social media can too easily replace our speaking efforts. Yes, we need to network. Yes, we need to build a web presence. But we also need to do some good old-fashioned speaking. We need to develop talks, network face to face with those who make decisions in women’s ministry committees, and we need to deliver talks (even free talks) as we’re starting out. If you spend all your time blogging or building friends on Twitter, you may find that you’re popular online, but that popularity doesn’t translate into speaking engagements.

You may end a day feeling productive, because you’ve connected with all kinds of Christian women, and you’re written some very insightful posts, but you haven’t translated that into the real world. Our social networking has to be tied into our real world efforts. It can’t replace it.

If you want to speak face to face, you need to do some face to face events and you need to get to know people face to face. Call up your local Christian radio station and offer to do a quick two minute segment on how to simplify Christmas, or on how to woo your mate this Valentine’s Day. Call up a large church and offer to do a twenty minute talk for their moms’ group to break in the new year. Call up a large church and offer to do a 20 minute inspirational talk for their seniors’ group on how to share your faith. Speak for free for a while, record yourself, and build word of mouth. Collect testimonials.

Then turn around and blog about these events. Post clips of your audio talks online. Put it in your Facebook status. Ask people to sign up for your inspirational newsletter.

Focus your efforts so they overlap and coordinate with real life, not so they replace it. Don’t ever spend so much time online that you have no time to do the real work of speaking.

It’s a tough balance. I struggle with this immensely. But I know God has called me to speak, and that means getting up from my computer occasionally. Maybe it’s time for you to get up, too!

If you want to learn more about building an online community, drawing readers to your blog, or growing key Facebook and Twitter followers, my courses on “Building Your Online Community” are so valuable! Listen in to the teleseminar, complete with a handout, here, or investigate my e-course! The e-course comes with a module that will teach you how to throw an online party for yourself. I did it last February and sold $1200 worth of books in one day! Find out more here.


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