The Right Body Language for Humor


You’ve probably heard of the so-called “55%, 38%, 7% rule” which states that 55% of the meaning of communication is body language, 38% is in tonality, and 7% rests in the words themselves.

Is it really what you thought it to be?

Here’s the part you may not know…

Professor Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA), is credited as the originator of the “55%, 38%, 7% Rule”.

He and his colleagues conducted studies on communication patterns and published them in professional journals in 1967.

In their study, subjects listened to nine recorded words, three meant to convey liking (“honey”, “dear” and “thanks”), three to convey neutrality (“maybe”, “really” and “oh”) and three to convey disliking (“don’t”, “brute” and “terrible”). The words were spoken with varying tonalities and subjects were asked to guess the emotions behind the spoken words.

The finding was simply that tone carried more meaning than the individual words themselves. But Mehrabian combined the statistical results of both studies and came up with…

You guessed it — the “55%, 38%, 7% Rule”.

And I bet you had a gross misunderstanding of this “rule”.

The reason I’m telling you all those is that I want you to look at “The Humor Tonality” in proper perspective.

I wish we could assign a specific number to how we make women laugh, but we can’t. Your tonality might account for as much as 60% of the overall effect of your speech, or it might only account for 15% in certain situations.

What I can tell you is that your tonality often determines whether you’re funny or not. Have you noticed that some guys are “good at telling jokes”? But have you ever paid attention to their voice quality when they made everyone laugh?

Your tonality has to be upbeat and suggest funniness if you want to be good at making women laugh.

Think for a moment how a funny talk show host would speak to women. How about a professional stand-up comedian? A movie star? A priest? A politician? You can play different roles when talking to women. And that can be very funny.

Vary your volume, pitch, speech rate, etc. to match the conversation topic, mood, and surroundings. Control your breathing rate so you appear casual and assured. If you find it hard to control your speech, use your gestures as pacers.

For example, you can speed up or slow down your hand movements to help varying your tonality to convey a wider range of moods and meanings. More often than not, the tonality (as well as body language) in which you say something funny has more impact on the listener than the actual content.

Let’s also talk about something called sub-context. Have you ever noticed that many skilful joke tellers like to make pauses? In that moment of pause, they create sub-context of suspension and funniness. Have you also noticed many stand-up comedians often show a particular look—astonished, annoyed, dazed—depending on the story they tell on the stage? And they often like to “freeze at” those looks without saying anything as the crowd goes wild. That’s the power of sub-context.

You also need different styles of tonalities in different situations. Here’re some useful tonalities you’ll probably need.

The Soothing

It’s the kind of “breathy” voice which couples often converse in. When two people like each other, they also tend to speak in soothing tones.

Exhale more while speaking and lower your volume as if you want to express your affection through your voice. We speak with soothing tonality when no threat is present, which is the main reason why we tend to speak to a child with this type of tonality.

The Baritone

The typical voice of the hero in a Hollywood action movie. Baritone voice or tone is perceived as masculine, calm, and being in control. Lower the pitch of your voice (but make sure you’re comfortable) and slow down. Make pauses during speech to convey a richer meaning beyond words.

You can practice this though singing. If you’ve ever listened to a choir practise the whole gamut of pitches, you should have an idea of how to do that on your own.

The Energetic

The typical “Anthony Robbins voice”. Speak with enthusiasm and at a faster rate if you can deal with it.

The energetic voice is also breathy but the opposite of soothing. You speak with an energetic tonality as though you’re deliberately suppressing your emotion, which can actually magnify the impact.

How would you tell small kids an adventure story? It’ll be something like that. Just tone down the exaggeration a little bit and you’re good to go.

The Dramatic

If you’ve ever watched a Shakespeare play, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of variation in the voice quality and a strong exhibition of different emotions. And remember how Agent Smith talks in the movie Matrix? That’s dramatic.

The dramatic tonality is not suitable for general conversation. It is used to add humor or dynamism to the conversation occasionally. You should couple this type of tonality with a reasonable amount of acting (which we’ll talk about later). Don’t overdo it otherwise you may annoy or even scare the woman you’re talking to.

Practice by acting out any drama you see on stage or television. Or you can read out those play scripts in the most dramatic voice possible. You might even want to record yourself and fine-tune it so it doesn’t sound unnatural or scary.

Posture, Gestures and Movement

They say actions speak louder than words.

That is absolutely true.

Since the content of your speech only accounts for less than 10% of your communication, whether or how much you can make women laugh is more often determined by the way you talk to them. You will certainly agree that even the funniest joke in the world recited by a dull voice with a rigid body language may not make any one laugh, whereas a funny guy can make women laugh genuinely with one single gesture.

In other words, your posture, gesture, and movement don’t just enhance the effect of your communication but determine it.

On the other hand, women can tell a lot just from your body language (posture in particular), so you have to use powerful and purposeful gestures with a confident posture when you’re communicating with women.

To achieve a humorous effect, you need to adopt funny and dramatic body language. Observe how Jim Carrey acts in his movies and model him.

Also, make sure she “gets it”, instead of mistaking your acts for real awkwardness.

Here’s a trick to increase the intimacy between you and the woman you’re talking to in a subtle way. Move closer to her gradually and naturally during conversation. If you speak with more and more enthusiasm and affection, she won’t notice it. If she backs away a little bit, try again at slower rate. But stop if it happens more than 3 times.

The distance between two people talking has an enormous impact on the development of relationship, often at a subconscious level. Many people don’t realize that. If you want proof, experiment moving away gradually from a friend and I bet he or she will move towards you to maintain the distance otherwise it’ll be uncomfortable.

Most of us know that the more intimate two persons are, the nearer they stay to each other, but few realize the reverse is also true. And humor works best at these times to diffuse tension and increase intimacy.

If things go well, try touching her a little bit. First on the forearms or shoulders… Or you can touch her accidentally. Such simple actions can do wonders.

Here’re some more tips on posture and gestures. Remember, when it comes to body language, it’s all about details:

  • In order to project a confident image, walk upright, keep your head up, and hold your shoulders back
  • Slow down movements from time to time because that creates mystery and intrigue
  • Show that you’re open and inviting by opening your palm and arms
  • Check her body language to ensure she’s comfortable
  • Nod your head frequently. Research shows that nodding will effectively increase the conversation duration. It also helps building rapport tremendously.

Facial Expressions

The human face is controlled by a large number of different muscles and can display a multitude of emotions through facial expressions.

Research shows that men with more aptitude in controlling their facial expressions as a means to communicate are professionally more successful.

I believe such men are also more successful with women.

And there is no doubt that facial expressions play a crucial role in making women laugh.

In the humor context, facial expressions are more than smiling or gazing into a woman’s eyes. A facial expression sends non-verbal cues, signals laughter, and is the most direct and powerful tool in conveying to her that you’re a funny guy and laughing is the right thing to do.

Actors typically have richer facial expressions than average people. Just observe stand-up comedians on stage and you’ll realize that their facials expressions contribute a great deal to the overall “humor effect”. Even if you turn off the sound when watching them on TV, you may still know when they are saying something funny.