These are the 7 Reasons (backed by research) why your next speech or presentation better have plenty of laughs or YOU FAIL.
Once you realize how truly valuable humor is to every speech or presentation, take a look at The Laugh Generator Process. I created it so that anyone, naturally funny or not, can have a repeatable process to follow so that humor can be easily added to speeches, presentations, stories, anecdotes and more.
Let’s get started.
I want to know something. Why are you getting up in front of an audience of anywhere from one to 100,000 people and daring to speak? What do you want?
Whatever the reason—whatever you want to achieve—depends on one thing and one thing only: how well your audience responds to you, your message, and your call-to-action. It all rests solely on your shoulders. Well, not your shoulders exactly, but it is your responsibility.
Are you there for the audience? Do you have their best interest in mind?
If so, keep reading. If not, move on. There’s no future for you as a speaker, presenter, salesperson, preacher, or business owner if you don’t care about your audience.
I’ve discovered something—a secret if you will—about your audience. They really do want to pay attention to you. The audience wants to listen to you. They want to remember what you’re saying, and they want to focus on you.
They don’t want to be bored. Who would?
Are you helping them? Are you investing in your speaking skills so you can give your very best to your audience?
Giving an effective, riveting presentation isn’t just one skill; it’s a suite of skills. My specialty among those many skills is getting laughs.
Jeffrey Gitomer, an author, speaker, and business trainer, says, “Some people look at it as a ‘laugh’—I look at it as a learning device, listening tool, attention grabber, self healer, powerful selling tool, and—of course—fun.”[i]
A laugh is all those things, but it’s also something more. It’s a gift—a gift you give your audience that provides enormous benefits for them and for you.
Laughter Benefits Your Audience
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
Stress reduction is one of laughter’s biggest benefits. People are stressed. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, three out of four doctor visits are for stress-related illnesses, resulting in $300 Billion worth of costs associated with medical bills and lost productivity every year.[ii]
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Irritability or short temper
- Agitation, inability to relax
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of loneliness and isolation
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Aches and pains
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
In contrast, when people laugh, they get the following benefits:
- Increased endorphins and dopamine
- Improved immune system[vi]
- Increased relaxation response
- Reduced pain
- Reduced stress
- Increased creativity
- Improved problem-solving ability
- Enhanced memory
- Elevated mood and feelings of well-being
- Reduced depression, anxiety, and tension
- Increased self-esteem and resilience
- Increased hope, optimism, energy, and vigor
So the first benefit of laughter is how it helps your audience momentarily undo the stress of their day and their week, which is truly a gift. After all, as Milton Berle says, “Laughter is an instant vacation.”
Grab Your Audience’s Attention
“Your job as a presenter is to engage your audience, to pull them forward in their seats. Unfortunately, audiences can be easily distracted, and they habituate quickly.” –Matt Abrams, “Tips and Techniques for More Confident and Compelling Presentations”[vii]
Your very first task as a speaker is to get your audience’s attention. Failing to intentionally create interest and earn attention could mean disaster.
According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, “You’ve got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, ‘Am I going to pay attention to you or not?’ The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out.”[viii]
In Fascinate: 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, author Sally Hogshead drives home the point, “Picture attention as currency” that’s “scarce.” According to her, “Attention has become more important, more rare, and more valuable.”
Sam Horn agrees in her book, Got Your Attention?: How to Create Intrigue and Connect with Anyone, saying, “Clearly, we have an impatience epidemic, and we’re suffering from alienation and attention bankruptcy, all at the same time.”
In other words, if you can’t get people’s attention, you’ll never get their connection. The good news is, you’ve come to the right place to overcome people’s impatience, alienation, and chronic distraction.
If you’ve been on any commercial airline flight, as the flight attendant starts to give the requisite announcements, you’ll notice very few people pay attention. Although there might be that rare individual flying for the first time, eyes wide with terror, intently fixated on how to survive a crash in water and wondering why everyone else isn’t listening. Mostly, though, people aren’t listening. They’re sending a final text, reading a magazine, or hoping the passenger in the next seat will keep to themselves.
In contrast to run-of-the-mill announcements, you may have heard flight attendants, like Marty Cobb use humor like this (viewed over 22 million times on YouTube) to grab people’s attention so they will listen to announcements:
“If I could pretend to have your attention for just a few moments . . . my ex-husband, my new boyfriend, and their divorce attorney are going to show you the safety features of this 737, 800 series. It’s been a long day for me. . . . Position your seatbelt tight and low across your hips like my grandmother wears her support bra.”[ix]
Everyone watches, listens, and pays attention to this announcement. Humor breaks through boredom or distractions, letting your audience know what you say will be worth their time.
James Altucher’s number one method for being a great speaker is to start off with a joke. He says, “People need to laugh within the first 30 seconds or else you’re going back to your cubicle at the pencil factory and they will never remember you.” Altucher spends a couple of hours writing that first joke, making sure its relevant to the audience he’s addressing.[x]
But starting with a joke to earn the audience’s attention certainly isn’t new.
In the book Successful Persuasion Through Public Speaking, John Hayes interviews Zig Ziglar who attributes his success as a speaker to telling a joke right away: “My first objective is to have them laughing within the first 30 seconds.”[xi]
Did you notice both of these recommendations mention 30 Seconds? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that James Altucher, Zig Ziglar, and John Medina all emphasize the first 30 seconds.
Keep Your Audience’s Attention and Ensure They Are Listening
Your first goal: grab your audience’s attention. Your second goal: keep it. Medina’s research on the brain demonstrates that people don’t pay attention to boring things: “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, you must do something to regain attention and restart the clock.”
Making your audience laugh is certainly a great way to restart that clock. As one of the most recognized speakers, Ziglar uses humor for this very purpose. In fact, he says he does “everything humanly possible to hold your attention,” but reliably tells a joke every 7 to 9 minutes.
“And every time I do,” says Ziglar, “you know what happens? I see 50 or 100 people in the audience turn to somebody and say ‘what did he say?’”
Ziglar explains that he can speak at about 280 words a minute, although sometimes “with gusts up to about 550.” But Ziglar points out that a person’s mind functions 10 times faster than he can speak,” so as a speaker, you know the minds of people in your audience are “taking side trips.”
Jeffrey Gitomer emphasizes the need for laughter and humor in a presentation because it’s tied to people’s memory: “Whatever you say AFTER you say something funny, will be heard and remembered 10 times more than to drone on and ‘think’ or ‘expect’ that others hear them—much less are listening. In short, laughter leads to listening and creates the highest listening environment.”[xii]
Help your Audience Remember and Learn
Goal one is getting attention. Goal two is keeping attention. Goal three is helping your audience remember. Author and speaker Lilly Walters says, “The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”
Research suggests that humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn. [xiii] The benefits to learning are not just found in youthful audiences but in those that may deal with age-related memory loss.[xiv]
Encourage a Willing Mindset in Your Audience
Alright, laughter helps you grab attention, keep attention, and improves the likelihood your message will be remembered. But laughter’s benefits don’t stop there.
Learning is just the beginning when it comes to dopamine. Dopamine’s impact on the body is felt in many different areas,[xvii] including motivation, memory, behavior and cognition, attention, sleep, mood, learning, and, oh yeah, pleasurable reward.[xviii]
Notice two keywords in that list: mood and motivation. As your audience is laughing, their stress is being relieved and counteracted, their fear is being disengaged,[xix] they’re listening, learning, and finally, their mood is enhanced and their motivation primed.
When you have your audience laughing, you have their attention. You know they’re listening. Every laugh is priming their brains to hear, consider your message, and consider your call to action because at a subtle level, you’re helping your audience know, like, and trust you—the key to winning over people’s hearts and minds.
Help Your Audience Know, Like, and Trust You
Bob Hope, one of the most beloved comedians, says, “Humor is the welcome mat between the speaker and the audience. A short joke, a quick laugh, breaks the ice between you and that sea of strangers. When they laugh, they are immediately on your side. The laughter makes them your friends.”[xxii]
Jeffrey Gitomer, a leading sales expert, author, and trainer, says that without humor, an invisible barrier exists between getting to know someone on the surface and getting to know someone on a deeper level.
“When you get an audience laughing, you’ve got them on your side,” Mohammed Qahtani[xxiii]
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” –Victor Borge
According to Sophie Scott, a British neuroscientist who conducts research on the neuroscience of voices, speech, and laughter, says laughter is the strongest bond builder there is between humans. “It’s a behavior we think is about amusement,” she explains, “but actually it’s about affiliation, agreement and affection.[xxiv]
How Making Your Audience Laugh Benefits You
The benefits of laughter will return to you 10, 50, or 100 fold, depending on the size of the audience. One of the most startling discoveries in neuroscience is a specific category of neurons called mirror neurons. These neurons are widely dispersed throughout your brain and activate to mimic what another being does. You could consider them a neural Wi-Fi,28 which instantly creates shared experience. Mirror neurons connect us to other humans. Remember the shortest distance between two people from Victor Borge? Laughter!
This means then that when you make your audience laugh, their laughter causes your mirror neurons to fire, resulting in you receiving the very benefits described above.
Plus . . .
You’re speaking for a reason, correct? Whatever that reason, whatever action you hope your audience will take, with humor, your Call To Action has a better chance of evoking action. Your audience was listening and every individual mind has been primed. Conditions are perfect.
And who knows . . .
The first action they take may just be to give you a standing ovation. I’m being serious.
When renowned speaker Sean Stephenson was asked the secret to getting a standing ovation, he said, “You must make a person laugh hard, cry, and rethink their life. People are stressed. If you can create a speech that makes people laugh, that will relieve their stress, even momentarily.”[xxx]
A Bonus Reason to Use Humor – Event Organizers Want It
As a speaker, are you interested in more gigs, more speaking engagements, more referrals, and ultimately, more revenue? Humor is a key ingredient to obtain that which you desire. The reason is simple, says speaker Grant Baldwin: “Your best marketing tool is a great talk.”
In his book Speaking for Success, Bob “Idea Man” Hooey says, in response to the question, Do you have to be funny?: “Only if you want to be paid!”
Alan Weiss further clarifies how humor improves your odds at get speaking gigs in Million Dollar Speaking: The Professional’s Guide to Building Your Platform. He says, “Meeting planners love to evaluate potential speakers by viewing demo tapes for a few minutes, making visceral decisions based on such ephemera as a funny story, stage movement, and appearance.”
Brian Lord, speaker agent and VP of Premiere Speakers Bureau says he’d heard experts claim that event planners and corporate audiences really wanted content. But he observed that in reality, “When it came time to book a speaker, the speakers that used a lot of humor and stories—those were the ones that kept getting booked.”
Jeremy Poincenot, inspirational speaker and coach, reinforces the importance of humor if you want to make money at speaking: “You too might have a really inspiring story and lots of useful lessons, but if the audience isn’t entertained, you’ll most likely not get booked. Some people say you don’t have to be funny to be a speaker. I agree, but I think you have to be funny to be a paid speaker.”
Steve Gilliland, speaker and author of 40 Irrefutable Steps to Building a Substantial Speaking Business, says since he began his speaking career in 1999, his goal was to create memorable presentations and become a world class speaker. “I want my presentation to be extremely entertaining and funny,” says Gilliland, “but impossible to replicate because of the emotional content that would resonate and emotionally connect with members of my audiences.”
Hearing about the importance of your talk and having an entertaining speech is one thing, but are there really more opportunities to speak for humorous presenters?
A sample of the speaking opportunities posted on SpeakerMatch, a website for emerging and aspiring speakers, of which I am a member, shows how much people value humor and how often humor is mentioned and considered “a plus”:
- Organizer is looking for up to 2 motivational speakers to address STEM franchise owners coming in for a convention from all over the country. Marketing, education, and business experience is welcome. Franchise promotes STEM education for 4-14 year olds. A sense of humor a big plus!
- Organizer is looking for a motivational speaker to help kick off a week of training for a staff of 80 professional and non-professional education service providers. The speaker will have 1 hour. Audience ages range from mid 20s to 70s. Humor is a plus.
- Organizer is looking for a Keynote speaker to provide a motivational and funny presentation that can relate to the sales profession for a group of 25 sales professionals.
- Organizer is looking for a humorous, motivational, anti-bullying speaker for middle school aged students.
- Organizer is looking for a speaker to help motivate staff as they grow and develop into a global market. A sense of humor and creativity is appreciated.
- Organizer is looking for a 60 to 90 minute humorous motivational speaker to present at a medical staff conference with a group of 100.
- Organizer is looking for a humorous motivational speaker for a 1 hour presentation. Ideal topic is team building and stress management.
- This trend for more entertainment isn’t going away. Imagine the booking possibilities if, in addition to your other high-content programs, you offered version that included high-entertainment and high-engagement.
In 2016, meetings and events have been shifting. According to Leo Jakobson in his article, “The Top 6 Meeting Trends of 2016” (www.successfulmeetings.com) website, meetings are morphing into experiences: Jakobson quotes Kristin Torres, executive director, meetings and events, for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
‘They want more than just a trade show and a couple of dinners,’ she says. ‘They want an experience. Now we have education sessions on the show floor, and lounges with music. We have themed parties now, and we’ve made lighting changes on the floor to make it more inviting.’
She’s not alone. Nearly two-thirds of the meeting planners polled in the Successful Meetings’ “2016 Trends Survey” said the “need to create a compelling meeting experience” for attendees was one of the most important trends to follow in order to create effective meetings in 2016.
Obviously, having a humorous option, in addition to your other valuable programs, will position you as the go to speaker to help make an event memorable.