Let’s face it: adding humor to a speech is a hard thing to do. As speakers we can end up spending a lot of time trying to determine just exactly what will cause our next audience to laugh at the right parts of our speech. There are a lot of different things that we need to keep in mind. Creating effective humor that will work in a speech can be a real challenge. The good news is that this can be done. What you need to do is to follow the following ten-point checklist for adding humor to a speech. Get this right and you can be guaranteed that your next speech will cause your audience to laugh at all of the right spots.
A Humor Checklist
Speakers are like everyone else. When we turn on a light switch, we expect results. What do we expect? We expect the light to go on. If it doesn’t, we will run through a checklist in our head to correct the problem. Is the blub plugged in? Is the bulb burned out? Perhaps is a fuse blown? The same process should be used when attempting to use humor in your next presentation. You will want the audience to laugh, and if they don’t, you are going to need to figure out how to fix the problem.
- Will your attempt at humor end with a surprise? Surprise is a key element of comedy. You will often hear storytellers say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” They realize that if you already know the ending, their joke has lost its power. Your ending must be unexpected, perhaps a twist, a surprise. The suddenness of that surprise is the jolt that will produce the laughter that you want. Whatever your punch line is, make sure the audience doesn’t see it coming. During your speech you might have to misdirect listeners – lead them to think in one direction and then suddenly redirect them to your real meaning.
- Is your humor going to be based on recognizable reality? Each joke or tale you tell must be in part truthful. The listeners can only respond to your humor if they recognize the reality you have based it on. Good news: this doesn’t mean you can’t be whimsical. This truth doesn’t have to be the kind you swear to in a court of law. It can be distorted, exaggerated, and hypothetical, as long as you feel that your audience can relate to it. You want people to be thinking: “Yes, that has happened to me, too”.
- Will you be heard and understood? People cannot laugh at your joke they don’t hear it. In delivering humor, you have to speak loudly enough to be heard by your entire audience or you have to use a dependable sound system that will accomplish that for you. In addition, you should speak clearly and distinctly, so the audience can understand the meaning of your message. Your chosen vocabulary should be appropriate for your audience. If you use words they don’t understand or phrases they’re not familiar with then they’re really not hearing your joke.
- Is your humor going to be current? Any humor that you use should be up-to-date. You’ll want to avoid any humor nostalgia. Your stories don’t need to be about things that are happening right now, but they should be appropriate for current times. Make sure to use contemporary references and ideas.
- Is your humor going to be concise? This doesn’t necessarily mean that shorter is better. We need to understand that there are at least two parts to every joke. The first is the setup, which furnishes information, and the second is the punch line, which is the surprise twist to that information. Both are essential to making an audience laugh. In this case economy may be a better word than brevity. Being concise means giving the listeners all the information they need to appreciate and understand the punch line, but not offering unnecessary information that will weaken the effect. A workable rule of thumb for humor in a speech: a joke that should be short and is, is better than a joke that should be short and isn’t.
- Does your humor create a vivid image in your audience’s mind? Although speakers have to work primarily with words, our audiences “see” images. The more vivid a picture you can create in their minds, the better response you’ll receive.
- Are you letting the audience know when they should laugh? Presenting humor is much like conducting an orchestra: You are in charge of controlling the tempo. Not only do you want your audience to laugh, you also want them to laugh at the proper time. Therefore, you, when you are playing the role of the conductor, you must tell them when to laugh. You can do this through voice inflection, gestures and facial expressions, and with the phrasing of your story. As you prepare your speech, know exactly where you demand laughter from your audience. If you don’t know when you want them to laugh, how can they be expected to?
- Are your references applicable and appropriate for this audience? Much humor consists of comparing two different ideas. One can be the basic topic; the other can be a humorous reference to that topic. In creating humor, you’ll want to search for as many references as you can. The more you discover, the more ammunition you’ll have with which to generate effective comedy. Just make sure they’re both applicable and appropriate.
- Is your humor going to be right for this audience? For that matter, is this audience right for your humor? Certainly two components of humor are the speaker’s skill and the speech’s quality. However, you also need to consider another key element: your audience. The more your humor applies to the people you’ll be directing it at, the better a response it will get. You need to perform material your listeners will appreciate. Remember that your audience is the final judge of your comedy. If they laugh, then it was funny. If they don’t laugh, it still needs work.
Is your humor both clever and incisive? You need to understand that humor is all around us. It’s up to the speaker to uncover it and expose it to their listeners. As a speaker, your duty is to uncover truths, idiosyncrasies, ironies and contradictions, and then couch them in a unique way that produces laughter from your audience.
What All Of This Means For You
As speakers who want to find a way to connect with our next audience, we understand just how powerful humor can be. The challenge that we face is that just simply coming up with something that we believe will be funny for our next audience is not enough. We also have to create a way to work this new content into our next speech. We need a way to do this and we really need to come up with a way to do this correctly over and over again. What we need is a humor checklist.
What speakers need is a checklist that they can consult when they want to add more humor to their next speech. This checklist needs to ask us if our humor has a surprise. If it will be heard and understood. If it will be concise and current. Will we create a vivid image in our audience’s mind? Is our humor right for this audience? Is our humor clever? If we can check off these items, then we will have created a speech that will without a doubt make our audience laugh.
Creating humor is hard work for any speaker. In order to be able to add it to a speech and create something that will appeal to our next audience, we need to do it right. Creating a humor checklist is what we all need. This will allow us to make sure that we check off all of the different things that we’ll need to do in order to get the laughs that we are looking for. Create your own checklist and then stand back and wait for the laughs.
Question For You: Can you think of anything else to add to this checklist?
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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
When we are giving a speech, we often want to capture our audience’s attention and make sure that they understand what we are trying to tell them. More often than not, what we do is to create a set of PowerPoint slides that we’ll then display to our audience during our presentation. The only problem with doing this is that is exactly what all of the other speakers out there are doing. This can make your next presentation look pretty much like anyone else’s presentation. However, it turns out that there is something that you can do about this. There are other tools that you can use to create material that will back up your presentation. Say hello to Presi.