This post on comedy tips from TED Talks originally appeared on David Nihill’s site, 7 Comedy Habits

There’s a good chance you don’t want to be a comedian. It’s pretty scary. I can tell you that first hand from a year plus doing it in researching my book. More likely is that you would like to do a TED talk , a TED style talk or maybe you have already done one and just want to up the engagement in your next one.

More and more public speaking experts are being forced to attempt to explain humor to their audiences as our society moves from information to infotainment, and it becomes a proven ingredient in great talks. Humor drives engagement. There is just one problem. Regular public speaking experts are not the most qualified to do so.

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All too often they focus on style, not technique. Studying comedy styles is great but if you’re attempting to add humor to your own presentations, this information is about as useful as giving a Macbook Pro to a goat. You can copy Chris Rock’s style, but it’s much more likely to get you thrown off a conference stage than on one. Style is how you carry your self to the performance. Technique is what gets you through.

Every one of the top 10 TED talks gets laughs using techniques that you can replicate. Let’s take a look at a few.

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Use Funny Images and Videos


The 2nd most viewed TED talk of all time comes from Amy Cuddy. The video Amy uses in her talk is already socially proven and viral content. My favorite part in this example is the change in her own body language before this sequence of images and video. It feels good to make people laugh and her own body language and confidence in delivery show this as a clear before and after.

Often the quickest way to be funny in your next talk is to use already proven images and videos. This you can do 100%. Go on Imgur or Google Images and find an image that conveys a point rather than just telling people about it. Treat the image like the punchline and build up some anticipation before you reveal it. Remember the image is the funny part. Not what you say after revealing it.

Let The Content Be the Punchline

This talk from Frans de Waal is the ultimate example of the content stealing the show. You may not have monkeys like Frans you don’t have to deliver the funny. Your content can do it for you and you can just add to it.

Seth Godin takes this even further in his talk Broken. It gets 3.4 laughs per minute with 58% of those laughs linked to the use of funny images. I could go on but I think you get the idea: use funny images.

Build Expectations Up in One Direction and Take the Other

Tim Urban’s talk here gets about 2.6 laughs per minute. Approximately 35% of those laughs come from the use of funny images, set up in a way that makes them even funnier. Often causing a flip in expectations. Note the build up of the image as likely complex to cause a flip of expectations when the simplified image is revealed. The build up causes the laugh once the obviously less complex image is revealed.

Read the rest of the post over at 7 Comedy Habits and take his CreativeLive course for free on September 15th! Click the button below to RSVP. 

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