Image Credit: Andrew Eccles/ABC
She’s award winning, self-deprecating, witty, Gangnam dancing, and loved worldwide. She’s Ellen Degeneres. On March 2, she returns to host the Oscars for the second time. Is it any wonder that comedians are the favored choice for this annual event? Without comic relief, the award show would be a marathon of film recaps, fashion faux pas, and coma-inducing acceptance speeches.
Just like Ellen, you can captivate your audience by adding the right touch of humor to your communications. A little levity can engage, whether you’re delivering a presentation or crafting a letter to a long lost customer.
Have a look at Ellen’s 2007 Oscar monologue to observe her humor style. I found myself smiling throughout the clip although these lines are my favorites:
“Most people dream of winning an Academy Award. I had a dream of actually hosting the Academy Awards. Let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Aim lower.”
“A lot of British nominees. A lot. Would I say too many? Not here. No. At home in my pajamas with half a box of Chardonnay in me, who knows what I’d say.
“Let’s be honest. It’s not that we don’t have time for long speeches. It’s that we don’t have time for boring speeches.”
“But listen, don’t even stress about that…’cause maybe you won’t win.”
- “Abigail Breslin. How old are you? Eight, ten, nine? She’s a four-year-old girl and just filled with joy and hope and not worried about competition.”
We might not host the Oscars or win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, but we can take some pointers from one of today’s best humorists. Here’s how to use humor like Ellen:
- Be self deprecating
Poke fun at yourself. Being the brunt of your own joke is a safe way to include humor. Make sure the joke is done in a light-spirited way and not in a way that people perceive as negative. Starting your communication with a joke based on your own humility is a great icebreaker. (Joke #1 above)
- Joke about universal truths and stereotypes
The British are known to dominate the Oscar awards. Oscar winners are known for long-winded boring speeches. What are common traits, situations, stereotypes that belong to your audience? Look for the universal truth; then add a comic twist. (Joke #2 and #3)
- Make it relevant
Know your audience and tailor your humor to them. Consider the demographic you are writing for: age, nationality, industry, experience and knowledge of your topic. What are some of their problems and pain points you can use to create a joke to relieve some tension and release endorphins? (Joke #4)
- Use exaggeration (or understatement)
Exaggeration to a comedian is like a cup to a Starbucks barista. (It’s an essential tool—without it you wind up with coffee on your cross trainers.) When you exaggerate, make it extremely large (Venti) or extremely small (Short). Just make it extreme. (Joke #5)
- Keep it professional
Humor that works is light, clean, positive, kind, and professional. Never use humor that puts others down, complains, or is unprofessional—no insults, profanity, arrogance, or inappropriate references. That’s the Ellen way. (Joke #1-5)
Appropriate humor sprinkled through your communication can create ease, make the experience memorable, and leave your audience wanting a return performance. Engage your audience with a touch of humor and wait for them to ask you for more.
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Gay Merrill, is an instructional designer and creative writer (with a technical writing past), who believes that adding humor to communications can change the world (see hyperbole). You can find her at Focus on Funny, a blog where she shares humor writing tips, stories, and everything she has learned about humor from Second City, the Internet, and work in the IT industry.
World-class athletes spend countless hours, days, and even years training to reach their hard-earned goal to compete at the Olympic games. Their truly awesome performances are a testament to the discipline, determination and toughness required to be the best of the best.
Although business presentations don’t require years spent on the slopes, on the ice, or in the gym, they do require mental, emotional, and yes, even physical toughness, to succeed. If you want your presentations to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to thoroughly prepare and, essentially, to train.
I was reminded of this reality recently while delivering a presentation on effective communication for a business organization I had just joined. My audience was business professionals, many of whom I didn’t know. Of course, I wanted it to go well. I wanted to captivate them, to impress them, the way I am captivated by the Olympic figure skaters I watch on TV. They make their routines look so effortless; it’s easy to forget they are actually on skates, gliding at a quick pace across an unforgiving surface. Figure skaters are the swans of the Olympics, all grace and poise. Yet, below the surface, there is tremendous effort based on years of preparation.
Like many performers, I’m the first to admit I have butterflies when I have to present to people I don’t know. So, in order to — hopefully like those figure skaters — present with grace and poise, I spent a good deal of time preparing, a.k.a. “training.”
I use the following checklist to help focus my own presentations. I hope it helps you do the same.
Go for Gold: Four Tips for Winning Business Presentations
-Warm up: Your warm up is the hours (and hours!) you spend tweaking and practicing your presentation.
-Stretch: Push yourself to new heights. Try techniques such as visualization as you practice, because new techniques may well enhance your presentation. Go beyond your comfort zone. Rather than focusing only on the content of your presentation, scan the room to connect with individual members of the audience. And, if you feel those butterflies, look up and smile at someone. Eye contact and smiles can move your presentation to another level.
-Compete: Look good when you enter the room. Your physical presence, from dressing in a way that projects your professional best, to standing straight and appearing physically relaxed, will help you embrace a competitive edge, one that says you are good at what you do.
-Stay focused: Just like the “inner game of tennis,” so much of making a winning presentation is mental. Stay focused, and let your genuine passion for the subject of the presentation show. This passion, perhaps more than anything else, will persuade someone to pay attention.
Of course, all of the above tips evolve from knowing your goal and your audience. When I presented to the business organization I’d just joined, I knew my audience would expect a presentation that was polished, crisp, and to the point. Happily, their positive responses reinforced my “training” approach. I may not have won a gold medal, but having people tell me how much they liked my presentation, was for me, its own kind of victory.
If you have any questions about how you can create winning business presentations, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A highly skilled conductor can be spellbinding, at the same time projecting a sense of stately control. Audience and orchestra alike hang onto a good conductor’s every move.
Yet, the other night I attended a concert where the conductor, also an accomplished pianist, captured our attention but for all the wrong reasons. His every move made me — and other audience members I spoke with after the concert — feel somewhat dismayed. I’m afraid to say that his tiny swirling hand gestures and jerky way of moving while conducting reminded me of a chicken. Yes, a chicken. He seemed to lack that sense of stately control, that presence I so often see in the many conductors at the concerts I regularly attend. In fact, I actually closed my eyes so watching him wouldn’t detract from my enjoyment of the music.
I came away from the concert shaking my head, thinking, “This is one conductor who should stick to his day job,” and just keep playing the piano. Either that, or develop his skill as a conductor: practice more, watch himself on video, and perhaps seek a coach. If he was going to take control and “own the podium” as a conductor, he needed some serious work.
This experience got me thinking that the same is true for people who want to excel at business presentations. Whether it’s giving a speech, presenting to a new client, or delivering a successful sales pitch, you need to hone your skills if you want to command attention. And you’ll need to pay close attention to these basic non-verbal body language traits, outlined in the points that follow.
Six Tips to Help You Command the Room:
- Stand tall, with shoulders back
- Act confident, even if nervous
- Breathe deeply and slowly
- Relax facial muscles, and smile
- Look up and out, not at the floor or the ceiling
- Make movements purposeful; avoid sudden awkward gestures
Starting with these six simple tips will help you take control and appear confident, even if you’re not. If you want to be that spellbinding conductor who owns the podium, you’ll need to tell yourself “I can do this.” Even if it means “faking it ‘til you make it.”
For more ideas about being a good presenter, take a look at the website, Mind Tools. And if you’re feeling anxious about presenting, think of it this way, good presenters are not born any more than good conductors naturally know how to lead an orchestra. We all have the ability to step up to the podium and have the audience give us their full attention. We just need to learn how to achieve that result, and how to believe in ourselves.
At this time of year, there’s no escaping the deluge of advice about keeping your New Year’s resolution. I find much of it is about dieting or exercise. It seems as if there is no other goal for us than being skinny. But I suspect that many of you, as I, think about more than just our weight as we mull over the year ahead. For me, as a business owner, it’s about how I can continue to grow my company and have a positive impact in business that continues over time.
Coincidentally, an ad in the employment section of a national paper that caught my attention the other day fits perfectly with my thoughts for 2014. It read, “Make your next impression a lasting one.” But how do you make sure that the impression you make is a lasting one? True, some people seem to have a natural charisma. When they walk into a room they’re like magnets that others gravitate to right away. But we can’t all be larger-than-life personalities. So how do we mere mortals make ourselves memorable?
Dale Carnegie figured the way to succeed was to get people to like you. Best-selling author Leil Lowndes thinks it’s all about creating an instant connection. He notes there are many “tricks” for ensuring this outcome. In fact, there are 96 of them, as you’ll learn if you read How to Instantly Connect with Anyone: 96 All-New Tricks for Big Success in Relationships).
But I don’t think you need quite that many strategies if you want to make a lasting impression on other people. In fact, you can subtract 90 of them and just stick with these six tips.
The Language Lab’s six top tips for making a lasting impression
1. Give your undivided attention: When communicating with others we so easily slip into thinking about ourselves. Don’t fall into that trap! Give others your undivided attention.
2. Make eye contact: Making eye contact is an excellent way to quickly connect with another person. If you avoid doing so, particularly when giving a presentation, you may come across as insincere. (Or as, heaven forbid, utterly forgettable.)
3. Cultivate positive body language: As Language Lab guest blogger Dr. G. Jack Brown points out on his website, Body Language Success, “55 to 80% of all human communication is nonverbal.” Have a look at Dr. Brown’s in-depth analysis of politicians’ body language to get some ideas of the kind of body language you should practice, and what to avoid.
4. Be genuinely curious: Every person you meet has at least one or two good stories to tell. Are you curious about finding out what they are? If so, and you ask the right questions to elicit those stories, you’re more likely to have a rich, interesting conversation — one that will be remembered.
5. Be Hugh Jackman: OK, so we can’t all be Hugh Jackman. Click through this link to learn one man’s story about how Hugh Jackman is not only a star, he is also a stellar communicator.
6. Be friendly: It’s the simplest advice of all. Smile.
To learn more about making a lasting impression in business, sign up for one of our Language Lab online courses. We’re offering a New Year’s 10% discount.
You’re probably wondering what Goldilocks and the Three Bears has to do with effective business communication. At least I hope you are, because what I want to show you is that effective business communication frequently requires a hook, something that grabs your audience’s attention.
I was reminded of this recently while preparing a virtual presentation for a group of lawyers. Lawyers are a tough crowd. They typically have high-level communication skills and write very well. But that doesn’t mean that their writing is beyond criticism. Sometimes lawyers err on the side of being overly formal, and the point of my presentation was to help them determine the right degree of formality. I found myself wracking my brain trying to figure out how to engage them in a way that would easily lead into the subject matter.
As you know, a tried and true way to engage just about anyone is through a story. Just as children find it difficult to resist anything that starts with “once upon a time,” adults also find stories compelling. Fortunately, I had this “aha” moment about the story I wanted to use for this occasion: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
“Remember how the story goes,” I told them. “Goldilocks went into the house in the woods, and saw these three bowls of porridge. The first was too hot, and she couldn’t finish it. The second, too cold. She couldn’t finish that one either. But the third one was just right. She ate it all.”
By this time the lawyers were looking a little confused, but they certainly were listening. It was at this well-timed moment that I pointed out the connection between Goldilocks and her porridge to the optimal level of formality in legal communication — or indeed, any communication. It’s all about getting it “just right.” You need your audience to understand the message you are trying to convey. You need them to finish their porridge! And a good hook is often the best way to make sure that happens.
Fairy tales are not the only possible hooks, of course. But whatever kind of hook you use, know that its benefits are multiple. A good hook gives your audience a sense of who you are. A good hook is memorable. A good hook is a warm up — it opens people up to whatever follows. And here are six tips for grabbing your audience’s attention with a good hook.
How to create a good hook
-Humor: ‘Make ‘em laugh,’ as the song in Singing in the Rain says.
-Wisdom: Start with a meaningful and relevant quotation.
-Controversy: Begin with a statement that offers a point of immediate discussion.
-Question: Ask a question that makes your audience think.
-Anecdote: Tell a personal story to which people may relate.
-Story: Tell a familiar story that illustrates the point you are hoping to make.
The above are just a few examples of possible ways to create a good hook. You may have more suggestions, and I’d love to hear them. Email me at email@example.com. Who knows, I might even be willing to tell you a story.
- Lighten Up Your Communication: Use Humor Like Ellen
- Go for Gold: Four Tips for Winning Business Presentations
- Presentation Tips: Command the Room like a Good Conductor
- Six Top Tips for a Lasting Impression in Business: Communicating Effectively