Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Laughing Matters: Humor Strategies in Public Speaking

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Laughing Matters: Humor Strategies in Public Speaking

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Humor studies that attempt to discover how humor functions have covered a wide range of fields and topics in the past decades. Among them a significant number of researches focused on humor in interactional activities of human beings, such as in the workplace (Holmes, 2006; Schnurr & Chan, 2011; Moody, 2014), between genders (Hay, 2000; Davies, 2006; Kotthoff, 2006; Strain et al., 2015), across cultures (Davies 2003, Rogerson-Revell 2007, Murata 2014), or on the responses of humor (Bell, 2009, 2013; Kuiper, 2014). However, in many cases, conversation seems to be the most frequent source of language data in these researches (Dynel, 2014). Though being dyadic in nature, humor sometimes presents itself in a non-conversational manner. This does not mean it is monadic. Rather, the interaction process takes place in a one-way direction linguistically, while the receiver interacts with mostly non-linguistic responses. The situation of public speaking is one such activity.

Public speaking is the process or act of delivering a speech or presentation involving an individual speaking directly to a live audience in a structured and deliberate manner in order to inform, influence, or entertain them. It is a vital means of communication and a crucial skill in any area of success (Carnegie, 1990; Lucas, 2005). Recent research into humor use and reception in the classroom (Azizinezhad & Hashemi, 2011; Reershemius, 2012; Wang, 2014), identified markers of humor as well as the various social or academic functions of humor in these public speeches. On the other hand, relatively little research has been devoted to understanding the mechanisms of humor (Reddington & Waring, 2015). I propose to study the humor mechanisms in public speaking, in terms of how humor is designed, produced, presented and received in public speeches of various forms, hoping to describe the strategy of humor application in public speaking.

2. Humor in Public Speaking

Public speaking is considered one of the greatest sources of fear and the highest causes of stress for most people, yet it is practically unavoidable over the course of one's lifetime (Miller, 2011). Public speaking anxiety is by far the most prevalent type of social phobia (Hancock et al., 2010). Humor is deemed by many as useful in public speaking because by integrating humor people can reduce the amount of anxiety they feel by relieving distress and change negative thinking patterns (Sultanoff, 1994; Wooten, 1996; Rashidi et al., 2014). In addition to that, it plays a certain role in contributing to the effectiveness of the speeches (Davidson, 2003). As Freud (1989) stated, jokes and laughter allow people to express hidden feelings. In the case of public speaking, both the speaker and the listener are able to express feelings through the projection and reception of humor. Mulholland (1994) believed that humor which generates shared amusement is powerfully persuasive. It in turn adds to the speaker's credibility. Welker (1977) suggested that humor serves as an attention getter and tension reducer.

Scholars have studied humor in different genres of public speaking in various ways. Smyth (1974) believed that any person who is to give a speech should insert a little humor or levity into it. Gruner (1985) pointed out that there is evidence to suggest that humor may be a wise communicative strategy for public speakers to use. Gruner et al. (1993) studied the hypotheses that an audience's laughter tends to generate other laughter and hypothesized that speakers using humor that elicits laughter by an audience would be rated high on `character,' 'authoritativeness', and 'dynamism'. Bjorklund (1985) made an investigation of the joking that occurs during meetings of a club which gathers weekly to practice public speaking. In this setting where humor is expected as part of a good speaking performance, she assumed that the use of humor can establish rapport with an audience and aid in persuasion. …

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