Is it wrong to exaggerate?

Humour is a wonderful way to engage your audience and hook their attention. The question is, how can you use humour in business? How do you do that?

One way to create humour is to either expand or reduce the details of a situation. We call this exaggeration.

What is exaggeration?

Exaggeration is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as, “a statement that represents something as better or worse than it really is.

You know how cartoonists do this don’t you? They gave former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, a huge pointy nose like a crazy bird. And they often made former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard’s eye-brows look like a ferret was lying across his forehead! The point is that the character is/was still recognisable with these exaggerated features.

That’s how you ‘do’ exaggeration. Let me give you an example to illustrate the point for you.

be yourself

I deliver a keynote presentation these days called Speak Up and Influence People.  I ask people: “Who would like to open a presentation or meeting so that everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs, completely engaged and so they can’t wait to hear what you have to say next?” Then I ask “and who would like to be able to speak up and influence people at work, at home, in fact all the time, every day of the year?” and then I inquire: “and who would like to have permission to never have to speak in public again for the rest of your life – in infinity!”

Get it?  ‘Infinity!’ Exaggerating like this is funny to most people, as long as you’ve built rapport first. So I don’t recommend this as the opening to the presentation. It’s something you do once you have credibility and know the group are ‘with’ you – so to speak.  The point is that because I am exaggerating a little bit for the first two questions it just gets funnier when I say “infinity”.  It’s funny (well actually it’s over the top really – but that’s where humour often comes from) that some people really hate public speaking and by exaggerating it you drive the point home.

The key to using exaggeration is to inflate or deflate whatever you are talking about so much that it is obviously an exaggeration otherwise it’s not always obvious and that’s not very funny.

Try this in your next presentation at work or at home. Practice on someone who loves you (a lot – in fact, who loves you enough to move countries for you if you’re sacked) before doing something like this at work!

Happy Presenting!

Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the PRSI (a world-first psychometric indicator that tests your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. 

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