I’m often asked, “How important is humor in a Safe Money Seminar? Can’t I just deliver the content without trying to get laughs?” Yes you can. But in the words of Dr. Charles Jarvis, one of the great humorists of all time, “You only have to use humor if you want to get paid.” As it applies to selling annuities, you only have to use humor if you want to set appointments. Besides, have you ever noticed how the people who take themselves so seriously are the only ones who do?
Humor is just as important to professional speaking as taste is to food. Laughter makes you likeable and your audience comfortable. There are plenty of meat-and-potato seminar speakers out there, but the ingredient that endears you to an audience as being authentic and personable is a generous helping of your sense of humor. Likewise, a key ingredient to adult learning is comfort. Comic relief comforts and opens the pathways to accepting new ideas, brings your audience to the present, and evokes thoughts of “I’ve been there… he’s just like me!” Humor is truth after a couple of martinis.
The best kind of humor is always the self-effacing kind. Since most humor is based on someone’s discomfort, it’s always best to make yourself the target. By exposing your vulnerabilities and foibles, people will commiserate, sympathize and identify with your situation and your message. People will root for the underdog. Instead of resisting your words, people will cheer you on. Instead of pounding away at the gray matter between their ears, you will have settled comfortably into their hearts to persuade from within. You will have positioned yourself to achieve our Safe Money Seminar goal of allowing your audience to “laugh and learn.”
But people neither laugh nor learn at the same pace or in the same way. A knee-slapper to one person might be a subtle smirk to another. I recall a speaking engagement I had in Seattle before a group of aspiring speakers in a world semi-final speech contest. Four or five of my best lines had killed in previous speeches, and most of my present audience roared with laughter time after time. But there was one stodgy lady in the second row who refused to crack a smile. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to make her laugh if it’s the last thing I do!’ I delivered the next punch line squarely at her. Nothing! And so it continued through the end of my speech. Nothing, nothing, nothing. But imagine my surprise when she came up to my table after dinner and said, “Gary, thank you so much for your valuable message. You’re also one of the funniest speakers I’ve ever heard.”
Her words resonate the fact that laughter is experienced and expressed in many different ways, all of them very personal.
“But Gary,” you say, “I’m the most un-funny person on Earth! When I tell a joke, people pound Excedrin.” Well, it’s okay if you’re not funny. You probably don’t “think funny.” But I’ve got an answer for you, too, and thank you for being honest. There is no more humbling experience than the eternal silence following a badly told joke. Save yourself the meltdown.
For now, here’s a quick fix for the un-funny. You can get just as much mileage from a well-told story as you can from humor. Stories, however, must come from your personal experience and must be told “from the heart.” You get bonus points for any funny parts whether deliberate or accidental because, unlike an obvious joke, there is no setup and nobody expects a punch line. With colorful word pictures you might be surprised to look out over the audience and find people transfixed in your every word. Stories do that. The intent of a story is to alter the frame of mind of the listener, to lift your audience out of the current moment and into a new way of experiencing both the message and the messenger.
If you can’t think of any personal stories, hire a writer to write them for you. Seriously! You’ll be surprised at how many starving writers you can Google up with just a few key words. Remember, this is show biz, and the payoff gets you about a dozen pre-sold annuity prospects from each and every Safe Money Seminar. Never lose sight of your career objective. We’re talking a potential here of seven figures annually, and nothing that worthwhile is going to be that easy. Remember, "The worst day in a man's life is when he sits down and begins thinking about how he can get something for nothing." --Thomas Jefferson
Finally, if your stories (or even your jokes for that matter) tend to become a little, shall we say, embellished along the way… not to worry. I remember meeting one of the great raconteurs, Zig Ziglar, at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida years ago. After his speech, an audience member asked, “Did all your stories happen to you exactly the way you tell them?” Zig’s reply was classic. He said, “It’s a mighty poor speaker who can’t tell a story better than it actually happened.”
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