Are you funny? Do your fellow Toastmasters know how funny you are? Maybe not. Maybe you think you wouldn’t be taken seriously if your speeches were too playful. Maybe it’s too big a risk to be yourself and expose your silly side. However, the supportive setting of your Toastmasters club meeting is an excellent place to explore your inner stand-up comic.
Find Your Hook
I bet you have a hook or a quirk that’s distinctively you. A hook is a unique mannerism, a catchphrase, a style that sets you apart from others. It’s your trademark. When my mentee, Lift Every Voice charter member Noelle Yalamanchili, gave her Ice Breaker, her story wandered a bit. And she absentmindedly ran her hand back and forth through her hair as she spoke, accompanied by a look of confusion. The Distinguished Toastmaster in me thought, “We have some work to do.” But the stand-up comic in me said, “That distracted hair ruffle: She’s got a hook!” You see, even though she is an accomplished woman, Noelle disarmed her audience by coming off as less polished because of that ruffle and confused look. I knew that would make the coherence of her punch lines a surprise and therefore, even funnier.
I told her I thought she had the moves and demeanor of a comic. My message resonated. Here was something she was intrigued by but hadn’t had the confidence to pursue. Several months later, I was in the audience for her first comedy set, as she ruffled her way into a standing ovation.
What mannerism might you have that you can grow into a signature move? Ask your fellow Toastmasters if they’ve noticed something you do when you talk.
I had a teacher who taught us to be creative by finding as many different uses for ordinary objects as we could. It is a wonderful exercise that will help you think like a comedian. It leads you to look for the twist, the double meaning, the extreme possibility. What made you laugh hardest? Comics know that creative plus unexpected equals funny!
To track that creativity, carry a notebook and write down the things you encounter or think of that make you laugh. Go over it and tweak it until it resonates as yours. Make it personal. If you can tell it to your sister at breakfast and make her coffee come out of her nose, you’ve got it.
When I reached the “Using Visual Aids” project in the traditional education program’s Competent Communication manual, everybody was expecting another PowerPoint presentation. My speech was about my scuba diving trips. I asked the leanest man in the club to put on six layers of T-shirts printed with maps of the dive sites. I dressed in scuba gear. And when I moved on to a new dive location in my speech, I pointed my snorkel at my visual aide and said, “Next slide please” as he peeled off a shirt. Adding a surprising twist can get you a laugh.
Another way to get the audience on your side is to make fun of yourself. Once, a meeting theme was ancestry so I wrote this as my introduction: “Tonight’s General Evaluator is Beverly Wise. She tried one of those DNA test kits and found that all of her relatives—including the dead ones—denied knowing her.” Self-deprecate, exaggerate, and then pause for the audience to catch up with you and laugh.
Comedians often use the “call-back”—referencing something the audience heard earlier in the speech. For example, during a District conference, I mistakenly introduced a well-known member as Bob Michel. Trouble is, everyone knew his name is Don, a 2014 International Speech Contest semifinalist. I laughed along with the crowd and moved on.
Later, during the Humorous Speech Contest, Nate Stephens, DTM, of Penn Hills Club in Pittsburgh, “checked” his text messages during his speech. He looked at his phone and said, “Here’s one from Don Michel. ‘Thinking of changing my name to Bob.’” By creatively referring to my slip-up, he got the laugh and the win.
There is no one right way to be a Toastmaster. It’s not about conformity; it’s about personal growth. Learn everything you can from the program, your mentor, and other Toastmasters. Then dare to let it nourish that special something that is uniquely you.
In this Toastmasters webinar, discover the various humor types, as well as some funny (and not so funny) cultural considerations, and how to sprinkle a little laughter effectively and appropriately into many aspects of your professional and personal life.
Beverly Wise, DTM is a neuropsychologist turned stand-up comic whose two biggest life-changers have been Mt. Holyoke College and Toastmasters. She is a member of North Hills Club and Lift Every Voice Toastmasters, both near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.