Not Funny: What’s A Speaker To Do About Unacceptable Humor?

by drjim on July 20, 2010

When Speaking, You Do Really Have To Be Careful About What You Say

When Speaking, You Do Really Have To Be Careful About What You Say

Humor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well, maybe not – simply because although I do like using humor in a speech; however, it’s a tricky beast and it can turn on you at any moment. Just how is a speaker supposed to determine when some form of humor is inappropriate for the audience that he / she is speaking to?

The Test

Humor is a powerful tool for any speaker. The right words used at the right moment during your speech can cause your audience to laugh, loosen up, and start to really get into what you are talking about. However, humor has a dark side.

Once those words have left your mouth, there is no getting them back. What this means is that you’ve got to figure out if you really want to say them before you utter them.

What’s needed here is some sort of litmus test that would allow you to make that yes/no decision BEFORE you firmly stick your foot into your mouth. Professional speaker John Kinde believes that the best way to test something before you say it is to ask yourself if you’d be comfortable saying it in front of a corporate audience if you had been paid to come and talk to them? Now that’s food for thought…

Danger Will Robinson, Danger!

Look, if you want to minimize your chances of getting into trouble by saying something that you will end up regretting later on, there are some topics thatshould never find their way into your speeches. You probably already know some of these: religion, skin color, and politics.

What you might forget is that there are a whole bunch of other topics that you should plan on staying away from. These include anything about the human body (functions, sizes, etc.), people’s sexual orientation, and, of course, curse words.

The list is actually much longer and you’re going to have to use your common sense to figure out what should be on it. Things change and you need to make sure that you don’t find yourself giving a speech in the middle of a minefield.

The Problem With Your Audience

Is it possible to so carefully construct your next speech that you will avoid offending anyone who happens to be sitting in your audience? Nope. Someone is always going to take offense at something that you say.

What this means is that instead of trying to avoid offending everyone, you should instead try to offend as few people as possible. How many is too many?

Estimates vary, but most professional speakers agree that ticking off less than 10% of you audience is what you should be shooting for.

What All Of This Means For You

As a speaker you have a responsibility to reach out and connect with your audience – to make an impact in their lives. Using humor is a great way to make this happen.

However, humor has a dark side and if used inappropriately you won’t be connecting with your audience, instead you’ll be offending them. Picking what you include (and don’t) in your speech is a key way to play it safe.

Give all of this, sometimes you’ll screw up. You’ll end up offending too many people based on what you included in your speech. When this happens, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and be more careful next time.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the best way to determine if a piece of humor is over the line for a given audience?

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