USING HUMOR EFFECTIVELY
Ken Davis is a truly great communicator. He kept me and thousands of youth spellbound at a huge Christian gathering in Washington, DC. One of his greatest communication devices is humor.
According to Ken, "I believe that nothing softens hard hearts, breaks down walls of cynicism and opens doors for crystal-clear communication like effectively used humor." (How to Speak to Youth, p. 135) Some hints on using humor:
1) Assess your style of humor. I can't tell a joke. For some reason I can say the same words that another speaker used to put his audience in stitches, and my audience responds with a blank stare. Until I get some training, I never say, "Have you heard the one about...?".
However I do pretty well with dry humor (think Bob Newhart). I can tell a story or an illustration in a way that people can relate and often laugh.
2) Set it up appropriately. Beware of introducing humorous material with "Now here's something really funny!" If you fail to deliver, it will be hard to recover and continue the message. Better: "Do you want to know about family life? Let me tell you something about family life." If they enjoy it, great. But even if they don't laugh, you can end with, "I've exaggerated a little here, but any of you with infant brothers or sisters can relate. Do you have anything to add?"
3) Don't use humor in bad taste. If you mercilessly joke about fat people, some may laugh outwardly but hurt inwardly.
4) Be yourself. I visited a youth ministry that was considered one of the top in the country. A youth staff advised me, "to talk to a group of middle school kids, you have to be really gross and funny."
A week later I visited an equally successful ministry. The middle school teacher told me, "I'm not really very funny, so I don't try to be." Yet, he was real with his students and held their attention well.
5) Study humorous speakers. What makes them funny?
The content>: Is the material funny because the subject did something embarrassing, surprising, made an unusual observation about the normal routine of life? Humor will differ from culture to culture and subgroup to subgroup.
The delivery>: Look for the subtle grin, the pause, the expression of embarrassment, the hand motion, the recovery from a failed joke.
6) Get input from others>. Ask some people to be brutally honest with you. "When I say something that ought to be funny, why don't people laugh?"
Much humor can be learned. But remember, be yourself. If it just isn't working, go back to what you do best.