Why Add Laughter in Serious Contexts?
There is a theory that adding humor to a serious topic is sort of like pouring water into a big jug with only one teabag. If you pour too little water, then the tea might be a little bit too intense to drink. If you use too much water, your tea will turn out bland and flavorless. Thus, it’s important to strike the right balance. The same goes for Original Oratory. You want to find the appropriate balance between getting your serious message across and telling the occasional joke to lighten the mood.
In this article, you will learn why it’s a great idea to introduce laughter into serious subjects, well, just like most public leadership speakers do. You will also learn how to do so effectively, and a few pointers as to what to avoid. Why add humor to your Original Oratory in the first place? Original Oratories usually address pressing social issues that carry emotional weight. For instance, let’s say you make a speech about gentrification, that is, the problem of low-income residents having to leave their neighborhoods because affluent residents and businesses move in and increase their living costs. Gentrification can induce strong negative emotions in your audience. Low-income families feel angry about being kicked out of their own neighborhoods, powerless to do anything about it, and sad that the area is losing its unique spirit and character. All these emotions can be a lot to handle! Therefore, it’s important to lift some of that weight off of your audience’s shoulders. And you can do this by introducing splashes of humor throughout your speech. You’ll be able to more easily share meaningful content about a topic that feels heavy, while at the same time ensuring that the audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed by emotions. Moreover, humor helps you maintain your audience’s attention.
But how do you incorporate humor in a serious context, especially when delivering public leadership speeches? Let’s take a look at a few strategies that you can use: The first one is humorous delivery. Let’s look at how this strategy is used from a part of JJ Kapur’s speech, “Get Rhythm”:
“Rhythm is both a metaphor for joy and an expression of it. Whether it was the cat shoes of Fred Ester, Elvis Presley’s blue suede shoes, or Michael Jackson’s sparkling penny loafers, we’ve celebrated the joy that rhythm brings to our lives for generations. But that kind of unbounded joy has become passe. We are trapped in what the philosopher Susan Hack calls the new cynicism: an outlook on the world where a dark, pessimistic approach to all things is taken as a badge of intellectual sophistication and where happiness is a social and political faux pas. Consider Huan Umberto Young. Young was a director of planning for a major food manufacturer, until one day he was called into the office of the company’s CEO to answer several behavioral complaints. His crime? Unwarranted happiness. Huan’s fellow workers have reported him to management because, and this is true, he has been seen smiling and behaving cheerfully. That stinker! And believe it or not, this negative reaction to the happiness of others is endemic. Dr. Mailey Steers, professor of psychology at the University of Houston, found that viewing positive social media posts induced feelings of depression in test subjects.”
JJ’s speech is funny because of the way he delivers it. Whether it’s the exaggerated dance moves he makes when he refers to Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, or the way he reacts to the person being reported at work, showing his disbelief through voice and body language is what makes JJ’s delivery hilarious.
If you are thinking about how you can use these tools in your upcoming public speaking competitions, ask yourself the following questions:
· Question one: Are there any areas in my speech where I can use “spontaneous” body language and voice to highlight strong emotions?
· Question Two: What recognizable moves can I do to make fun of the situation?
· And question three: How can you speak with your eyebrows and parts of your face?
The second strategy is to share the unexpected. Humor is often about unpredictability. It’s about you doing the unthinkable that throws your audience off guard and takes their mind away from the seriousness of the topic. How can we be unexpected?
First, you can share a joke when the audience least expects it. Think back to how JJ Kapur was quite serious when talking about Huan’s fellow workers reporting him for being happy. Instead of leaving it on that serious note, he ends the point with a short pause and the phrase “that stinker” which makes the audience laugh out loud. He caught them off guard because no one expected that he would use that wording after the serious point. Second, you can bring unexpected humor into your speech by adding imitations or funny body motions or voices. JJ Kapur did an amazing job imitating the motions that Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson made on stage, which made his speech even more thrilling. No one expected that he would present an exaggerated version of their dance moves so immediately the audience begins to laugh. Finally, you can also use a combination of some or all of these methods. For instance, you can come up with an unexpected joke, an unusual body movement, and a weird face at the same time. Sounds impossible?
Let’s take a look at how Josh Gad does it in his speech on risk-taking – Hooah in this short excerpt. Before I go on, I just need to sit down for a second. My back is killing me. This isn’t that bad, is it? Sure, it is a bit unusual to do in an Original Oratory final round. Meanwhile, all the competitors are saying to themselves “well at least I still have a chance at winning the national championship.”
In the middle of his speech, Josh makes a joke at his own expense with an indignant face and then proceeds to sit down. The whole act was a very unspeech-like thing to do, which is likely what made it unexpected and why the audience began to laugh. Taking this risk, even if it meant being a bit silly made this bit brilliant. This leads us to the final type of joke we’ll be covering, introducing humor at your own expense. If you noticed, Josh Gad has used his moment of sitting down not only to make everyone laugh but also to show that he does not take himself too seriously. Making a joke at your own expense, as in Josh Gad’s case when he admitted to potentially losing the final; allowed the audience to feel like they could relate to him. This relatability helps us feel comfortable enough to laugh at the situation he was in. It’s now nearly time to write your own jokes. Work on your delivery, imitation skills, or come up with a joke at your own expense, just don’t share it all at once.
In the next article, you will learn what you should look out for when using humor so that these strategies can be successful.