By TM AVS Prasad
Around contest time, you often find sour-faced individuals milling about in Toastmasters clubs. Upon inquiry, you find that they are contestants for the Humorous Speech Contest. Most of them lose what little sense of humor they had as they prepare for and deliver their contest speeches. As the contest date approaches closer, their sour or serious expression intensifies. Why? The usually enthusiastic Toastmaster audiences that clap for just about anything seem hard pressed to even crack a smile. Humor, then, is serious business.
Here are a few of my thoughts from my experience as a contestant and subsequently, as a mentor for several contestants.
Many people who contest don’t really have a sense of humor. How would you know if you do?
Recently at our club contest, a contestant who lost was complaining bitterly about the judging, and asked why x or y won, when there was nothing funny in their speech. “Mine was so much funnier!!” First off, I believe that a person who does not have a sportsman spirit is somewhat unlikely to have a sense of humor. But there’s a simpler test. Do you often make people laugh? Do people say you’re funny or have a great sense of humor? If not, you don’t. As simple as that.
Having a sense of humor means that you see things in the world differently, and also know how to put those observations across in a funny manner. You know what people would find funny, and what they would not find funny. It’s a world-view. People without a sense of humor don’t have this instinct. They think that what is funny for them must also be funny for others. However, it is easy to disprove this. You may enjoy toilet humor but another person finds it gross. Some people find sexual innuendo hilarious, while others find it highly offensive. Thus, what is funny to you is not necessarily funny to others. So having a sense of humor really implies knowing what the other person might find funny – in fact, what many people might find funny. And being able to put it across in a manner that makes them laugh.
However, it is a good experience for a ‘non-humorous’ person to explore humor and get some idea of how to make a speech funny. This is where mentoring comes in. Choose a person who has been there, done that – a fun person, who makes people laugh, ideally one who has won contests. I mentored my club member, Srini, and he told me later that he really got an insight into how a change in wording – or sequence of sentences – makes something much funnier.
Finally, the golden rule is to accept the verdict of people around you. If they don’t laugh, or don’t find it funny, that means it is not. Dump it – however much you like the idea, joke, sentence, phrase, or action. I was asked by a contestant what I thought of something she had written. I told her it was not so funny, and then had to listen for five minutes about why it was actually funny, but that I did not ‘get it’. Yeah right.
This article was first published on District 98’s bi-monthly newsletter ‘Communicate 98’. To read other articles, click here.