Sometimes Waiting Makes You Sound Funnier

by drjim on May 17, 2016

Sometimes adding pauses to your speech can make your humor funnier

Sometimes adding pauses to your speech can make your humor funnier

Image Credit: JulieFaith

When I give a speech, at the right spots in my speech I would like my audience to laugh. I must confess to never being quite sure how best to go about making this happen. I have spent a great deal of time studying how to add humor to a speech, but my attempts to do so do not always pay off. It turns out that humor is much more than just the words that you say. It also has a lot to do with how you go about saying them – and how you use pauses to make them be even funnier.

It’s All About The Pause

When we are giving a speech, a pause is a powerful tool that we need to use very carefullyin order to fully maximize the importance of public speaking. When we are trying to get our audience to laugh, what is going to be important is to build a sense of tension before we deliver our punchline. The pause tool is a key part of how we go about building this tension.

The reason that we use a pause is because it will allow us to add punch to our punchline. The relationship between tension and your audience’s laughter is all about comic timing. As speakers what we need to realize is that laughter is going to be a natural stress reliever for our audience. It allows muscle tension to melt away. What we need to understand is that there is a relationship between tension, laughter, and the release of that tension.

As speakers what we are going to want to do with our speeches is to use them to build a sense of tension within our audience. Once we have accomplished this, we can use a pause to enhance the sense of tension that our audience is currently feeling. Next, we can share the punchline of our humorous statement with them. The final step is the one that too many speakers forget to include: we then need to include another pause after the punchline in order to permit our punchline to sink in with our audience.

Anticipation Is What Will Make Your Audience Laugh

Laughter is all about the tension. It turns out that anticipation is yet another form of tension. As speakers we need to understand that when we use a pause before a punchline this will further set up our audience’s anticipation of what we’re going to say next.

It turns out that when we are trying to get our audience to laugh, it is the punchline that is the trigger that will make this happen. However, the most important part of the punchline is what is called the “punch word”. The single word that makes the joke happen. When we use a pause just before launching into the punchline, it allows us to focus more of our audience’s attention onto this punch word.

All too often when speakers are delivering the punchline in their speech, they get their audience to laugh, and then they plunge on. When they do this they don’t really give their audience time to appreciate the humor that has just been shared with them. What we need to learn to do is to pause after we have delivered our punch line. By doing this you are showing your audience that they have your permission to go ahead and laugh.

What All Of This Means For You

Humor is a powerful tool that ever speaker needs to learn how to master in order to maximize the benefits of public speaking. If you are able to find ways to effectively use humor in your next speech, then you’ll be able to connect with your audience, refresh their outlook, and build bonds to them. However, in order for you to successfully do this, you are going to have to learn how to use pauses in order to make your humor work for you.

The reason that we use pauses in our speeches is because it allows us to build tension. Our audience is now hanging on what we are going to say next. By using a pause to build the tension, we will cause our audience’s laugher to be that much more intense. Pausing before you get to the punch line of your joke will build anticipation in your audience. Using a pause in this way allows you to focus your audience’s attention on your punch line’s key word.

As speakers we really don’t have all that many tools with which to work. We only have our voices and the words that make up our speech. Adding humor to your next speech will allow you to maximize the impact of your speech and will allow you to connect more fully with your audience. Pauses will boost the tension and anticipation that your audience will feel and will enhance the impact of your humor. Add some pauses and then wait for the laughs to come rolling in!

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

Question For You: Do you think that you could add too many pauses to a humorous speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

One of the most difficult things that a speaker can make happen is to get his or her next audience to laugh during the speech that they are giving. No, I’m not talking about having your audience laugh AT you, instead I’m talking about trying to get them to laugh WITH you. Some of us are naturally funny people; however, all of us struggle when we’re on a stage and we’re trying to make a room of strangers laugh even though we understand the importance of public speaking. What we need are three tips on how to make this easier to do.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matt Pocock May 19, 2016 at 9:19 am

Nice – there’s a phrase in jazz called tension and resolution, where you build up tension (for instance, by playing notes in a different key to the one the rest of the band is in) and then resolving it by slipping back into something simple. The bigger the tension, the sweeter the release – maybe this is similar?

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