When you want to stand out as a speaker, one of the key ways is by presenting with humor. Joining Elizabeth Bachman today is Jenny Locklin, owner of Creative Message Media, and she teaches how you can add humor and fun to your speaking engagements. She offers advice on not taking yourself too seriously, taking that first step into humor, and finding the right timing. According to Jenny, humor is a muscle you can develop. Tune in and get the presentation tips to take your talk to the next level.
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Presenting With Humor: How To Stand Out As A Speaker With Jenny Locklin
Before I go on to our awesome guest, let me remind you that if you are curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take a free four-minute assessment. You can pause and take it now at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and maybe a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve. The reason why this matters is that presentation skills are one of the best ways to become visible, show your value, which positions you to be a force in your industry, become a thought leader, be the person who is followed, hired or promoted.
My guest is Jenny Locklin of Creative Message Media, who is an expert comedian who uses humor as a presentation skill. Jenny’s official bio is she brings laughter and fun to your organization and events through speaking delivered by her and those she mentors. Jenny’s best known for putting an end to boring and ordinary meetings and trainings. What started out as customized comedy videos have morphed into funny live presentations for both virtual and in-person events. It’s teaching others how to add humor and fun to their speaking and her most recent innovation, funny fake testimonials to dupe the audience for company meetings and trainings.
Think of it as comedy in unconventional ways. Jenny is an expert on how to add humor to your presentation. We are talking as presenter to presenter here to get advice on how you can be funny. You can add humor to your presentation, even if you don’t think you’re funny. It is possible and a learned skill. Jenny Locklin is an expert so let’s go to the interview.
Jenny Locklin, I am so happy to have you as a guest on the show.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so happy to be here.
This is part of a little series I’m doing about presentation skills month. Talking about humor is one of the questions my clients ask me all the time. I thought, “I’m going to go to an expert.” Before we get into how to be funny, if maybe you don’t think you’re funny or how do you incorporate humor, let me ask you about your dream interview. If you could interview somebody who isn’t with us anymore, maybe you’re sharing the stage, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
She’s not long gone and it would be Betty White. I would imagine a lot of people might want to interview or at least be with that amazing woman. The first question I would probably ask her is something maybe similar to what you would ask is how did you get so funny? How did you create this lifetime of humor? My guess would be that she would say something like, “The first step in creating humor and being funny is not taking yourself too seriously.”
That’s one of the best things about Betty White that I have seen and read about is that she was very professional. She took her job very seriously but she laughed at herself. That is the very first tip in anything to do with humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself and the mistakes, look in the mirror and laugh at something, it’s going to be very hard to create laughter for other people.
If you think of it, Betty White had a long career. When she started, she was just another blond, one of the young girls. At some point, somebody figured out she could be funny. She figured out she could be funny. Humor will set you apart and makes people remember you. Being able to use that humor, especially as a beautiful blond where quite often, as a young blonde girl over there, she would not have been taken seriously as a comedian. From the point of view of someone who actively uses your comedy, how do you look at that career?
It made her stand out. She wasn’t funny at the beginning. She was another blonde. Luckily for her, she figured out that humor could allow her to stand out and not only stand out but have a career until she was 99 in movies and shows. Once they get old, Hollywood doesn’t want to put them in movies or whatever. Let me make that clear. I think that humor is a learned skill because a lot of people think, “I’m not funny. I was never funny. People are born funny.”
It’s not true. It’s a learned skill. It’s like learning to be a better speaker, golfer or writer. It’s a skill. Some people have maybe more of a silly side to them. It’s like a muscle and you can develop it. The best thing for you as a speaker to know is that when you add a little humor, it doesn’t have to be rolling on the floor laughing. We’re not talking about you becoming a comedian or turning into a clown. We’re saying a little ha-ha, giggle or smile because that connects you. That’s why everyone loved Betty White. It’s that connection. It was so endearing and you liked them.
When you use humor as a speaker, not only does your listener start to feel connected but you as a speaker also start to feel so much more relaxed. You start feeling so much more confident and have more fun. You’re seeing your listeners smile and laugh. You’re thinking, “I’m responsible for that.” If nothing else, do it selfishly for yourself as a speaker. It allowed Betty White to stand out and have a lifetime career.
A lot of speakers don’t use humor. They are afraid. There’s a good reason for that. We’ve all done this. We’ve tried to use humor. It flopped. We felt foolish and thought, “I am never going to do that again.” That’s usually what happens. I didn’t want to look stupid because nobody laughed. There are ways that I can tell you what you can do so that you never feel foolish and it’s never awkward.
Another thing that we may get into is that this is such a multicultural world nowadays. I worked with a lot of people in tech and law. You’re speaking to people for whom English is their 2nd or 3rd language. They grew up with a whole different sense of humor. I live half the year in Austria. I’m married into a German family. My in-laws laugh at jokes that just don’t get me at all. I don’t understand. I’m very careful about the jokes that I can tell that most of them don’t translate well.
There are only a few that are universal enough that you can translate. It’s a challenge to think about that. Let’s talk about speaking English and you’re doing a presentation. Yes, humor is important. I don’t want to say safely try humor but how can you try to add a little spice, and extra pepper to your pasta dish? How do you start?
First of all, anytime you make fun of yourself, you’re sick. You can’t tell on Zoom, which I love. It’s the only thing I do like about Zoom is you can’t tell how short I am. I am extremely short. It’s 3 inches from requiring a booster seat short. I know all the jokes, “The shorter you are, the softer the fall. You save money on body wash and so on.” That’s pretty much how I am. When I speak, if I’m doing anything, I can sometimes bring up the fact that I’m short. That’s not going to offend anyone because I’m making fun of myself.
If you have an accent, you can make fun of your accent. Maybe some words will be difficult to understand. Jenny is from Brazil or whoever you are. You’re making fun of yourself. If you’re old, my dad has been speaking for years and he speaks to a lot of younger people. He knows that’s one of the things. You always want to think, “What is your audience thinking? What are they thinking right now?”
He knows that they’re thinking, “This guy’s old.” He makes fun of that and that’s not going to offend anyone. That’s one way. Another easy way is if you were using slides, a PowerPoint of any kind especially on virtual. To me, it’s sometimes a challenge to keep people’s engagement and connection. Images are one of the easiest ways to add humor because you don’t have to tell a joke.
Especially, let’s say you have a couple of different languages and you’re concerned about the language barrier. I will tell you that baby means baby videos, baby gifs, animated baby gifs and dogs. With babies and dogs, you cannot go wrong. I’ve never had a single person offended. Regardless of your language, you’re watching so it’s visual. Everybody loves babies and dogs. I’ve talked to 20-year-olds and 90-year-olds. Everything between men and women, it always works. Let’s say the speaker was a fitness coach or a dietician. They’re saying, “How to lose weight?” We’re all trying to lose a couple of pounds. Summer is coming. Elizabeth, have you ever used diet utensils?If you can't laugh at yourself and the mistakes, then it's going to be very hard to create laughter for other people. Click To Tweet
I’ve lost a few pounds already. Have you ever, Elizabeth, been on a diet? No matter how many bites of kale and broccoli, you feel like this baby. Maybe if your doctor ever tells you that you need to eat more fish, less red meat, here is your solution. It’s very simple.
Readers, go back and watch the video. We’re on YouTube. Like us while you’re at it. Jenny had some great images. I’m not even going to try to translate.
Does that make sense?
They did make sense. They were universal images and funny and silly and everybody gets it. I laugh in spite of myself and I’m analyzing this so yes.
Images are great because they keep your audience’s attention. Let’s say you’re talking about being tired. You can say, “Have you ever been tired?” That would be what an ordinary speaker would say. You could have an image of a woman who looks for a man who looks sleepy and that would be an example of tired but that would be ordinary. You could have a dog drooling on a couch that’s adorable. You could say, “Have you ever been so tired?” You feel like a click and then your punchline or the laughter comes from click the image of the dog drooling.
Maybe think about that any time you are saying, “Do you ever want to have even more money?” You could have the word money on a slide ordinary. You could have a picture of cash ordinary or you could have a baby gif. There are all kinds of funny videos. Always up the engagement connection level by asking yourself, “Can I sum that word or ordinary image out for a funny one?”
Before we move too far away, you said something very interesting. You said, “Do you ever have more clicks?” The timing is so important. This is why comedians rehearse for hours. They rehearse a bit for hours. I have clients who said, “Why do I have to practice this out loud?” I said, “Believe me, the timing of how you deliver something. Comedy is so much more the precision of the timing.” Talk to us a little bit about that.
Some good news and some bad news, the good news is you will get the timing and it will come. The bad news is that the only way you can learn timing is to get up and do it, which means you got to try it out on an audience. You want to practice on your own but you have to do it in real-time to get the feel of it. It’s a learned skill but here’s how you can learn the timing without feeling foolish. The goal here is how can we use humor without feeling foolish and awkward? The biggest suggestion I have with that is that I think sometimes people try to inject humor and they’re trying too hard. It then gets wonky and weird.
Let’s say you’re talking about the stock market or finances and all of a sudden, you inject a knock-knock joke or a dumb blonde joke. It’s like, what? That had nothing to do with what you were talking about. You don’t get a laugh. It’s awkward and you feel foolish. If you’re talking about finances or the stock market, you insert a joke about money and it doesn’t get a laugh but it’s relevant. That’s the key. If you don’t get a laugh, you keep going. It’s no big deal. They’re not going to think that was awkward. They’re going to think that was supporting whatever point you were making.
For instance, I was pretending I was a speaker talking about fitness. Have you ever tried this kind of diet? I showed some funny image of a guy juicing a bunch of junk food and you didn’t laugh. It wouldn’t be awkward because it’s relevant to what I’m talking about. I’m talking about juicing, healthy eating and exercising. I promise you. They will most likely laugh. If they don’t, it’s not weird. You won’t get that icky feeling of like, “Why did I say that?”
Let me ask you a couple of things about that. One is, in my opera days, having directed comic operas and the timing you need to use to make a joke work. You also said something about adding something relevant that supports your point. Our jokes, questions, stories and such, I’ve always heard or believe, are illustrations to your main point. You have a very funny video about a kind of cake. Talk a little bit about how you use that making a cake and how you turn it into something funny?
If you’ve ever made or heard of a poke cake or never heard of what that is or don’t know what that is, you make a cake, bake it and poke holes, hence, the word poke. You poke holes in it and once the holes are poked, you pour either the syrup or the icing or whatever. It’s a sweet cake. It seeps into the cake. It goes through these holes. I have a friend who’s very analytical and she’s got a great sense of humor but she’s always like, “I’m not funny. I don’t know where to come up with funny. I can’t think of funny ideas.”
I think sometimes that’s what people think. They try to think of what’s funny when you start putting together your message that’s not funny, whatever your message is. Maybe your message is on mindset, investing money, saving money or being a good parent. None of those are “funny.” You get your message and ideas in place. Once the cake is baked and you’ve got the bones of the speech, you go back and insert that sweet stuff, which is the humor.
Let’s say you’re giving a message about being a great parent and that’s where maybe you tell some stories of some bad parenting moves on your part. We’ve all had bad parenting moves. I have a seventeen-year-old daughter but I can still remember when she was eight, I was driving the school carpool lane with her. If you’ve ever driven the school carpool, it’s the most stressful thing ever. I was stressed out and at eight years old she said, “Mom, with that sunlight coming in through the window.” I was like, “Yeah.” She goes, “I can see all the hair on your chin.”
If you’re given a parenting message, maybe you have one of those moments where you’re like, “Parenting is not always the easiest. You inject that or maybe there was another time. You inject that humor or maybe you inject a funny meme of parenting or kids. You start out with the main message and poke holes. It’s a little bit.Humor is like a muscle. You can develop it. Click To Tweet
Another advantage to this is that it will make your voice change. I like to use stories, metaphors and questions as a way of breaking up the monotony. If you’re doing an internal presentation or report, you could break up the monotony by putting in a joke. What do you say to people who say, “I’m giving a report to the board? I can’t be funny. This is serious work about the budget, for instance?” Let’s say you’re talking about the budget and the projections are not as good as you want them to be. How would you make those funny without mocking or ruining your credibility?
I hear this a lot. This is my point of view. You take what you want out of this. When you talk about sales, statistics or sadness, you definitely need humor. You could be talking about cancer, dementia or a terrible budget. You can still add humor and might be thinking, “How do you do it so it doesn’t cheapen or offend or it’s not very funny?” Let’s say you got to deliver some bad news about the budget. There’s a meme that I have. For instance, the budget is bad news. It’s not good but the good news is, as you all know, things could always be worse. It’s how we look at things.
I have this meme. It’s a picture of a toothbrush and toilet paper, side by side. The toothbrush says, “I hate my job.” The toilet paper says, “Please.” That would be relevant in making your point that things could always be worse. That’s something that anyone would relate to. It’s toilet paper and a toothbrush. No one’s going to be offended. You could say, “Seriously, it’s not a laughing matter.” If it’s bad news, you can always pull some funny meme or baby or dog and say, “It could be a whole lot worse.” You get the laugh and the best part about getting that laugh is it de-stresses and relaxes people.
When we’ve all heard a speaker talk about someone with cancer, it’s sad and heartbreaking. You can barely take it. It’s so sad. All of a sudden, they say something funny about their spouse who died of cancer, a memory of something they did and the house goes nuts. We can only take so much sadness. We need that release. I wanted to mention when you asked about timing with the images if you choose to insert some images as your humor. This is where the timing is important.
Think of that image as your punchline. A lot of times, when people are new at this, they click, they show the funny image and say, “Have you tried diet utensils?” It doesn’t get a laugh and they think, “It’s not funny.” It is funny. It’s the way you set it up. It takes some time but always pause. If you watch a comedian, it’s set up, pause, and punch that punchline.
You create the tension. We’re waiting to hear what the answer is and boom.
When you click boom and you show that image, you shut up. You let them enjoy it, smile, and move on.
Give them a chance to take it in. If you’re nervous, don’t allow the joke to land. Let people take it in, laugh, and then start again. That’s the same for ideas. If you’re giving an idea, if you’ve got a point, let people get it and wait. Don’t keep talking.
Especially on virtual, there’s a little bit of a delay sometimes when you’re using slides. I click and then it’s like 1, 2 and you see it. Slow down a little bit and it’s the same with speaking or with ideas. Give people time to digest it.
Jenny, you say all these wonderful things but you’re an experienced comedian. Can you give some examples or tips for normal humans like me?
Stories are the easiest way in addition to images. Whether you use images or not but storytelling and you have stories. You have your own personal experiences. You might be thinking, “They’re not funny,” but they can be. They probably do have humor if you look for them. This was a story I was going to share with you and I want it. Let me share with you a little story here. This message is three river rules to make your personal and professional life even better. It’s like whitewater river rafting. Elizabeth, have you ever been whitewater river rafting before?
You probably will recognize these rules. I’m not sure if I’m going to get through all of them and you, as a reader, if you’ve ever been river rafting, you would probably be going to recognize these. If you’ve never been, hopefully, it’ll still be helpful to you. It’s important for you that before you go river rafting, the company calls you the day before and they tell you what to expect. Obviously, you’re going to be getting wet. You need to be in a bathing suit. They’re going to have a professional photographer there taking photos of you and your family the whole day. I don’t know about you but I always choose cute over comfort. I got myself all dolled up in my best bathing suit. I got my hair and makeup all done. I was looking pretty good, Elizabeth. In my mind, this is what I look like. In reality, here’s what I look like.
The first image was a model in a bathing suit. In the second image, there you are, all wrapped up with a helmet and a vest.
The story is a little long and I mostly wanted to show that one little piece of it and want to help the reader here. If you saw the actual YouTube version of this, you saw the slide. I used the words in my mind. I use this technique in all kinds of stories. How you use it is, in my fantasy mind, I looked like this Sports Illustrated model. In reality, I looked very bulky, had all kinds of gear and did not look sexy in any way.
You can take examples from your own life. For instance, let’s say you’re an author and talking about your book. You can say, “When I got up to speak about my book, there were so many people that came to the meeting to buy my book and to hear me speak. They were all lined up down the aisle all the way around the building. We had to call the fire department because we exceeded maximum occupancy and it was a fire hazard. That’s how many people came to get their signed books. In my mind, that’s what happened. In reality, it was more just my mom was sitting there and that was the only person. You want to think about what the ultimate fantasy would be and exaggerate it.Start small and start soon. It's always better to just jump in and figure out what went wrong and tweak it, then wait until it's perfect because then you'll never write. Click To Tweet
What was the truth and exaggerate it? Instead of, “This is so grand and the reality is so lame,” you can flip it. There are so many examples. This is where the timing comes in. You paint this picture and you’re like, “I made $2.3 million the first year I was in business.” I think I was working seventeen hours a week from my bed. It was amazing. I was like an overnight success. In my mind, that’s what happened. In reality, I was making about three figures that year or whatever. You can use it in any situation in your own stories. Does that make sense?
That’s a great technique. You can use it in so many places and options. You get people all excited about all the wonderful things. I would think it would have to be something about you, though. You can’t go in and say, “The budget shows that we’re going to break sales records in 2022.”
You absolutely could. I’ve given a speech on a rattlesnake and how giant this rattlesnake was. It was so aggressive, rattling and the fangs were in my mind. In reality, it was docile and coiled up. It could be a noun or a budget. You could say, “The budget is through the roof in 2022.” You can go on and on. People are like, “In my mind, that’s where it’s at.” In reality, we got a little work to do. People are going to feel duped a little bit. At the same time, if you exaggerate it enough and smile, it will be all fun. That’s where you could follow up seriously. I don’t have a doubt that it can be there. We can hit that number. Until we figure out XYZ, we got some work to do.
Jenny, this is so interesting and much fun. How could one start?
Start small and start soon. It’s always better to jump in and figure out what went wrong and tweak it than wait until it’s perfect.
It will never be perfect unless you’ll do it in front of an audience and have to fail a few times. You’ll have a few who don’t understand that was supposed to be a joke.
Another part of that is it’s important and I can’t stress enough how you need to have compassion for yourself. That’s a big part because it’s easy to beat yourself up and go, “I know I’ve done that.” That was so dumb. That did not land. Why did I do that?” You’re trying something new and doing it for the benefit of your audience. You’re trying to make your audience feel more relaxed and have more fun. You should not be ashamed of that. Remember to be compassionate to yourself because you wouldn’t beat up a friend that was trying to use humor.
It’s important to have compassion and patience with it. The other thing is you can pick which one is more your style. Do you want to do a story and add the “in my mind” concept? Are you pretty comfortable using slides and do you want to try that? You can always practice these things like storytelling. You can practice that with your friends. You’re getting your hair done. Don’t tell them, “I’m working on this.” Go right into, “I was river rafting.” Who cares if your hairstylist or the person at the store laughs?
That’s very helpful, having compassion for yourself. One thing I will say is that speakers who can be funny are listened to more often. They’re asked to come back and address the groups. It is a great technique to use. I’m going to try your “In my mind” technique the next time I do a live presentation. Thank you so much. Jenny, if somebody wanted to learn from you directly, maybe get a little help, how could we find you?
I think the best way is to go to my LinkedIn. That would be a great spot. Another place they can find me is my website, which is CreativeMessageMedia.com.
It’s full of wonderful little, short videos that she does, all of which teach you something. That is also a lesson in terms of how you can use your material and you won’t do it like Jenny. You’ll do it like you but you can use your material to do two-minute videos. It’s another way to take a look and analyze after you’ve left a few times. Jenny Locklin, thank you so much for being on the show. I’m so excited. I’ve had so much fun preparing for this because I had to watch your videos. It’s wonderful. Thank you for having been part of us. Everybody, if you were reading, go back and watch this. You don’t want to miss these images.
Thank you so much. Get out and start laughing whether it’s at yourself or someone else.
That sounds good. Thank you.
Let me remind you that if you’re curious about how you’re doing with your presentation skills, you can take our free four-minute quiz at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve. I’ll see you in the next episode.
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