Humor in Public Speaking – The Power of Three

There seems to be some sanctity attached to the number three – I came,I saw, I conquered ; Liberty,Equality,Fraternity;Brahma,Vishnu,Maheshwara;Father,Son and the Holy Ghost;- the list is endless.Public Speakers have used the “power of three’to drill down a concept and humorists “build and burst” using the triad.

I used this anecdote to illustrate the ‘the power of three’ in using humor in my talk at Great Lakes Management School, Chennai recently.

Three French Professors were preparing a lexicon and to illustrate the word ‘sangfroid” which means “coolness and composure, especially in trying circumstances” and one of them said ” a salesman goes home, finds his wife in bed with a stranger. He tips his hat and says “excuse me”. He has sangfroid.

Another Professor says ” not quite. A salesman, goes home, finds his wife in bed with a stranger, tips his hat and says”excuse me, please continue”. Now,he has sangfroid.

The third professor says” No. A salesman goes home, finds his wife in bed with a stranger, tips his hat and says, excuse me, please continue. And if he CAN CONTINUE, he has sangfroid ! (I have adapted this anecdote from “Podium Humor” by James Humes)

This is also called as ‘build and burst”. Here the burst or the punch line better be good. otherwise the build up will end in a whimper.

Storytellers and humorists use the power of three effectively to create suspense and then derail the audience with a powerful punchline.

Like three friends talking:
Friend 1: Yesterday, I had a fight with my wife and she threw me out of the bed!
Friend 2: Yesterday,I had a fight with my wife and she threw me out of the house!
Friend 3: Yesterday, I had a fight with my wife and she came to me crawling on her knees !
Friend 1 and 2 (enviously and admiringly): Really ! and what did she say ?
Friend 3: How long will you hide under the cot,come out you coward !

Devastating !

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4 thoughts on “Humor in Public Speaking – The Power of Three

  1. three is the best because it builds enough suspense.. 2 is too short and 4 is too long a time for such humour :)I too am a toastmaster like you (TCS maitree kolkata toastmasters club). Heard you for the first time in the OTP/JTP that was conducted in tcs kolkata. I have tried humour in two of my prepared speeches but i felt it does not come to me naturally.. I can write it but fail to make the audience laugh due to the way it is presented. What i really liked about articles are that you never forget to mention the source. I was inspired by a speech by professor Anil K gupta (founder of honey bee network) after which i learned it is equally important to give back to the source. Feel free to visit our club page on facebook.. http://www.facebook.com/?ref=hp#!/pages/TCS-Maitree-Kolkata-Toastmasters-Club/191711054173872

  2. Rakesh – thanks for visiting my blog ! nice to know u r a TCSer !sorry for teh delayed response as I've not been active on the blogging front for some time ! I will certainly visit your FB page !Thanks stlouismillers for visiting my blog, reading and commenting !!!

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