Where did we learn that we have to be serious all the time to be taken seriously? In my experience, it’s just not true. As a speaker and trainer, I know that when people laugh, they learn.

After coaching over 500 students on their stories and presentations in my two and a half-day Story Theater Retreat, I have come to one simple conclusion: People are already funny. So why do so many speakers seek comedy coaching? Because they have spent so many years trying NOT to be funny that they don’t have a clue what their funny looks, sounds and feels like. My job is to reveal to them what is already there.

The challenge of humor is to be as funny on the platform as you are at work or at the kitchen table. That means that you must be able to see your funny behavior away from the platform in order to bring that “funny” to the platform. You must objectify your neurosis, categorize your quirks and capitalize on your insanity. In other words, you must be able to see yourself as the world sees you.

Let’s focus on three elements that will make you funnier: comedy writing, exaggeration and playfulness.

Comedy Writing

Comedy is structure combined with delivery. While delivery is essential, structure is equally important. In fact, when the structure is excellent, almost anyone can deliver the same material and it will get the laugh.

Let’s look at a technique called a “triple”. In this example, I use a triple to illustrate the difference in personality styles between myself and my 17-year-old son.

“My son Bennett and I couldn’t be more different. I’m an extrovert - he’s an introvert. I’m creative - he’s linear. I’m verbal - he’s (hold for two beats) an engineer.”

In a triple, you use three examples. The first two set a pattern and the third breaks the pattern with a humorous twist.

Triples get a laugh because of structure. Whenever you plan to give one “for instance” to illustrate a point, you can use three instead. In the example that I used above, I always get a good laugh on the word, engineer. Why? Let’s break it down.

First of all, I’m playing off of common knowledge of personality descriptions. Everyone is aware of the personality categories of introverts and extroverts. That example lays the foundation for the whole bit. You have to start with something obvious and easy to grasp. Introverts and extroverts set up the pattern of opposites. “Creative” and “linear” continues the pattern because creative people are known to be non-linear thinkers.

To aid in this second example I use a gesture with my hands to indicate the difference between creative and linear. On the word “creative” my hands fly all over the place. On the word “linear” I hold my hands in front of me with the palms facing each other about three inches apart. I then move them from right to left as if organizing my socks by the day of the week.

When I say the word “verbal”, the logical progression of opposites would be “non-verbal.” That is where you break the pattern and get the laugh. By substituting the word “engineer” I have used the ultimate weapon of comedy structure, surprise. It is an illogical, logical substitution. Engineers are non-verbal. Since there are engineers in most business audiences, and since engineers have been the constant brunt of jokes since the beginning of time, the device works.

Where does this kind of structure evolve? In the writing. It is happens when you are writing your script and rehearsing their delivery. You may get lucky and discover something funny spontaneously on the platform every once in awhile, but if you want results that you can count on day in and day out, write your comedy. You can learn more about comedy writing in Part Four: Craft a Compelling Story in my book, Never Be Boring Again.


In comedic terms, exaggeration simply means that you go farther. Take your idea, gesture or situation and keep going, broaden it - blow it all out of proportion either with what you say, visually present, or with how you react. Many funny folks exaggerate physically with their body or face. I have yet to work with a student who wasn’t able to find laughs simply by pausing at a specific moment and using their face or body to react to a line that they have just spoken. The element that many of my students are uncomfortable with is the time that it takes for physical comedy to work.

Physical comedy, whether it’s a gesture, a freeze or a facial expression, takes time. You have to deliver your sentence, then take the time to fill the next moment with a reaction, and then you can go on. Without completing the reaction, the bit won’t work. And it always takes longer than most people think.

If you observe yourself closely, you may discover that you are more animated off the platform than on it. In other words, you exaggerate naturally, and then tone it down for performance. That’s backwards. Exaggerate and you will get laughs. As retreat graduate Diane Sieg of Denver observed, “I have just gotten a taste of the outrageous person I can be on the platform. I learned that I can be brilliant and hilarious.”


Playfulness is a quality, but also is an ingredient in comedic performance. Funny people have fun while they perform. This attitude of playfulness occurs on two levels. The first level is with myself. The second level is with my audience. When you are playful with your own personality, material and style, it gives the audience permission to laugh along with you. We know this as self-deprecating humor. I call it self-loving humor. Without loving yourself, it is hard to make fun of yourself in a way that creates connection and safety with the audience. Having created a level of safety with your audience, they will allow you to be playful with them, as well.

In conclusion, it’s not true that you have to be serious all the time to be taken seriously. So loosen up and get playful! You’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

For more information on strategic storytelling in business including story construction, comedy, drama, and advanced presentation skills, subscribe to the Story Theater newsletter at www.storytheater.net. To learn more about retreats, workshops, train-the-trainer programs and private coaching call 800-773-0265 or email doug@dougstevenson.com.

Author's Bio: 

Doug Stevenson is a professional speaker, trainer and speaking coach. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method for strategic storytelling in business, and is the author of Never Be Boring Again – Make Your Business Presentations Capture Attention, Inspire Action, and Produce Results.

With backgrounds in real estate, construction, and professional acting, Doug brings a salesman’s attitude and a performer’s instinct to all of his business presentations. He is dynamic, spontaneous, funny and thought provoking. He now speaks to thousands of people each year on Change, Leadership, Presentation Skills, Strategic Storytelling for Business and Strategic StorySelling for Sales.