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Humorous Speaking: Phone EET…!

August 24, 2013

Now elongate him…!

How scary are these commands: “stand up, speak and make us laugh!” Most of us tremble at the thought of the first two. But make people laugh as well?

There is no getting round it: humorous speaking is no pushover. Even the funniest speakers have their days when the audience stays stubbornly schtum. But it is a challenge. It is fun. And if you follow some basic rules you can make a good fist of it.

To do so, you need to choose a good topic and apply a few tricks. First, the topic. Make it quirky. Think of a quirky situation, a quirky character, a quirky trait. Or think of an ordinary situation and take a quirky slant on it. For example, I heard Jack Dee speak at the Apollo a couple of years ago, for ten minutes, on the fact that you only pay a toll going one way on the Severn Bridge. This makes sound economic sense on any tollbridge, but, in his interpretation, you pay to get into Wales, but not to get out! That’s because, he says, people drive so fast on the way out, just to get the hell out of Wales, there’s no way they’ll stop to pay a toll! I say that people pay to come into Wales… [flick of non-existent hair] because we’re worth it!

Better still, take a quirky situation and make it personal. Either tell a story of something quirky that happened to you or build yourself into a make-up one. But you must make it self-deprecating. That’s why the French can’t do humorous speaking – they’re petrified they’ll lose that ‘je ne sais quoi’! But we Brits are brilliant at it… because we’re so rubbish! At least we were, until last year’s Olympics!

Once you have your topic, there are three tricks to the trade: embellish, extend and twist. That’s EET – like an elongated version of that little fellow who always wanted to go home. Embellish – don’t tell the story as it happened, exaggerate the truth. That blonde who cornered you in the alleyway, by the Stage Door, and demanded your autograph? – she wasn’t just like this [hands carve hour glass shape], she was like this! [hands way in front of chest].

And extend. If you get to a funny point in your speech, hold it there. Milk the moment. Give the audience more. Give us three laughs, not just the one. I gave a speech a few years ago about a succession of disastrous interviews I had been through and for one of them I walked into the room and found this bloke with his feet up on his desk, reading a newspaper – true story! He stayed that way for five minutes (that’s an embellishment, it was more like two!), while I squirmed. What was I supposed to do, I asked the audience. Whistle a happy tune? [Whistle] Powder my nose? [Dab nose] Punch his? [Punch] I could have left it at ‘whistle a happy tune’, because the audience was with me, sharing my discomfort at the interview. But I extended twice – and the laughs got bigger each time.

Finally, the twist. Stick in a surprise or two. Lead the audience down the garden path. Best of all, save the best to the last, to the conclusion. End with a twist, something wholly unexpected – and humorous because of that.

Humorous speaking is hard, yes, but hugely worthwhile. It builds you as a speaker. Find a quirky topic, personalize it and apply the EET tricks of the trade. Then you too can one day become as humorous… as Ed Miliband! That was my twist!


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