One of the challenges of grabbing a microphone, walking to the front of a room, and speaking, is the strange paradox of confidence that is clearly on display. If you come on with too much attitude, you can be perceived as pompous. If you come on looking too unsure of yourself, you can be perceived as weak. What many novices do is to use self-deprecating humor as a way to position themselves between the two extremes.
It sure sounds like a good idea; after all, it takes courage to humorously put yourself down and humble yourself in front of an audience. It seems only natural that if you do this, it will cause an audience to identify with you better, and maybe they will connect with you on a deeper level. Perhaps… but let’s start with a simple definition from Webster’s to make sure we’re on the same page:
Self-deprecating humor: tending or serving to disparage or undervalue oneself
You lost me at “undervalue oneself.” Why in the world would I want to ridicule or devalue my own talents in front of an audience? If you think it will cause the audience to go easier on you when they evaluate your performance, you are sorely mistaken. Many are completely unaware of your funny little shortcomings… until you tell them. Why would you want to amuse your audience by making jokes about how:
- You aren’t very good at giving presentations.
- You typically struggle in these types of environments.
- You don’t really know as much as you should about this particular topic.
Do you know what your reward will be? An audience that will judge you even more harshly because, well, you told them to! Do you still think this is a smart technique?
Self-deprecating humor does have its strengths. If you are speaking to a potential date, self-deprecating humor can be a pretty darn good tactic! Assuming you know how to be smart, quick and funny while you put yourself down, this form of humility can be perceived as attractive to others.
But when you give a presentation, you are not dating your audience. You are trying to win them over, and that requires strength, and humility, and expertise in a particular subject. I’m sure there are a few kind-hearted souls who will bond with you when he or she hears you say that you “aren’t very good at giving presentations, but you are good at making baloney sandwiches!” For the majority of the audience who are there to hear you speak, I’d think twice before telling jokes about how funny it is that you “typically struggle in these type of environments.”
It’s easy to be lured into believing that self-deprecating humor will bail you out of an uncomfortable position, and it sure is a handy tool to defuse tension and add humor in a social situation. In the end, however, if you are asked to deliver a presentation, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.