Poking Fun At Ourselves Just Got Easier and More Fun
Poking Fun At Ourselves Just Got Easier and More Fun
"I would use self-deprecating humor if I were any good at it.
Wait, is that it?"
"Self-Deprecating Humor is the ability to see the absurdity
of life everywhere you look...especially at yourself."
The #1 style of humor recommended by speaking experts is self-deprecating humor. The idea being, if you’re the butt of the joke then no one else is likely to be offended. Most importantly, if done well, it humanizes you and makes you fun, relatable, and likable. Luckily, bad decisions make good stories...and the funniest ones.
"It's been said that self-deprecating humor is the touchstone of the
soul because when you can make others laugh at your expense - you are really making them laugh at themselves. Self-deprecating
humor is taking any flaw that you have, whether physical, reputa-tional, or personal, that would otherwise, be unflattering, and turning it into a 'self-deprecating asset' making you more 'relatable' and 'likable' than if you highlighted your 'successful' assets." (Scott Friedman)
As you climb the corporate ladder, a nice touch of self-deprecation can be a very welcome and appealing way of presenting yourself.
Let’s take Steve, for instance, who while applying for a CEO position listed all his achievements before ending with: “He also founded and hosts BlindSpot, a politics and economics podcast affectionately described by his wife and two daughters as “long, boring, and utterly devoid of substance.”
He ultimately got the interview and got the job. When you’re one of hundreds or thousands of more or less equally qualified candidates, it’s often the little things—like making the person on the other end of the hiring process smile—that get you through the door for that first conversation.
It is not hard to poke fun at ourselves given that we do funny things worthy of self-deprecating humor every day. For example:
You find nothing good to eat in the fridge, so you close it. Then you stare at the door. Then you open it again to give it one more chance.
You're driving and you realize you’re lost - you feel an urge to turn the radio down.
You can’t have a long conversation on the phone without doing a full walking tour of your home.
You immediately go back and read an email right after you hit send.
You still unconsciously think of the '90s as being 10 years ago.
You can't sleep and have to get up early for work: "I can have about 6 hours, 21 minutes, and 48 seconds of sleep if I fall asleep right now."
You feel guilty that you're not helping when a repair guy is fixing something in your house.
You still read cereal boxes while eating breakfast.
On a road trip, you start to think of the other cars as your travel companions and feel a tinge of sadness when you exit the highway.
About 10% of your shower time is devoted to washing yourself.
The rest is you having an imaginary conversation with someone.
When you pick
up steel tongs for
a barbeque do
As hard as we work at maintaining an appearance of "having it all together" we connect best with an audience when we admit that we're human too. Humans bond by sharing their imperfections and shortcomings. Authenticity and vulnerability are the glue of human connection. So let’s make some glue, shall we?
Create a list of your most embarrassing idiosyncrasies no one would ever guess about you to make yourself more relatable than ever. The more ironic, the better.
Here are some examples:
"Even though I'm an accountant, I use a calculator for basic math."
"I'm a nutritional coach, but sometimes I crave Spam and Cheetos."
"I'm an author, but I don't like to read."
What are your most ironic qualities and values that make you as human as anyone?
So yes, you're funny. Very funny.
The Bread and Butter of Self-Deprecating Humor
In his article, Funny How a Sense of Humor Helps Get Your Point Across, Doug Stevenson lays bare the silliness that we don't
have any self-deprecating stories to tell about ourselves.
"Get this -- you are a walking, talking, breathing joke waiting to happen. Every day you make silly mistakes and do dumb things. In trying to get your act together, it occasionally falls apart. You stumble into tables and chairs and drop things. You miss freeway exits and drop your soda in your lap while talking on the cell phone. You run off to a meeting and forget the contract that you were hoping to get signed. What makes you funny is that you are completely and totally fallible and human.You can be neurotic too. Embrace it. Share it. It's your funny and nobody can do it quite like you."
Are you a neat freak? Make fun of your tendency to organize.
A control freak? Have fun with your fondness for delegating.
Are you data-driven? Poke fun at your refusal to guesstimate?
He suggests some easy places to look for Self-Deprecating humor:
He described a speaker who wanted to poke fun at 'management by the book' and told a story about how he
approached household chores the same way he managed -- by the book. He couldn't even iron a shirt without consulting the manual for the iron. By allowing his behavior to appear ridiculous, he got a laugh and made his point. What is your particular foible? Exploit it for laughs and your audience not only will laugh with you -- they'll learn how to laugh at themselves as well.
A great place to look for self-deprecating stories is
whatever we do for the first time. For example...
Hosting your first virtual meeting.
Using online presentation software and then not being able to find the link.
Not being able to figure out how to turn off the self-driving feature on your new Tesla.
Cooking your first Flambé.
Teaching your grandmother to use an IPad.
Trying to get a family of raccoons out of your basement.
Ice Skating, Snow Skiing, or Water Skiing for the first time.
Meditating for the first time.
Putting together an Ikea bedroom cabinet.
Giving yourself a haircut during a pandemic.
Explaining to your kid why learning math is important when computers do absolutely everything.
I'm sure you have your own favorite firsts.
Usually, they're not so funny at the time, but with the formula, "pain + time = laughter'' telling your story later can make for a wonderful ice-breaking, relatable, entertaining anecdote.
Choosing a Good Self-Deprecating Flaw
The bread and butter topics of self-effacing humor have people poking fun at their height, hair, age, name, personal foibles, successes, and failures. We thought you would enjoy perusing some self-deprecating one-liners others have had success with so you can consider following in their humor-tested footsteps. Feel free to use one that feels right for your situation and sense of humor:
Suppose you’re tall. You can quip that you are the first one to know it’s raining.
Conversely, if you’re short you can joke that you are the last one to know when it’s raining.
Someone who is bald can crack jokes about being “follically challenged.”
"My girlfriend has started calling my hair "the economy"
because it’s begun showing strong signs of recession."
"My wife is the one who talked me into shaving my head. She said I’d look much younger and I do. I now look like I’m a week old."
"My hair isn't grey. I'm just growing tinsel."
"I've been told I have a nice speaking voice and a face for radio."
A Jewish person with a large nose can say, “I’m thinking about getting a nose job so I can look more Jewish." (Alicia Dattner, Jewish Comedian)
What are you good at? Parallel Parking. Sadly there is no way to monetize this skill.
"Our company had such a bad year, we made the Misfortune 500."
"I'm a recovering _______ fill in the blank: CEO, CFO, CTO, Salesperson, Receptionist, Politician, Vegetarian, Waiter, Dental Hygentist, Therapist, Narcissist, Perfectionist, Social Media Addict, Netflix Addict, News Addict...almost anything can be funny and humanizing if we're recovering from it. Just make sure it's not something concerning you're recovering from, "I'm a recovering arsonist."
I'm probably..."Not the fastest fidget spinner out of the box."
"Not the brightest crayon in the box."
"Not the brightest light on the tree."
"Not the sharpest tool in the shed."
"A few fries short of a happy meal."
"Am I the most attractive man/woman in the world? No. But do I have a great personality? Also no. But do I wake up every morning and try to be the best person I can be??...No. Shoot I forget where I was going with this."
Some believe being older could be a liability for a speaker, but with the right touch of self-deprecating humor, you can put the issue to rest right away:
"Clearly I'm not the youngest leaf on the tree, but more importantly, I haven’t fallen off the tree either."
"I just started dating. Well at my age they call it carbon dating."
"It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." Indiana Jones
"The best part about getting older is there is very little peer
"I'm happy to say at my age I still love playing golf, but now they make me settle up after every hole."
"When I die my hope is someone will write a nice obituary in the local newspaper. My fear is someone will write a son-of-a-bitchuary."
Poking Fun at Your Name
For many of us, a fun easy place for us to share some self-deprecating humor is our name. Here are some examples:
Keynote Speaker, Burt Teplitzky, decided to go with a joke about his last name: “You’ve all seen my last name before, ‘Teplitzky’ It’s the bottom line on all the eye charts.”
When, Sally Baack PhD., is invited to speak at a conference for a second year in a row her opening PowerPoint slide says "I'm Baack." (a little Terminator throwback humor.) Or because she is the mother of three chickens at home she can let her audience know how proud she is that they all have learned to say their last name.
When Robert Bostick speaks, everyone in his audience hopes to receive a free Bostitch stapler under their seat. So as not to disappoint them he promises, "You can all pick up your free Bostitch stapler at Staples. Just tell them Robert Bostick sent you." He has found many ways to poke fun at his name. "When I would get stressed on projects co-workers used to call me 'a Bosticking timebomb.' Don't worry, I meditate now." And finally,
"I still play basketball. My favorite thing to do is to set great picks. My team calls me BosPick."
His middle name is 'Quick' (no really it is) so he might begin his talk by letting people know he uses his middle name to remind him to slow down. He also knows every audience loves to hear someone start a speech with these six golden words: "I'm going to make this quick." Or he can tell the story that his father went out to get a drink of water while his mom was in the delivery room and when he came back in his son was born, causing his father to say, "Well that was Quick."
If you have an unusual name, or a common name, like James or Mary, have some fun with it. It makes for easy self-deprecating humor and adds to your humanness and likability, "My name is Jim. I'm not famous, but my name is the most popular name in the country. If your name is Robert or John, you've got to work a little harder."
Full List Here
A Photo is Worth a Thousand Words
In addition to any of the previous options we've shared, we want to suggest another innovative idea: share a classic, funny, self-deprecating photo of yourself. Not a photo that in any way denigrates you, but a photo that humanizes you in a charming and likable way - a photo that once seen is never forgotten - in a good way.
To demonstrate the idea let’s start with some self-deprecating photos of Robert Bostick, the founder of HumorPoint, and see how he uses them in his presentations.
From Cereal to Serial Entrepreneur
Here he found a photo of himself in a suit at age 4 and matched it with a photo of himself in a suit a few years later. He began his presentation with this:
“At age 4, after reading Dress for Success, and living on a daily diet of Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs, I dreamed of becoming a serial entrepreneur. Today, I’m happy to say I have realized that dream and brought a box of Lucky Charms to celebrate. Unfortunately, they were out of Cocoa Puffs.”
You can see how the photos above and his light story poking fun at himself can offer a nice touch of self-deprecating humor. He has many photos he likes to use. Below he shares the text of the remarks he accompanies with this classic photo.
"In life when you reach a fork in the road it's important to know what your goals are. This is me at a fork in the road hitchhiking around the U.S. in my early twenties. My sign caused people to pull over at 80mph on every interstate. Mainly mothers.”
Sometimes he shares this photo to emphasize the value of customer service by saying "Here at HumorPoint we believe it's important to give our customers lots of treats."
A funny personal photo lets you deliver a business point while sharing a nice touch of humanizing, likable humor where the joke is not only on you, it is you - in an endearing and likable way. It might be a photo of you working at your first job bussing or waiting tables - or bagging groceries - or driving a tractor - or milking a cow on your family farm. The possibilities are as endless as any photo ever taken of you.
It could even be a hilarious video of you on National TV.
HumorPoint's Founder, Robert Bostick, from His 80's Cable TV Talk Show
Telling a brief, light-hearted story with a few plot twists supported with a funny or personal visual in the middle of your presentation is another great way to refresh your audience's attention. Their attention span struggles otherwise. It doesn’t even need a smooth segue. You're simply breaking the expectation of monotony with surprise and refreshing reasons to enjoy you and your message. For example:
“I’ve got two little kids and I make them these yogurt popsicles from frozen mangoes and yogurt. They love them, but look how messy they are. I promise I'll do a better job serving you." Andy Crestodina
Mentioning your kids during a presentation is an easy, relatable way to personalize your talk. If your kid said anything funny recently to you by all means share it. "My ten-year-old said to me this morning".........." is a good way to create an emotional, likable moment with your audience. Our kids say the funniest things so there is lots of material to choose from. If you can make it fit in with a point you want to make all the better.
Below are some examples of kids saying the funniest, sweetest things. If you can' think of something adorable your child has said recently you can attribute any of the quotes below to your child (or a friend of your's child if you don't have any children) to make everyone in your audience smile and feel great about our love of kids.
What is the similarity between the Eiffel Tower and a bug?
They're both Parisites.
A Joke told by a Seven-Year-Old
Why do Seagulls fly over the Sea and not over the Bay?
Because then they would be called Bagels.
A Joke told by a Ten-Year-Old
"Can we get a kitten?"
Parent: "I'm allergic. We can't be in the same house."
"Then you could sleep outside."
“Daddy, I’m gonna be a doctor.”
Parent: “That would be great son.”
“Or a Dinosaur.”
"Mom you were my best friend until I actually got friends."
"Mom what does ambition mean?"
"It's where people try to achieve things to get ahead."
"Get ahead of what?"
"Do you have a hobby?"
"Yes, I have a hobby.
My hobby is make-believe."
Just called ranch dressing “salad frosting” and now
I’ll never call it anything else.
"Screensick," adjective, coined by my daughter to mean "the feeling when you watch screens too much and it makes you unable to act normally or have good behavior"
I asked the kids if there was anything they wanted from the grocery store and the first thing my daughter asked was, “how is our cheese situation.”
I told my son I would be taking care of him while his mom
was out and he said, "moms a heart and you’re a fart.”
It’s finally my son’s birthday, after 364 days of me telling him it’s not his birthday.
The longest song in the world is the Happy Birthday song to a toddler who is ready to help blow out some candles.
"Don’t wipe my tears away. I want to feel them on my face."
6 Month-old Daughter
As far as I can tell, parenthood is about desperately wanting my newborn to fall asleep so I can look at the 500 adorable photos
I took of her that day.
It feels significant that most five-year-olds are far less boring
than most 45-year-olds. It’s because they make us laugh
just by being themselves.
Public Speaking Self-Deprecating Humor Guidance
As a public speaker, if you're the expert and the audience has been told how wonderful you are, that is always a great time for a little self-deprecating humor to knock yourself down a notch. An embarrassing calamity story that highlights your humanness and universal relatable foibles is a safe bet. Although self-deprecating humor is almost always a good choice - here is a little guidance to always use it in the best possible light:
1.) Self-deprecation does not mean self-flagellation. A classic example is Al Gore making fun of himself for being stiff. One or two jokes are funny. Ten jokes are too much - and repeated over and over they only serve to remind people that he really is stiff.
2.) If you are poking fun at one of your shortcomings, especially one which is shared by many others, people may feel that the zinger is aimed at them also. For example. if you make jokes about you carrying a few extra pounds, you may not get laughs from someone dieting and watching the scale. Preferably the humor you use lightens up everyone.
The purpose of self-deprecating humor is to let everyone enjoy a moment of feeling superior to your flaws and imperfections. If you are starting off low on the credibility totem pole it might be best to avoid knocking yourself down a peg. Self-deprecating humor is about humanizing yourself and your flaws - but don’t make yourself appear incompetent.
3. Poke fun only at your professional short-comings with which you are at peace and be very selective. Best not to make a joke about something that is annoying that people are waiting for you to correct - like how you're always late to meetings.
Presenting a little weirdness about who you are today or were in the past can be very endearing. For example, in this Ted Talk, the speaker opened her talk with this little morsel from her high school years and it won everyone over instantly.
“See, the problem wasn't that I didn't have any interests -- it's that I had too many. In high school, I liked English and math and art and I built websites and I played guitar in a punk band called 'Frustrated Telephone Operator.' Maybe you've heard of us.” (Audience Laughter). She shared a funny, original piece of her life and it generated laughter and made her more interesting.
Also, self-deprecating jokes don't have to be all about you. You can poke fun at a funny named group in which you have a membership, 'The Club of Amazing Master Marketeers'; or playfully towards the group, you're speaking to by poking a little fun at our shared technology addiction, "Thank you for putting your phones away. I realize even though we're not looking at our phones, it doesn't mean we're not thinking about them."
Your successes aren't what make you likable. Your failures are. This is why funny enough when you tell a joke badly, it can make you look good.
Remember a nice touch of self-deprecating wit humanizes you as
a presenter and gets people to relate to you right away - exactly
when you want them to. Towards that end below are some of our
favorite self-deprecating one-liners. But first, here is Abraham
Lincoln's self-deprecating classic, “Friends, I ask you, if I were
two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
And Here Are Some Self-Deprecating Classics for You:
"I noticed a few of you came early to get a good seat…in the back."
"The one phrase that always wakes up my audience I usually save to the end: But today I'm going to start off with it, "And in conclusion.”
"The best way to start any speech is by saying "I'm going to make this quick."
"I realize this may be a dry topic for some of you so I don't mind you looking at your watch while I give my presentation, but please do me the courtesy of not tapping it (as you tap yours) to see if it is still working."
I have had my business for 30 years. Obviously, I started it when I was two.”
"Most of the speakers you’ll hear today constitute a sort of a who’s who in the industry. I’m more in the category of "Who’s he?”
"I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented - I forgot where I was going with this."
Or when someone introduces you can ask them to introduce you this way, "I wanted to introduce someone who was hilarious, erudite, and charming. Unfortunately, I welcome Robert Bostick* to the stage instead." (*Your name).
“The people who invited me to speak here today have been great. They gave me my own dressing room. It had the one seat and the lid.”
by Robert Bostick
"Everyone is raving about the Tesla these days but the problem with the Tesla is when you drive it, it has a big blind spot in the back. Now to be fair to Tesla, I have a big blind spot too. It’s called my life." Robert Bostick
"As a presenter, I realize until I make you laugh you will still be deciding whether or not you like me. Thank you for being patient." Robert Bostick
"I don't know why but my mind is always talking to me.
I think it's lonely." Robert Bostick
"My #1 goal in life is to steer clear of the bad neighborhoods of my mind. Whenever I end up there I always get roughed up.
Surprise and Superiority
Surprise and Superiority are two major ‘laugh activators’
according to Psychologist Patricia Keith-Spiegel. Schadenfreude (the word for the pleasure we feel when something bad happens to someone for whom we have no sympathy for) in the right comedic context easily triggers the superiority laugh response.
A punchline that provides surprise and self-deprecating humor delivers audience members the joy of the unexpected and the pleasurable feeling of superiority. Both ignite laughter. Here's a great example:
"As I left my home to come here tonight, my wife gave me some last-minute advice. She said, "I know it's a difficult subject and it's going to be a tough group. But don't be intimidated. And don't try to be charming, witty or intellectual. Just be yourself."
If somehow after telling a joke no one laughs just say,
“Well that’s the last time I’m going to buy anything
A nice touch of self-deprecating will get you the smile.
Self-Deprecating Humor Video Examples and Advocates
Robert Bostick, HumorPoint CEO
shares how Actor, Jake Gyllenhaal uses self-
deprecating humor to make himself likable.
Robert Bostick, HumorPoint CEO
"People Say I'm Condescending."
This self-deprecating gem lets any leader poke fun at him or herself.
Robert Bostick HumorPoint CEO
"Over One Million Views"
This demonstrates how a failure makes
for perfect self-deprecating humor.
President National Speakers Association
"The highest form of humility
is the ability to laugh at yourself."
The Power of Humor at Work
"A smart, self-deprecating sense of humor can boost your status."