I can't say I remember much about 4th math grade except that my teacher told a joke about fractions and a donkey and I laughed so hard chocolate milk came spewing out of my nose. I remember Mr. DeRoo as the only teacher who made math mean something to me before I realized God created calculators. And no matter what our topic, don't we as speakers want our content to remain memorable and meaningful? I mean, isn’t that what we're all going for, to make our audiences spit up whatever they're drinking? #Winning!
If you ask an audience member what the most impactful thing about a speaker they just heard, the funny moments will be at the top of the list. We love to laugh. And when you surprise your 2:00 pm half-asleep conference crowd with a funny moment, you win their attention. Vicki Hitzges CSP says, "Using humor breaks down walls and defenses in my keynotes and allows me to deliver content in a way that is easy to ‘digest.’"
But is it really true that "funny is money"? Are there more profits in punchlines?
Just ask Kelly Swanson CSP, who has been quoted as saying “the funnier I am, the more I get paid! Laughs are Currency." Devin Henderson CSP says "Since I started adding more humor in my keynotes my income is 3 times what it was last year." I've heard time and time again from my NSA clients that they know that funny is where the money is. But the big obstacle for most is, “But what if I'm not funny? Can it be taught?”
Let me as a professional stand up comedian and coach give you the cold hard truth: I cannot teach you to be naturally funny. Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, and other comics like myself were just picked on too much during childhood, thus we were born with a twisted kind of thinking. We also probably weren't breast fed. But the good news? There is no one that can't learn to put humor in their keynotes and "fake it ‘til they make it" as we like to say. With the right material inserted in the right places, you can look like a comedy all-star, and how you got there will be your little secret.
But wait…what about the concern I get often: “My subject matter is too serious.”
One client asked me to help her speak to a group of young women about math. I gave her the opening line “If you don't think math is sexy you haven't seen Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting!" See?! Any subject can be humorous even if just for one moment.
Here are a few tips to take your keynote to the next level of funny.
1. You need a great opening joke. This can be a line that you can insert into any speech and you know it will work. When I go on stage I sometimes open with “I'm sorry my kids couldn't be here...they're in the car!" That's a general opening that gets a chuckle and lets my audience know they're going to have fun. You can find a great joke several ways: ask funny friends to help you brainstorm; hire a comedy coach to help you add humor throughout you speech; or stop random strangers and see if you can make them laugh on the street. We call that Guerilla Comedy! P.S. Don’t pay attention when you 9 yr old says to you, ”I just don’t get it. People think you’re funny?”
2. The key is to practice the funny lines out loud. 99% of great comedy is timing. Those brilliant impromptu moments we all love on stage I guarantee you have been honed hundreds of times over the years. You have to feel confident about your material being funny before you hit the stage. Some of us learn the hard way. Elizabeth McCormick said, ”When I wrote my signature keynote- there were so many things I thought were funny... until I had an audience. “Just because you think somethings funny doesn’t mean your audience will too.I will call friends all the time and say, ”Do you think this is funny? “ If I don’t get an audible laugh over the phone at least 3 times I won’t even consider putting that story up on stage until it’s right.
4. Find something funny to say about the particular industry or client. Do this and they will think you are masterful. Meeting planners will applaud that you went the extra mile to personalize your speech just for them. For example if you're speaking for a group of accountants you might say "Everyone shout some advice at me right now and then you can write this event off on your taxes!" Another good idea is to make a comment about the city you're in that's humorous. Research their local culture, sports teams, restaurants, landmarks, etc. When I speak in Arizona in the summer I might say." I've always wanted to know what it's like to walk...on the sun! Oh, I know..it's dry heat! That’s what you guys tell yourselves so you can sleep at night!”
4. Study the art of comedy. NSA member and my first teacher Judy Carter wrote a brilliant book called "The Comedy Bible." It breaks down the art of constructing a joke. Watch your favorite funny people in action and see what you can learn about delivering funny material. If reading isn’t your style, just get out of the house and head to a comedy club and see some live performers! And then I’m sure you’ll wish all your audiences had a “two drink minimum” to make you seem more hilarious!
5. You only get to make fun of yourself. The best advice I can give here is to be self-deprecating and share funny stories. However, always make sure you aren't making fun of anyone but yourself. You don't want to anger your audience by offending them unintentionally. And besides, we're speakers…you know we have tons of material about ourselves to work with! This also lets the audience know you're not coming from a place of pretension but rather that you're just like they are with your struggles and mishaps. They can identify with you on their level and then listen even more intently to your content.
However you choose to incorporate humor into your keynotes. I can guarantee you one thing. I’ve never heard a meeting planner say, ”They were just too darn funny!”
I hope these tips have been helpful and will send you down the yellow brick road to Funny Land. Or better yet, down that cash-paved highway to more bookings and higher speaker fees! Remember the term “Starving Comedian” doesn’t apply to NSA Speakers. There’s always free food in the company fridge, and besides you’ll be gone tomorrow! Cheers!
I’m also available for parties and bar mitzvahs.
Kerri Pomarolli NSA member is a stand up comedian/speaker with 29 appearance on The Tonight Show and Comedy Central. She coaches speakers on how to find their funny bone.