Self Deprecating Humor in Public Speaking

In this post, taken from the book “Public Speaking Tips from the Pros” you will discover how to use self-deprecating humor in public speaking [this tip, and the chapter on using humor in public speaking, was contributed by presentation skills coach Benjamin Loh].

humor in public speakingSelf-deprecating humor, or humor you make about yourself, is a great technique because you are giving permission for your audience to laugh at you (and chances are, they love to).

Moreover, it allows them to better connect with you, because you now appear more fallible through your stories, and to play up some of their experiences and characters on stage.

Self Deprecating Humor: Being able to Laugh at Yourself

Fundamentally, self-deprecating humor needs you to have the emotional capacity to quite simply… laugh at yourself. Laugh at the misfortunes that take place in your life, your quirks, your failures, your flaws, etc.

Joe Wong, a Chinese-American comedian and chemical engineer, uses self-deprecating humor profusely in his headline performance at the United States (U.S.) Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association (RTCA) Dinner in 2010.

He shares that he had gone over to the U.S. when he was 24 years old to study at Rice University in Texas (02:15). That attracted some acclamation and applause from the audience.

I came to the United States when I was twenty-four to study at Rice University in Texas. [Audience Applause] That wasn’t a joke [audience laughter]. Until now [audience laughter]

He then shared about how there was a bumper sticker that was pasted on his car and it read, “If you don’t speak English, go home.” It didn’t help that he only noticed it two years later!

“I was used to seeing cars with a lot of bumper stickers that were impossible to peel off. One of them said, “If you don’t speak English, go home!” [audience laughter] And I didn’t notice for two years [audience laughter]

This incident was doubly funny because of his ethnicity as a Mainland Chinese and the associated stereotype that Chinese citizens do not speak English, as well as his apparent long reaction time to what seemed obvious.

Self-deprecating humor is fundamentally about framing your perspectives. You have to be knowledgeable and informed about who your audience is and more so, who you are to them.

Challenge the conventions about your identity, dramatize those stereotypes and frame your perspectives up in a way such that the gap between what is in your audience’s minds and what happens for you is huge and hence, laughable.

Recommended Resource for Speaking like a Pro

Want more tips on how to become a more powerful and persuasive speaker? Check out my book, “Public Speaking Tips from the Pros” – available for immediate download from Amazon for less than the price of a cup of coffee!

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1 thought on “Self Deprecating Humor in Public Speaking”

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