In his book, How to Develop Self Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking, Dale Carnegie, writing about Chauncey M. Depew, said: “If you were to study his speeches, and Lincoln’s, and Job Hedges’, you would probably be surprised at the few stores he told, especially in his openings. Edwin James Cattell confided to me that he had never told a funny story for the mere sake of humor. It had to be relevant, had to illustrate a point. Humor ought to be merely the frosting on the cake, merely the chocolate between the layers, not the cake itself. Strickland Gillilan, one of the best humorous lecturers in these United States, made it a rule never to tell a story during the first three minutes of his talk. If he found that practice advisable, I wonder if you and I would not also.
“Must the opening, then, be heavy-footed, elephantine and excessively solemn? Not at all. Tickle our funny bones, if you can, by some local reference, something appropriate to the occasion or the remarks of some other speaker. Observe some incongruity. Exaggerate it. That brand of humor is forty times more likely to succeed than stale jokes about Pat and Mike, or a mother-in-law, or a goat.”
Carnegie goes on to say that perhaps the easiest way to create merriment is to tell a joke on yourself. Depict yourself in some ridiculous and embarrassing situation. That gets down to the very essence of much humor. Using this approach, combined with his “frosting on the cake” analogy above, will ensure that you’ll be receptive to any audience you need to address.
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