by Tom Antion
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
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.
Della's note - Tom Antion is an extraordinarily successful
speaker. I have personally seen him go from being a good speaker
to one of the most successful speakers in the National Speakers
Association and the country. He definitely knows what it takes to
achieve speaking success. To find out more
about how you too can speak like a pro and take your business or career
to the next level click
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