One of the hardest and scariest skills to master is public speaking. Of course public speaking can mean being called upon in a staff meeting or standing before 500 of your closest business associates. However you view it speaking in public can boost your career. Some people believe it’s a gift you’re born with. Others, especially those who train in public speaking, are convinced that it can be learned. I think there’s a lot of truth to both.
So how do they do it? These people who stand on a stage or captivate us as they sit behind a conference table selling a roomful of colleagues on a brand new way of selling their soon-to-launch widget? First, you’ve got to believe in what you’re saying. That sounds fairly simplistic, but while some can fake their enthusiasm, especially for a healthy paycheck, most people (I really believe this) are sincere on some level about what they’re talking about.
Some speakers reel in their listeners with humor. But be careful here. Humor can’t always be learned and if you’ve ever had to suffer through a presentation by someone who thought he was being funny then you know how dicey that can become. So, rule number one when it comes to humor: use it only if you’re funny. If you are the only person who believes in your humor, then please think twice before you exercise your funny bone. Listening to an unfunny person is quite uncomfortable and chances are that’s about the only thing an audience will remember, the unfunny part.
If you are going to incorporate humor into your presentation whether it’s at a staff meeting or in front of a lot of VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE, make sure that it’s relevant to your topic. Using humor for the sake of just showing people how hysterical you are is just wrong. People aren’t stupid and when they’re sitting before a speaker who’s supposed to be imparting relevant information but is attempting stand-up comedy instead, well, it doesn’t make for a very good presentation. Memorable? Maybe. But effective? Not likely.
Also, don’t think for a second that it’s okay to be funny at someone else’s expense unless it’s your own. If you want to put yourself down in a sophisticated, self-deprecating way, that’s okay. It if done well, then people laugh usually because they see themselves as being like you in such a way that underscores all of our collective human foibles. That can bring people together. Laughing at other people tends to have a rather opposite effect.
Next time: more about public speaking