If you are still on the fence about using humor in your talks take some reassurance from President Obama crushing it again on stage at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
It even got a write up in Rolling Stone. The BBC went as far to documents 8 of his best jokes over the last 8 years here. If the President is using humor then you probably can too!
Unlike President Obama you probably don’t have a team of comedy writers on standby to help you. Fear not! The good news is that you can replicate a lot of the techniques he is using.
A healthy dose of self depreciation was in full effect with jokes like this one:
“Hillary once questioned whether I’d be ready for a 3 a.m. phone call — now I’m awake anyway because I’ve got to go to the bathroom. (Laughter and applause.) I’m up” (Tagline)
But he was also using many techniques worth highlighting which you can replicate:
Using the rule of 3:
Three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. This combination of pattern and brevity results in memorable content and once you add two elements people expect a third. They will laugh hardest on the 3rd as that’s when they expect you to stop. By stopping your timing looks great.
“They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be President. But, in fairness, he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: (1) Miss Sweden, (2) Miss Argentina, (3)Miss Azerbaijan.”
“Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of (1) idealism and (2) vigor, and (3) look at me now. I am (1) gray and (2) grizzled, just counting down the days ’til my (3) death panel.”
Flip of expectations with rule of 3:
Best shown here in his Salmon joke delivered in Congress in 2011
You can see how he uses the 1st and 2nd elements to create a pattern and the 3rd one to break it and flip expectations. Not comic hilarity by any means, but compared to what else was going on in Congress that day…it was pretty funny.
This sequence works with just about anything in public speaking. For example, not funny at all and far from Presidential and something I just made up: “I met a girl last night and she was overweight, hairy and…well, really sexy.” Terrible, but said to a live audience with a delay before the last two words it will get a laugh. It breaks a pattern and should not be said by a president, but you get the idea. The pause allows people to catch up to your train of thought and also builds expectation.
Rule of 3 and flip of expectations combined:
“In fact, somebody recently said to me, Mr. President, you are so yesterday; Justin Trudeau has completely replaced you — he’s so (1) handsome, he’s so (2) charming, he’s the (3) future (rule of 3 in effect). And I said, Justin, just give it a rest. (Laughter and applause at flip of expectations) I resented that.” (Laughter and his tagline)
Screen your jokes and combine them with the above techniques:
“Meanwhile, Michelle has not aged a day. (Applause.) The only way you can date her in photos is by looking at me. (Laughter.) Take a look:
1- Here we are in 2008. (Slide 1 is shown)
2- Here we are a few years later. (Slide 2 is shown)
3- And this one is from two weeks ago.” (Slide 3 is shown of Michelle standing next to a skeleton) (Laughter and applause at 3rd element and break in pattern with exaggerated image.)
In a world where funny Photoshopped images, memes, and GIFs dominate our devices, visual humor has never been bigger. Find some funny images and add them to your next talk. Get Presidential funny and combine them with the rule of 3 and the flip of expectations for even bigger laughs. If your stuck in making something funny add exaggeration.
You can see the full speech and get the full transcript here
You can get presidential funny whenever you start trying. You can’t copy the Presidents style but you can certainly copy the techniques he is using.
Jerry Seinfeld said “The whole object of comedy is to be yourself, and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be.” Mixing your style with the Presidents’ techniques should get you way more laughs than the average speaker, who for the most part are boring!