How to be funny in a presentation when you’re not a comedian!

I will be giving the closing keynote at a tech conference in London next week.

And I only know one joke.  Which goes like this:

“So these Wild West cowboys are sitting huddled around their campfire out on the prairie late one night when off in the distance they hear the distinct ‘Bum-bum-BUM-bum, bum-bum-BUM-bum’ of tribal drums.

‘Oh no!,’ says one of the cowboys to the group, ‘I don’t like the sound of them drums.’

‘Sorry!’ yells a voice way off in the distance, ‘It’s not our regular drummer!’ “

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Okay.  That’s it.  Maybe because I have this image of Animal, or it reminds me of some sort of thing the guys from Spinal Tap might say, or because of my own frustrated air-guitar rocker tendencies, but I love it.

And I’m smart enough to know that practically no one else does.  Which is why I have never tried to shoe-horn it in during a keynote, presentation or speech.

However, the notion of humor is one that always comes up when I consult with executives on their presentations and communications styles.  “How do I be funny?” they ask.

As humans, we’re social animals. We like to share a laugh.

That’s especially true during a speech or presentation.   We may have to sit there because it’s part of our job or the conference we’re attending, but we’re hoping that the presenter will exhibit some sort of human connection.

If it were only about the information, then why not simply write it and hit the ‘send’ button?

There are as many different types of humor as there are of personality types. Here are a few of my tips:

1. Know yourself.  If you don’t tell jokes well during your personal life, don’t try to deliver a joke during a presentation (and you know this from the kind of eye rolls or deafening silence you normally get). What makes your friends laugh? Are you the dry observer?  Ironic?  Silly? Go with that.  A bit. Remember, a little goes a long way in the presenting context.

2. A personal story is usually better than a joke.  Think of something that relates back to your point. Maybe something from your childhood. Telling an anecdote that comes from the heart and really happened to you is likely going to resonate better than some contrived joke.

3. React in the moment.  Ad-lib on the meeting so far, the curtains, the weather, the food.  As long as you’re not being too critical or mean-spirited, a quick humorous aside can bring a nice “real” moment to the room.

4. Self-deprecation.  People like successful people who can still poke fun at themselves. But not false modesty. That’s bending backward too hard.

Any time you speak before an audience – be it a smallish regular meeting or a more formal event – the information you’re about to present should take a back seat to the human connection you should endeavor to make.

And, if you’re going to be presenting at a drummers convention, do I have the perfect joke for you!  Or maybe not.

Don’t try too hard.  You’re a human. You’re a natural.

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

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How BODY language can influence others – and YOU!

There was only one Mae West, but she makes a good point!
There was only one Mae West, but she makes a good point!

Not only do we need to focus on what we say, we need to focus on how we say it.

As a communications consultant, I work with executives and organizations on improving all facets of communications. Body language is a key component of that equation!

Most of us don’t have the first clue how to get our message across. And the reason for that is that we usually don’t even bother to try.

People all take communication too much for granted.”

We generally only turn our ‘communication-conscious brains’ on for what we consider to be the big communication events.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you naturally communicate well in casual situations. If you don’t believe this have someone record you speaking at your next meeting.  Then watch it — with and without sound. You’ll learn a lot about yourself because we generally don’t acknowledge how much of our communication is done through eyes, gesture and posture.

So what are we doing wrong?

  1. WE ROCK

Many people in pressure situations will rock on one foot or shift their weight from side to side. One strategy is to simply consciously plant your feet solidly and be comfortable standing.

This is challenging for many people, as many people will either stand like a statue and then uncomfortably begin to rock or they will go from side to side — so stand solidly, putting weight on both feet evenly. Be aware of your posture.

  1. WE CROSS OUR ARMS

Don’t. People will think you’re feeling nervous or defensive and if you’re speaking to someone in authority you’re sending out a negative message. You might simply find this position comfortable — but don’t do it if you’re in a situation that calls for you to appear supportive, interested or positive.

Instead, lean in slightly to indicate interest, and nod or gesture in agreement with what the person is saying.

  1. WE DON’T MAKE ENOUGH EYE CONTACT

In an initial meeting situation, make eye contact, but don’t stare. Look at the person, shake their hand and remember their name.

All too often, peoples’ eyes are darting around the room looking either for someone they know or for someone more interesting. Be conscious of this and don’t do it. We smile — but forget to engage our eyes. Don’t forget!

People notice.

It all takes practise, but it can be learned.

“Remember, your body is not just a vehicle to move your head from room to room!”

Communication is a three-legged stool — you must be conscious, firstly, of the words you use; secondly, of the para-language (pacing, pitch, volume and tone) in which you deliver them and thirdly, of the body language which accompanies them (gestures, posture and facial expression).

All too often we forget about numbers two and three.

You cannot single out one factor when you are reading someone’s body language. Look at the whole bundle of information,

If a person is nodding but giving terse answers and has their arms crossed, then you look at two and three and understand that this person is blowing you off a bit. How do you deal with this? You ask them if they have something on their mind, or whether they are in agreement with you, or understand what you are saying.  Put the issue in a gentle way, into the open. Then be “nimble enough” to correct your course mid-stream.

It’s all about gauging the feelings of another person. The only indicator we have of what is going on inside a person is what they are doing on the outside.”

Some of the things we should be doing include nodding and smiling — we tend to mirror each other, and if you have a pleasant expression while you are speaking, your audience will tend to mirror you.

Finally, one thing you definitely should do:

Broaden your smile— your endorphins kick in so smiling relaxes you and makes you feel more at ease.

Start practising now and in inconsequential situations — and then you’ll be geared up for the next big communications crunch.

Remember, “Every skill we learn starts out in a deliberate part of our brain and with practise moves into the intuitive part of our brain.”

(Next week, Wednesday, October 7, Network Cork is hosting me as I present a workshop at FOTA Island Resort at 7pm in Cork Harbour, Ireland. This is excerpted from my profile in this week’s IRISH EXAMINER.  Please contact Network Cork at www.networkcork.com if you would like to attend!)