Using humour as a speaker

(Post by Andrew Thorp)

At our Speakeasy session last night we watched a clip of ex-US Vice President Al Gore speaking at the TED conference. Before he became a champion of the fight against global warming, Al Gore was known for 2 things – firstly, he narrowly lost the opportunity to become THE President following the notorious ‘hanging chads’ voting fiasco in the 2000 US Presidential Election (and that hurt!) – second, he was rather a dull, wooden politician. Not a natural comedian, he nonetheless gets lots of laughs in his opening remarks at TED. He does this by poking fun at himself and telling true stories.

This form of self-deprecation is a much safer form of humour than trying to tell jokes. Many CEO’s make an attempt to be funny by telling lame jokes and it’s a tough thing to pull off. Far better to draw on your own locker of personal experiences, and perhaps draw a lesson from your anecdote that sets up the topic you want to cover.

Gore also demonstrates expert use of ‘status management’. By poking fun at himself he lowers his status and makes it easy for the audience to warm to him. He’s ‘one of us’ because we can identify with the ‘now-just-an-ordinary-Joe’ angle – if, for example, we’ve been made redundant or had to down-size our lifestyle. But of course when you’ve been asked to speak on stage you have to deliver something of value. So it’s essential you quickly re-establish your status by delivering some fantastic content.

Bill Clinton features in Al Gore’s story and the ex-President is a master of this form of status management, moving easily between mid-to-high level. Interestingly, speakers who fail to do this can sometimes come across as self-obsessed and arrogant – not a good strategy when you consider the audience has to buy YOU first and foremost.

Incidentally, TED Talks is a wonderful resource if you’re keen to develop your speaking skills. It’s like a free on-line university, not to mention the inspiring ideas on show. Some call it ‘the ultimate brain spa’! Enjoy.

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About Mojo Your Business

Mojo Your Business is an innovative training & consultancy company based in Manchester, UK. We're passionate about helping businesses and individuals perform better through effective communication. We specialise in corporate storytelling and how it applies to internal and external communication (employee relations, employability skills, leadership, relationship building, sales, marketing and public relations). More at
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