What to say when words fail you part 5. Using Humour
I am a very shy person and examinations, meetings and interviews are difficult for me. I have had to struggle with anxiety attacks in interviews, and it is not easy showing yourself in a good light when you feel as if you are about to have a heart attack. I have worried so hard about examinations that I have had a migraine and been unable to sit the exam.
I am not, therefore, an expert in being confident. I am, however, very good at sounding confident, which is not quite the same thing. I can give lectures and attend interviews and chat happily with strangers over Skype, and if I mention my jangling nerves, people assume I’m joking and laugh politely. That’s because I use humour. It takes practice to use jokes when you are sweating and feeling light-headed, but it is an excellent way to seem relaxed, to make other people more relaxed and even to make yourself relaxed.
This seems a particularly unlikely strategy for university graduates because, surprise surprise, we’ve been told not to do it. We’ve been told that it makes us seem shallow, superficial and it looks like we are not taking things seriously. Hands up all those who told a joke in the presentation of their doctoral thesis! No-one? I didn’t think so.
I’m not suggesting you dress like Beano the Clown and squirt the examiners with water from a trick flower. However, you might consider one or more of these strategies, to put yourself and your examiner (who is probably a shy person too) at ease.
1) Smile! Try looking happy to meet the person who holds your fate in their hands.
2) Make some jolly remark about the loveliness of the weather, the dazzling smile of the receptionist, the fact that you are wearing your nicest brooch today. In short, try not to act like a person being led to the electric chair.
3) Tell a personal anecdote, eg:
“I started learning Spanish because I fell in love with Antonio Banderas! I wanted to be able to ask him out in his own language if I ever happened to meet him.”
“I went to France on a school trip when I was ten and on the bus I was sick on the teacher’s shoes! It didn’t affect my love for the country though.”
4)Throw in a blatantly untrue fact:
“In my country everyone has the words of the National Anthem sewn into their underwear. If you forget the words while you are singing you are allowed to drop your trousers to read them.”
5) Slip in some unexpected words
When I was at business school we used to play the Aardark game. In every essay, business report and examination script we dropped in the word “aardvark”. Eg in economics:
“…so should the world demand for, eg, aardvarks increase while the supply (eg the wild aardvark population) decrease, the result will be an increase in the price of aardvarks.”
When proceedings are getting dull I like to slip in a word like:
My Grandma’s Chilli Pickle
If you do this right you should see a puzzled frown flit over your examiner’s face as his brain registers the unexpected word, then a smile as he recognises it as intentional humour. If the puzzled frown stays there, then he hasn’t got the joke.
6) Make a self-depreciating remark
eg: I am 40 years old and therefore don’t understand iTunes
I am British and therefore don’t know much about sex
I am a woman and therefore know nothing about cars.
7) Get excited about something
The examiner’s cool laptop, the curtains in the exam room which are EXACTLY the material you’ve been hunting for, the fact that your examiner is from Vancouver (it’s the city of the GODS!) Chinese food is wonderful, Italian men are very sexy. It instantly turns you in the eyes of the examiner from just another examination candidate into a real, warm, flesh and blood person. It also helps you to speak more naturally and fluently. Try it sometime. Record yourself reciting facts and figures. Then record yourself describing the best meal you ever ate. See the difference? The examiner will.
Next article: sounding well-read.
reposted from http://tracesofdodo.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-to-say-when-words-fail-you-part-5.html