100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 94: Humor Tip for Public Speakers: Let Them Laugh
By Dave Fox
As we learned in last hour’s humor tip for public speaking, a pause before the punch line builds tension. When speaking in front of an audience, there’s another time that’s critical to pause: after the punch line.
Public speaking intimidates a lot of people. When working humor into a presentation, some speakers get nervous a joke will flop, especially if they’ve never told it before. They compensate by racing through the joke and moving on right away. When they do this, the audience has no time to laugh. Continuing to speak signals the crowd to be polite and keep listening.
When you tell a joke, give your crowd time to absorb it. Shut up for a moment and let them react. What starts as a soft chuckle can build into bigger laughter as the punch line sinks in.
Then again, sometimes jokes fizzle. It might be your punch line, it might be your delivery, or it might be the audience. In my tour guiding, I’ve had jokes that would get wild guffaws with one group and awkward fidgeting with another.
In a serious presentation, the best way to deal with this is to just keep going. You’ve paused. They haven’t laughed. Just move on. In stand-up comedy, the best way to deal with this is to duck. Shield yourself from flying tomatoes.
Whatever you do, don’t laugh at your own joke if the audience hasn’t laughed. If they didn’t think something was funny, attempting to convince them it really is can make a misfired punch line even more awkward.
Remember, comedy is experimental. If you don’t have an occasional flop, you’re not taking any risks. And without taking risks, you’re not growing as a humorist. So be at peace with the reality that sometimes your punches won’t connect like you hope they will. And equally important, be at peace with a moment of silence, in which you wait and hope. One thing is certain: If you don’t give your audience time to laugh, you will end up squashing their laughter.
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