Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Dr. Steve Bedwell, a medical doctor and leadership speaker who uses humor to teach professional development skills to corporate, association, and health care groups.
Here’s the insider secret that comedians don’t want you to know—delivering a line isn’t that difficult. Al Gore, who no one would mistake for a stand-up comic, opens his ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ presentation with a fabulous joke: “My name is Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States of America.” To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy: “I don’t care what your politics are; that’s funny!” I promise you, if Al Gore can do it, you can do it.
Al Gore’s joke is extremely (and, I suspect, painfully) self-deprecating which is my first tip: Do be self-deprecating. Then, not only will you be seen as somebody with their ego in check, it’s also extremely unlikely that someone will take offense. I open my speech with jokes about being bald: “I don’t need conditioner. I dream of split ends…the very thought of one hair becoming two!”
Tip Two: Don’t ever target members of the audience. This holds true even if the audience member is “afflicted” in the same way as you. For me hair loss is comedy gold. However, it really bugs some of the bald guys in my audiences, so I focus the hair loss jokes on myself. (If you ever see me speak you’ll notice that I’m having fun with members of the audience within a “sitcom” type situation that I’ve created and never at their expense.)
Tip Three: In a similar way, don’t target demographic groups unless they are your audience’s common enemy. For example, when I speak to doctors, malpractice lawyers are a great target. Be careful here though, one caustic line can ruin a wonderful presentation and be the thing people remember about you. You need your mental filter set at “if in doubt, don’t say it.” So, where might your funnies come from? Great question, which brings me to my next tip…
Tip Four: Let the audience write jokes for you. During one speech, I was about to swallow a four-foot long modeling balloon (don’t ask) and explained that I needed some encouragement. In reply, a woman at the back of the room shouted out: “Steve, you’re very handsome!” I’ve used Lisa’s hilarious response in every speech since that day…not only is it funny, it’s self-deprecating.
Tip Five: Let the audience tell you what’s funny. No one, not even a hugely experienced comic, can tell you if something is going to be funny before you present it to an audience. So, if an audience laughs at something you say, that’s a comedy gift—don’t let it go to waste. For example, back when I honed material at comedy clubs, I happened to mention that I lived in Kentucky. This juxtaposition of my British accent and the state I called home was apparently hilarious and got a huge (and completely unexpected) response.
Finally, tip six, don’t set yourself up for failure. Never say: “Here’s a funny story…” Or “I heard this joke about…” A while back I was introduced as “The medical doctor who’ll make you laugh out loud every fifteen seconds.” I could feel the audience setting their watches!
You can learn more about Steve’s professional and leadership development programs at http://www.mindcapital.com/.
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