How to add humor to a speech or presentation using self-deprecation. Do it the right way, you’ll get laughs. Do it the wrong way and you’re in trouble. Stay tuned.
Hi, I’m Rick Olson, founder of afunnieryou.com. The fluff experts with their vagueralities love to praise self-deprecation as the cure-all for humor. In the last video I shared a tip from an expert who said, “I prefer gentle self-deprecating humor.”
It makes sense. Self-deprecation can be a very powerful laugh generator. In fact, in the book Comedy Writing Secrets, Mel Helitzer says that psychologist Patricia Keith-Spiegel has identified two primary reasons for laughter. They are surprise and superiority.
For more about using surprise in your speeches and presentations, I just wrote a long, detailed article on my process, the Laugh Generator Process. It focuses on surprise. You can use that process to add humor to your speeches, presentations, your stories, your anecdotes, even your speaker introduction. It’s not just for speeches and presentations. Click on the link and you can read that article now.
That’s the end of the commercial. Back to self-deprecation.
Since superiority is one of the major laugh activators, when we make the audience feel superior, they’re going to laugh. The point of self-deprecation is make them feel superior to us, the speaker.
One of the best ways to use self-deprecation is to balance out in your speech and presentation when you talk highly of yourself, when you build yourself up, use self-deprecation to knock yourself down a notch or two to keep yourself likable in the eyes of your audience.
The second way to use self-deprecation is with a Jolly Rancher approach. What I mean by that is you know the Jolly Ranchers, the tiny candies? A little bit goes a long way. Same thing is true for self-deprecation. Think of it as one of the 11 herbs and spices, not the only one. Balance it out.
In fact, one study indicated that using too much self-deprecating humor can actually hurt your expertise and reliability instruction eyes of the audience.
The third … I can’t make a three. The third thing you want to do when using self-deprecation is to avoid referencing the very reason your audience is listening to you and is buying into what you’re saying. Avoid your topic of expertise when it comes to self-deprecation. Don’t give your audience any reason to not believe you are the trusted authority in your subject area.
Number four tip for using self-deprecation is use it in an area where the audience doesn’t need to buy into your authority and to your expertise. For example, Daniel Pink does an excellent TED Talk where he talks about going to law school. This is what he says: “In the late 1980s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school.” The audience laughs. “To put it mildly, I didn’t do very well. I, in fact, graduated in the part of my law school class that made the top 90% possible. I never practiced law a day in you life. I pretty much wasn’t allowed to.”
In that TED Talk he’s not talking about his authority and his believability as a lawyer. He’s using it as a reference point. There’s no reason for the audience to need to buy into his expertise in that area so it’s a safe place to use self-deprecating humor, and he does it very effectively.
I recommend you take a look at that TED Talk, Daniel Pink on motivation. Another example of someone who uses self-deprecation very well is Warren Buffett. He has this line, which I absolutely love:
“I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me.”
The fifth way you want to use self-deprecation is to disarm someone who’s trying to discredit you or to disparage you. President Lincoln give a great example of this when he was being accused of being two-faced. He replied, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
You can see in that example he’s not self-deprecating his ability to lead the country or to be governor, or his business acumen. He’s talking about his looks.
Ronald Reagan, another great example of someone who used self-deprecation very well. When his opponents tried to make age an issue of the campaign, he constantly made light of it. Therefore, he disarmed his opponents. One great example of this, he said, “Yes, we have a trade deficit, but this isn’t entirely new in the United States. We’ve had a merchandise trade deficit in almost all of the years between 1790 and 1875. I remember them well. Of course I was only a boy at the time.”
You can see where he is making light of his age, and therefore it lessens the impact when his opponents try to use it to their advantage.
Another example again is the Warren Buffett statement, “I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me.” The fluff experts love to tell you that self-deprecation is the end-all and be-all in humor. It is a very powerful tool. The number two laugh activator is superiority.
When we make the audience feel superior, they laugh. However, there’s some points you need to make sure you take into consideration before you start using self-deprecation.
My goal is to help you cut through the vague, general fluff advice you find online so that you can develop the real skills needed to add humor to your speeches and presentations, and to be a funnier you. I’ve just written a detailed article on my Laugh Generator process that you can use to quickly and easily add humor to your speeches and presentations. Click on the link. Read that article. Download the guide if you’d like. I look forward to helping you become a funnier you.