Public Speaking Course:
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
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.