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Public Speaking Course: 

Self-Effacing Humor

Self-effacing humor is a big term that simply means to make fun of yourself. This type of humor is great in your presentation because it shows the audience that you don't think your superior to them. In my public speaking course you will learn how to use self-effacing humor the right way. If used properly it can be a very powerful form of humor.  Public speakers who have the ability to laugh at themselves during a presentation are looked upon as if they are secure, confident, strong, and likeable. 

The reason self-effacing humor seems to work 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 sending the message to your audience that you are secure and powerful, which is what you learn in your public speaking course.  Most audiences can see right through speakers who are trying to puff themselves up. It will turn the audience off real quick. 

One tip though when using self-effacing humor, is that a little can go a long way. If you overdo it with this humor during your presentation, you won't look confident, you'll just look like you have low self esteem. That is not the impression you want your audience to have of you. If you can't bring yourself to use any self-effacing humor, you should learn to. I must be honest with you, most people hate to deal with a stuffed shirt, which is how you will be perceived if you can't poke a little fun at yourself.

A speaker who is not afraid to make fun of themselves is the one who makes the greatest connection with the audience. Everyone in the audience has embarrassed themselves or failed sometime in the past.

Taking steps beyond the norm is part of what you will learn in your public speaking course. Katharine Rolfe, President of The Lighten Up Club, takes self-effacing humor one step further saying, '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, when you need a laugh to lighten up your life, you always have yourself.

Your audience would rather hear about the time you fell on your face, rather than the time you won the race. Don't ever 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.  The audience likes the fact that you openly admit any weaknesses you have. They laugh with you, but they still respect you because you are confident and secure enough to joke about yourself.

You can make fun of yourself in many ways including your physical appearance if you are especially tall, short, 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. This skill is all about being "on target" and connecting with your audience.

You don't necessarily have to joke about yourself, you could make fun of your family background, your profession, or anything else that directly relates to your life. I sometimes tell a story about the time my mom came to visit me in Washington, D.C. from her small hometown. The audience hears about how small Claysville is and that my mom's house is way out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't have city water, city sewage, 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 totally 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 news channel."

In this story I was not directly making fun of myself. I was teasing about my small town upbringing and about the innocent and funny mistake my mom pulled when she came to visit.

Don't tease yourself about any subject that has a direct tie to your credibility, because your credibility is why they are paying you to speak to them. For instance, if you were a nuclear control room technician, you would not want to joke about the time you pushed the wrong button. On the other hand, 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 business.

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 to overcome. He attacked the problem using self-effacing humor. He would joke about his age all the time which then turned age into a non-issue with the voters. 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 use self effacing humor during your presentations. This will be one of your most powerful skills to connect with the audience and a subtle way to show your strength by joking about your weaknesses.

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