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Self-Effacing Humor

To use self-effacing humor, means simply to make fun of yourself. It makes people instantly think your not superior to them and that your a lot like them. It is a very powerful form of humor used during your presentation that gets its strength from highlighting your weaknesses. It seems that people who have the ability to laugh at themselves in just the right amount during a presentation are perceived as secure, confident, strong, and likeable. In my public speaking course you will learn how to use self-effacing humor the right way.

With this type of humor, a little goes a long way. If you overdo it during your presentation, you will look just look like you have low self esteem. That is not the effect you want to have when using your public speaking skills. If you can't bring yourself to use any self-effacing humor, you should learn. I must be candid here. Most people hate to deal with a stuffed shirt. Unfortunately, if you can't poke a little fun at yourself, that is the way you are perceived.

I think the reason self-effacing humor works so well is that weak people feel the need to inflate themselves and powerful people don't. If you have the confidence to tease yourself, you are indirectly sending the message to the audience that you are secure and powerful, which is intrinsic to your "aura" of  all you learn in your public speaking course.  Most audiences can see right through speakers who are trying to puff themselves up. It turns them off quickly. 

Someone who is not afraid to tease him or herself is the one who makes the greatest connection with the audience because everyone in the audience has embarrassed themselves or failed at something at one time or the other. If you use self-effacing humor, the audience knows that you, as the presenter, know how it feels to fail. That is a very powerful skill to have.

Katharine Rolfe, President of The Lighten Up Club, takes self-effacing humor one step further and taking steps beyond the norm is part of what you will learn in your public speaking course. She says, 'I call it self-appreciating humor because it conveys a positive appreciation of ourselves as humans who are simply out there doing our best and bumbling along as we go.' Katharine's organization believes the key to a happy life is the ability to laugh at yourself, for then you are never without a source of amusement, when you need a laugh to lighten up your life, you always have yourself.

Unless you are a Don Rickles type presenter (known for his hockey puck teasing style of humor), you should never set yourself up as superior to the audience either socially, financially, or intellectually. You want the audience to accept you as one of them. Let them feel superior to you in some way. Your audience would rather hear about the time you fell on your face, rather than the time you won the race.

That is why self-effacing humor is great during your presentations. The audience likes the fact that you openly admit your weaknesses. They laugh, but they still respect you because you are self-confident enough to joke about yourself.

There are any number of things you can make fun of about yourself. Your physical appearance is good if you are especially tall, or short or fat or bald. Just make sure that the physical appearance is obvious to the audience. If you are disorganized, you could tease yourself about that. If you can't parallel park, you could tease yourself about that. Just about anything will work as long as you are the target. This skill is all about being "on target" and connecting with your audience.

What you want to avoid teasing about is any subject that has a direct tie to your credibility, for your credibility is why they are paying you to be in front of them speaking. For instance, if you were a nuclear control room technician, you would not want to joke about the time you pushed the wrong button. But, if you got fired from your job as a nuclear control room technician for almost pushing the wrong button, then this fact might be a good topic for humor. It could turn into a great topic if you now own a landscaping company or are in some other non-threatening position.

To use self-effacing humor, you don't necessarily have to joke about yourself. You can make fun of your family background, your profession, or anything else that directly relates to you. I tell a story in my presentations about the time my mom came from our very small hometown to visit me in the big city of Washington, D.C. The audience hears about how small Claysville is and that my mom's house is way out in the sticks. We didn't have city water, or city sewerage, or cable TV. I then go on to tell how we took a trip on the Spirit of Washington for a dinner cruise and went sightseeing all over the capital. Here's how the end of the story goes:

"When we got home that evening I was exhausted, so I told mom I was going to bed and that I would see her in the morning. She said, "OK. I'm just going to watch the news and then I'll go to bed." I got up at about 2:00 a.m. and there was mom sitting in front of the TV. Her head was nodding and drooping. I said, "Mom. What are you doing?" She said, "I'm just waiting for the news to be over." Well she would have waited a long time because she was watching . . .CNN 24 hour headline news."

In this story I was not directly teasing myself. I was teasing about my small town background and about the innocent and funny boner my mom pulled when she came to visit.

Former president Ronald Reagan was a master at using self-effacing humor. In his bid for the Presidency in 1980 his age appeared to be his biggest obstacle. He attacked the problem with self-effacing humor. He would joke about his age all the time which then turned age into a non-issue. He told a group of reporters once, 'Thomas Jefferson once said, 'One should not worry about chronological age compared to the ability to perform the task.' . . . Ever since Thomas Jefferson told me that I stopped worrying about my age.'

Look for opportunities to use self effacing humor during your presentations. This will be one of your most powerful skills to connect with the audience and a subtle way to show your strength by joking about your weaknesses.

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