The Lighter Side of Public Speaking

Every now and then, it happens. Often, there is no explanation. It catches us unawares. But when it happens, we are almost always powerless to stop it. I’m talking about the giggles – the uncontrollable urge to laugh, precisely when we should not be laughing.

The giggles can hit public speakers at anytime. Nobody is safe. Here in Switzerland this week, to the good-natured amusement of all, the outgoing Minister of Finance and former President, Hans-Rudolf Merz, kept dissolving into laughter in the Swiss Parliament while discussing the details of a bill on … wait for it … imported meat!

You do not have to speak Swiss German to appreciate the moment. Perhaps he was relaxed, knowing that he will soon step down from office, but whatever the reason, the 68-year-old Merz struggled mightily with such phrases as “the customs administration published so-called Swiss explanations regarding customs tariffs for meat”.

My favourite part is from 1:10 to 1:30 when Merz tries to say “for example, Bündnerfleisch” which is a delicious type of dried meat produced in eastern Switzerland. (It goes perfectly with raclette and a nice white Swiss wine.)

So what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? There are a couple of things you can try, though none of them is guaranteed to work:

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Take a sip of water.
  3. Think of something very sad or serious.
  4. Count backwards from 10 or do some quick mathematical calculations in your head.
  5. Bite down on your lip, tongue or the inside of your cheeks (but not too hard).
  6. Remind yourself that you are there for the audience.

You can find some other ideas here, although not all of them are practical for people who are on stage in front of an audience.

Ultimately, you might have to wait for the moment to pass. But if you have a sympathetic audience and the occasion is appropriate, do what Merz did and enjoy the moment.

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About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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