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Lesson 4 – The Power of the Pause: Maximizing the Impact of Humor (Preview)

In this lesson you’ll learn to:

  • Maximize the effect of your punchline or punch word to increase audience retention
  • Understand comedic timing and why we slow down the pace at specific areas of a story

Pauses in humor delivery are a critical part of comedic timing. There is a major difference between the written word and speaking out loud. Practicing out loud and in front of audiences will help your sentence structure improve, find storytelling rhythm, and comedic timing. Simple changes to cadence, sentence structure, and adding purposeful pauses can be the difference between getting no audience response, a chuckle, or a belly-laugh.

This part of the humor development process is fun, but also just that–a process! In short, you find a sentence within your presentation that has humor potential, and then you analyze it and play with the wording. It is a great feeling when you find the optimum sentence structure and comedic timing to trigger audiences to explosive laughter!

Let me show you what I mean with the following one-minute video. It’s one of my proudest moments. The pause at the end where I used a hand gesture and facial expression drove the tension and anticipation to a level where I got belly-laughs, all because I didn’t rush the moment!

 

Maximizing Pauses

 Here’s the process I use to explore the humor in a sentence or paragraph:

  1. Read the written paragraph aloud.
  2. Identify areas where you can slow down the pace by underlining or highlighting them.
  3. Reword the sentences (if needed) to incorporate pauses to help slow down the pace.
  4. Determine what parts might initiate audience laughter and mark them in some way. (I put in three dots just before the expected laughter.)
  5. Reword the sentences (if needed) just before the three dots so the wording structure is concise and ends with as strong a punch word as possible, followed by a pause in anticipation of audience laughter.
  6. For the parts you expect laughter, or have experienced laughter in the past, you have additional opportunities. Explore the possibility of adding additional funny details to get additional laughter, and/or punch up the laughter to a higher level.
  7. Practice, practice, and practice some more aloud.
  8. Keep refining until you are ready to deliver it to an audience.

That’s a lot of steps, and it might look overwhelming at first. In summary, know that this is a process and the “funny” may not come to you immediately! Give yourself some time to think it through and get it right. Sometimes I work on a sentence for months before I find the version that I like best! Here’s an example of a paragraph I revised several times before I landed on the final version.

Initial Version: “Picture me at 12 years old, on a Sunday drive with my parents, suffering from travel sickness, painfully shy, and wedged tightly in the back seat between my siblings and a hitchhiker that my dad had just picked up. I start to taste salt in my mouth, my stomach clenches and for a few seconds I think my bulging cheeks can hold the pressure, but they explode into projectile vomit, and my dad’s car was never to have a new-car-smell ever again.”

Final Version: “Picture me at 12 years old…PAUSE…I am on a Sunday drive with my parents…PAUSE…suffering from travel sickness…PAUSE…painfully shy…PAUSE…and wedged tightly in the back seat between my siblings and a hitchhiker that my dad had just picked up. I start to taste salt in my mouth…PAUSE TO BUILD COMEDIC TENSION…my stomach clenches… PAUSE TO BUILD COMEDIC TENSION…for a few seconds I think my bulging cheeks can hold the pressure (ACT OUT BULGING CHEEKS)… PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER…my mouth explodes into  projectile vomit (“VOMIT” – TRIGGER/PUNCH WORD)…PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER…and my dad’s car…PAUSE…was never to have…PAUSE…a new-car-smell again (“AGAIN” – TRIGGER/PUNCH WORD)…PAUSE AFTER HUMOR TRIGGER WORD.”

 There’s one more thing I need to call out, and that’s the importance of practicing out loud! Think of someone who loves telling jokes but is bad at it. It’s typically because they have not practiced enough. Humor delivery is a skill, and like all skills, it takes work to master!

The video for this lesson is in two parts. It will help you explore the success strategies I use to build tension and anticipation through storytelling.

In this first video I explain why pauses and comedic timing are important and the logical steps to implement them.

This next video has captions to help you understand the thought process I used to incorporate pauses, punch words, build  tension, and build on the initial humor. You can also see that I am not “stepping” on the audience laughter.

Exercise: Take a written paragraph of one of your stories that is full of visual happenings and add some places to pause using the following process:

  1. Read the written paragraph aloud.
  2. Identify areas where you can slow down the pace by underlining or highlighting them.
  3. Reword the sentences (if needed) to incorporate pauses to help slow down the pace.
  4. Determine what parts might initiate audience laughter and mark them in some way. (I put in three dots just before the trigger or punch word)
  5. Reword the sentences (if needed) just before the three dots so the wording structure is concise and ends with as strong a punch word as possible, followed by a pause in anticipation of audience laughter.
  6. For the parts you expect laughter, or have experienced laughter in the past, you have additional opportunities. Explore the possibility of adding additional funny details to get additional laughter, and/or punch up the laughter to a higher level.
  7. Practice, practice, and practice some more aloud.
  8. Keep refining until you are ready to deliver it to an audience.

Copyright © MMXIX by David R. Hill

Lesson tags: anticipation, comedic timing, dave hill, dave hill speaks, funny motivational speaker, laughter, pause, pauses, punch word, tension
Back to: Finding the Funny: How to Create and Deliver Humor in any Speech or Presentation
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