It has been fifteen years. I can't laugh it off.
January 10, 2013 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I teach and I have a nervous laugh. I cannot get rid of it.

I teach in higher ed and have been doing public speaking for fifteen years in some capacity or another. I am usually described as a dynamic teacher, but I always laugh. Always. I have a nervous laugh and I laugh after a lot of the things I say. I have worked on this for as long as I have been doing school (in various capacities.)

I have been told to be more mindful. As a teacher, I can't really be any more mindful than I am as I present my work and/or lead activities.

I have tried repeatedly to meditate (Mindfulness in Plain English). I have never been successful.

I am not uncomfortable in front of students. I have taught high school with less receptive audiences and done well.

I do this in my personal life as well and people seem to get annoyed by this. So I have no clue how to stop. Any ideas?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total)
I used to say "um" when I spoke publicly, and one thing that helped me was videotaping myself while I spoke publicly. I think that watching the video triggered some embarrassment circuits, or something, that made me more motivated to be mindful.

Another strategy that helped my friend who had a tic was to set small goals. "Don't nervously laugh in the next hour" "... in the next 3 hours" "... in the next day" etc. Over time he could go longer and longer periods without doing it.

Or just accept this quirky and beautiful feature about yourself! Because you are human and nobody's perfect. But that's not what you asked.
posted by kellybird at 8:08 PM on January 10, 2013

Work with a speech and presentation coach.

More woo-woo option: hypnosis.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:11 PM on January 10, 2013

One of the most engaging and interesting lecturers I've ever had did this. It was weird at first and then endearing (because he was extremely good at his job).

Otherwise, I would get professional help - what Sidhedevil said.
posted by heyjude at 8:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Toastmasters is a good way to work on this sort of thing without having to do it on the job. Most clubs assign an Ah-Counter to keep track of filler words and verbal tics like this; they'll report on how well you did after you've spoken. Some clubs have the Ah-Counter do something audible, like using a clicker or dropping a coin into a jar, so that you become more aware of it as you're speaking.

Since you're only interested in working on this one problem, you might try asking someone to help you this way on an individual basis. Or you can just visit a Toastmasters club or two and decide whether you think it'll help you.
posted by asperity at 8:20 PM on January 10, 2013

I went to a school with a lot of weirdo professors with their fair share of quirks. The best ones generally said at the beginning of the quarter, "look, I do this [weird thing] when I speak. It's a bad habit of mine. If it truly bothers you, please let me know, but in the meantime let's all just accept that [I'm a nutbag] and make do. Moving on..."

I'm in the address-it-and-accept-it camp. And you may find that your nervous laughter decreases when you're less concerned about doing it!
posted by phunniemee at 8:26 PM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

Step 1: buy a small water pistol.
Step 2: enlist a good friend (ideally someone you live with)
Step 3: arrange to spend the day with them
Step 4: give them the water pistol and instruct them to spray you every time you do the nervous laugh
Step 5: repeat as often as necessary
Step 6: profit!!!

Seriously, that is how I trained myself out of saying "um" when I give speeches. Actually it was an English teacher in high school with the water pistol. NONE of her students used to say "um" when speaking by the end of the semester.
posted by lollusc at 9:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wonder if some sort of training to help you improve your breathing would help. When I feel the urge to laugh nervously, I just silently exhale, and I usually realize then that I've been breathing too shallowly. Maybe your laughing could partly come from your body's attempt to get you to breathe more completely.
posted by ceiba at 9:07 PM on January 10, 2013

If you know when you are going to laugh, slow your pace down and focus on not laughing at that juncture. Allow for a pause. Repeat slowing down until your pattern changes and you no longer laugh. I managed to change one of my lecture quirks by this method. Good luck.
posted by effluvia at 9:40 PM on January 10, 2013

Cognitive behavioral therapy is great for ingrained stuff like this.
posted by gingerest at 1:34 AM on January 11, 2013

Non-expert suggestion: Maybe your students could help you. Give them each a kazoo or bell or something and ask them to sound off every time you do the nervous laugh. They would love it.
posted by lakeroon at 2:24 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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