Public Speaking: Self-Effacing Humor

Self-effacing humor, or making fun of yourself is quite a contrast. It is a very powerful form of humor that gets its strength from highlighting your weaknesses. It seems that people who have the ability to laugh at themselves in just the right amount during a public speaking engagement are perceived as secure, confident, strong, and likeable.With this type of humor, a little goes a long way. If you overdo it during a public speaking engagement, you will look like a doomsayer who is always putting yourself down. If you can’t bring yourself to use any self-effacing humor, you should learn. I must be candid here. Most people hate to deal with a stuffed shirt. Unfortunately, if you can’t poke a little fun at yourself, that is the way you are perceived.I think the reason self-effacing humor works so well is that weak people feel the need to inflate themselves and powerful people don’t. If you have the confidence to tease yourself, you are indirectly sending the message to the audience that you are secure and powerful. Most audiences can see right through speakers who are trying to puff themselves up. It turns them off quickly.The person who is not afraid to tease him or herself is the one who makes the greatest connection with the audience because everyone in the audience has embarrassed themselves or failed at something at one time or the other. If you use self-effacing humor, the audience knows that you, as the presenter, know how it feels to fail. That is a very powerful magnet.Katharine Rolfe, President of The Lighten Up Club, takes self-effacing humor one step further. She says, ‘I call it self-appreciating humor because it conveys a positive appreciation of ourselves as humans who are simply out there doing our best and bumbling along as we go.’ Katharine’s organization believes the key to a happy life is the ability to laugh at yourself, for then you are never without a source of amusement.Unless you are a Don Rickles type presenter (known for his hockey puck teasing style of humor), you should never set yourself up as superior to the audience either socially, financially, or intellectually. You want the audience to accept you as one of them. Let them feel superior to you in some way. Your audience would rather hear about the time you fell on your face, rather than the time you won the race.That is why self-effacing humor is great during speaking engagements. The audience likes the fact that you openly admit your weaknesses. They laugh, but they still respect you because you are self-confident enough to joke about yourself.There are any number of things you can tease yourself about. Your physical appearance is good if you are especially tall, or short or fat or bald. Just make sure that the physical appearance is obvious to the audience. If you are disorganized, you could tease yourself about that. If you can’t parallel park, you could tease yourself about that. Just about anything will work as long as you are the target.What you want to avoid teasing about is any subject that has a direct tie to your credibility. For instance, if you were a nuclear control room technician, you would not want to joke about the time you pushed the wrong button. But, if you got fired from your job as a nuclear control room technician for almost pushing the wrong button, then this fact might be a good topic for humor. It could turn into a great topic if you now own a landscaping company or are in some other non-threatening position.To use self-effacing humor, you don’t necessarily have to joke about yourself. You can make fun of your family background, your profession, or anything else that directly relates to you. I tell a story in my presentations about the time my mom came from our very small hometown to visit me in the big city of Washington, D.C. The audience hears about how small Claysville is and that my mom’s house is way out in the sticks. We didn’t have city water, or city sewerage, or cable TV. I then go on to tell how we took a trip on the Spirit of Washington for a dinner cruise and went sightseeing all over the capital. Here’s how the end of the story goes:”When we got home that evening I was exhausted, so I told mom I was going to bed and that I would see her in the morning. She said, “OK. I’m just going to watch the news and then I’ll go to bed.” I got up at about 2:00 a.m. and there was mom sitting in front of the TV. Her head was nodding and drooping. I said, “Mom. What are you doing?” She said, “I’m just waiting for the news to be over.” Well she would have waited a long time because she was watching . . .CNN 24 hour headline news.”In this story I was not directly teasing myself. I was teasing about my small town background and about the innocent and funny boner my mom pulled when she came to visit.Former president Ronald Reagan was a master at using self-effacing humor. In his bid for the Presidency in 1980 his age appeared to be his biggest obstacle. He attacked the problem with self-effacing humor. He would joke about his age all the time which turned age into a non-issue. He told a group of reporters once, ‘Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘One should not worry about chronological age compared to the ability to perform the task.’ . . . Ever since Thomas Jefferson told me that I stopped worrying about my age.’Look for opportunities to tease yourself. This will be one of your most powerful tools to connect with the audience and a subtle way to show your strength.

Humor and Advertising Don’t Mix? You Just Don’t Have a Sense of Humor!

Humor: One of the Best Advertising MethodsSex, money, and religion. What do they all have in common? They are the three subjects that are most powerful when getting a person’s attention. However, when it comes to developing catchy advertising, I can add another subject to that list: Humor.Humor works and that’s the bottom line. People always say to be wary of humorous advertising because it can work against you. These people believe that when you use humor you could offend some people by being stereotypical, too clever, not clever enough, or flat out insulting. But when advertising works against you, it can still work very much for you.Before you jump all over me with your arguments, let me first lay out some ground rules for this article. I’m assuming that no business would be dumb enough to run an ad simply to offend people. You pull that kind of a stunt and you’re going to get what you deserve – a lawsuit. Additionally, I’m assuming that when you run a humorous ad that has the potential to offend, you take that into account when planning the overall reaction to the advertisement.Dispelling the “Offensive Humor Only Hurts” StoryYour business has a target market. And your advertisements, if done correctly, are geared towards this target market. This is the general rule companies follow. But other demographics are going to see your ad. You can’t possibly stop this from happening.So when Spike TV advertises some extreme wrestling match or a Sport Illustrated photo shoot, they are most likely going to use scantily clad women and crude jokes in the ads (if you don’t believe me, take a look at their website). Some women will naturally be offended by this. But you know what? That woman will sit around with her husband, her sons, her brothers, or male co-workers and talk about how she was offended. These men, who the ad targeted in the first place, most likely enjoyed the ad, but it probably did not make a huge impression upon them. Having this woman bring up negative comments about the ad will actually remind the target demographic of how much they enjoyed it (or at least it acts as another impression).Let’s take into consideration that this offended person does not talk to the target demographic like in the example above. These conversations still act as impressions even when these people did not see the ad. It is the truest type of buzz campaign – a campaign that gets people talking about a company’s ads and products.Don’t Worry If You Offend People!As I said before, no business advertises itself simply wanting to offend people and expects their ads to get published. However, the chance you offend someone with a humorous ad is definitely out there. But, you know what? That’s good. Not everyone is going to love you or your sense of humor.We can take our above example and combine it with the general rule of thumb that a satisfied customer will tell 1-3 people and a dissatisfied customer will tell 10 or more people. If you failed arithmetic in elementary school then please do not read on…Let’s say you’re offending 10% of the people with the humor you use in your ad. This one person will have 10 conversations about your advertising. And they’re most likely talking about your advertising – not your product! You could still have the greatest product in the world and this person is just criticizing your ads. As mentioned before, these 10 conversations could be with people who loved your ad or simply forgot it right after viewing it. Either way, this one person is getting 10 people thinking more about your ad. Now that’s what I call good advertising!Your Humorous Advertising Should Stir Things UpIf done correctly, your ads will inform your target market about your product and get them talking about it. Now if you are successful in generating a little bit of buzz, you’ll reach even more people outside of your target market and your customers will start doing the advertising for you.Humorous advertising, although risky, can be very beneficial. Your target market will most likely understand your humor. Viewers outside your target may get offended, but this will actually work for you. As long as you’re not trying to offend someone, then the buzz that gets generated by your ads will be very positive to your advertising campaign.Just remember, people that like your ads aren’t going to tell you they like them. It’s the dissatisfied or offended people that will make a big deal out of it. So take advertising complaints in stride and stick in there. Everyone has a different sense of humor. And if you’re stirring some peoples’ emotions up, then you’re doing your job as an advertiser!