Hurrah! Why Being an Entertaining Speaker Doesn’t Have to be Hard Work

Do you have to be funny as a speakerRiddle me this: Do you think you need to be funny or entertaining to be a better or more popular speaker?

The hackneyed, ‘ba-dum-ch’ refrain to this question at professional speaker conferences around the world is always a resounding:

“Only if you want to get paid!”

And there’s myriad anecdotal evidence that these words ring true. Speakers who combine being entertaining with an ability to deliver demonstrably valuable and actionable ideas are in short supply and regularly get paid more for their services.

Of course, that’s hardly surprising. They make event organisers look good by pleasing both event attendees and the clients who pay to run events. In short, they make everyone feel like a winner.

Groovy. But, there’s an elephant in the room. What happens if you’d like to be a more in-demand speaker but you’re not very funny (and I’ll let you into a secret, most people fall into this category)? Does that mean that you’re out of luck and destined to play second fiddle to those who can amuse?

Why The Vast Majority of Speakers Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny

Nope. And while I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t try to learn from the world of professional comedy, there are a few home truths/realities you should know about entertaining others as a comedian:

  • Creating and delivering funny comedic routines is unbelievably hard work (As a personal case in point — the picture I included of me above is taken from an experiment I did to see what would happen if I strayed from being a storytelling centric speaker to try my hand at stand up comedy. And, shock and horror, I can confirm it took me comfortably north of 20 hours of preparation to come up with a routine that lasted just 5 minutes. Yikes!), and
  • The number of folks who get paid serious bucks to be funny in any country you care to mention is ridiculously low (with the vast majority of people who try to do stand up comedy failing to make any money from their passion)

As a quick aside and instant demonstration of the latter, try this little exercise for me: Close your eyes and think of every stand up comedian or comedy duo you’ve liked for as far back as you can remember. Open your eyes and tell me this: Is there any chance you struggled to think of more than a handful or two of comedians who’ve tickled your funny bones? The answer is likely yes and here’s why: most people, including you, are remarkably selective regarding who they find funny. And even amongst your family or friends, there’s likely huge differences between who y’all find funny.

Hmmm, right?

But folks, worry not. I bring you good news: You don’t have to try to be funny or a comedian to be entertaining!

Realise that telling stories is a far easier way for you to engage with audiences and to entertain them as you share your ideas. And interestingly,when told well, audiences don’t just enjoy and even laugh at stories you share…

…They’re also far more likely to remember them weeks, months or even years later.

And here are a few quick tips to help you up the impact of any stories you share

3 Surefire Tactics to Boost The Impact of Your Stories

  1. Hook your audience quickly – Get stuck into where something is happening as quickly as you can. The faster you can get an audience to start wondering ‘what next?’, the more likely they’ll be agog for the rest of your story
  2. Think relatable – Favour stories your audiences can identify with ahead of dramatic event stories. While not ignoring the latter (especially if they’re really good and true), realise that many people get less personal meaning from more dramatic stories because they can’t imagine themselves having to face the situatuations characters in these stories encounter.
  3. Delight with surprises – Unexpected twists in stories are a source of pleasure for most audiences, causing them to experience heightened emotional reactions and, interestingly, to remember more (because the outcome isn’t what they expect or obvious)

Want to learn more about what it takes to hone your corporate storytelling skills for greater impact, contact me via eobrien@thersc.ie. I’ll be delighted to hear from you.

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About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.