My husband’s Granny Jordan lived to be ninety without a broken bone. But that’s not to say she didn’t fall often. Whether she had an equilibrium problem or was just clumsy, the family never decided. Suffice it to say, she never hurt herself badly enough to decide to see a doctor for testing. And she never owned up to being clumsy.
It became a family joke when her teenagers left for school in the morning, “Now, Mama, don’t go out to get the mail until we get home. We don’t want you to fall off that curb—what would the neighbors say about finding you in the gutter?”
Later in life, she lived with her daughter and son-in-law. One night she got up to go to the restroom, and when she stood up from the toilet bowl, she tipped herself over into the nearby bathtub. Not wanting to wake the “kids” at two o’clock in the morning, she just pulled a towel over her arms and lay there until their alarm clock went off.
When someone teased about the incident, Granny Jordan always responded, “I only fall enough to stay in shape.”
If you’d like to be as witty as Granny Jordan, consider these winning ways as a conversationalist:
Say it before you overthink it. Otherwise, your moment will pass. It’s much like the problem I have getting on a fast-moving escalator. If I’m in a hurry and approach a fast, steep escalator, I step on it without a problem. But if I stop dead-still at the top of that escalator, it seems much harder to step on. I often stand there letting one stair, then the second stair, then the third stair pass by, thinking I’ll catch the next one, or the next one, or maybe the next one. Momentum, once stopped, seems difficult to regain. So it is with conversation. Once you hesitate with quick wit, it melts in your mouth. The moment passes. Lost forever.
Plan for spontaneity. As Mark Twain once observed: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Professional speakers call them “saver” lines—funny remarks to “save the day” when common things go awry like technology failures, memory lapses, or audience disruptions. For example, when delivering a speech, a colleague of mine actually fell off the stage and landed sprawling on the floor in front of her audience. Her saver line: “I’ll now take questions from the floor.” Likewise, if you typically find yourself in the same situations repeatedly, develop some reusable lines that will seem spontaneous to those around you.
Get physical. Body language can be as witty as spoken language. A wry smile at just the right spot. A raised eyebrow. Shrugged shoulders and a flip of the wrist. Such physical humor pumped into a conversation at an unsuspecting moment can generate the same laugh as the wittiest remark.
Adopt a lighthearted frame of mind—at least temporarily. It’s difficult to be witty when you’re stressed. Give yourself permission to speak up or react “in the moment.” If you amuse, great. If not, play it straight. Simply move ahead in the conversation as if you meant the line to be straightforward. Nothing lost.
Wit and wisdom call for playfulness and perspective—neither of which show up when you take yourself too seriously. So relax, reflect, and let the words flow.