The Power (And Danger) Of Using Sarcasm In Your Next Speech

Satire should come with a danger sticker
Satire should come with a danger sticker
Image Credit

As public speakers who are constantly looking for new ways to connect with our audience, literary devices such as satire, irony, and sarcasm can seem like tempting tools to use. However, when it comes to sarcasm we need to tread very carefully – this is a public speaking tool that can come back to bit us if we don’t use it correctly!

What Is Sarcasm?

Before we can have any sort of talk about how public speakers can (or cannot) use sarcasm in our next speech, we should probably make sure that we all have the same understanding of what this literary device actually is. In order to do that, we need to turn to our friends over at Merriam-Webster in order to get a proper definition of just exactly what sarcasm is:

sar•casm noun \ˈsär-ˌka-zəm\
: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny

This definition does a nice job of capturing both the power and the danger that comes from using sarcasm. You can see that it can be a humorous device that has a hard edge to it. That’s why we have to be so very careful when we use sarcasm in our speeches.

Interestingly enough, the Greek roots of the word sarcasm translate as “to bite the lips in rage”. Clearly this is not a tool to be trifled with! Used properly, sarcasm can be a source of much humor for your audience. However, there are a number of dangers that come along with this tool.

Why Is Sarcasm So Dangerous For Public Speakers?

One of the biggest dangers that comes along with sarcasm is that there is the very real chance that your audience will take a sarcastic comment by you at face value. It’s this possibility of miscommunication that can cause the biggest issue when we choose to use sarcasm in our speeches.

As public speakers, we have a number of different literary devices that we can use. These include satire and irony. Both of these tools can be used to show reproach or scorn. However, when you use sarcasm to show this, there is a harsher tone associated with it.

The society that we live in has a basically ambivalent response to sarcasm. Where you can quickly get yourself into trouble is when you direct your sarcasm towards an individual. That’s a lot of negative speaking power being directed at a single person and your audience may come away thinking that you were too rough on that person.

What Does This Mean For You?

The #1 job of any speaker is to find a way to make sure that their speech is going to connect with their audience. There is a wide array of literary techniques that can be used to make to show off the importance of public speaking and one of these is sarcasm. However, unlike many other techniques, sarcasm comes with a special set of cautions.

Sarcasm, if not used correctly, can come across to your audience as being mean spirited. One of the reasons for this is that satire is more often than not directed at an individual. Sarcasm is generally not meant to be taken at face value; however, your audience may not know this. What you intended to be a bit of playful fun can come across as an attack on someone who is either in the room or not present – neither of which is considered to be a fair fight.

As public speakers we need to make a personal decision: are we going to use sarcasm when we give a speech. Yes, this is a powerful tool that can help us to show the benefits of public speaking; however, the dangers that come along with using it and having our words misinterpreted can be quite severe. There is no one correct answer to this question, we all have to make our own decision. The good news is that you can make a decision and then, if you feel comfortable with it, you can change your mind later on.

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

Question For You: If you use sarcasm and your audience misinterprets it, what do you think you should to solve the problem?

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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 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 is a speech really over? Is it when the last word has passed your lips? Is it when you step down off of the stage? It turns out that neither of these answers is correct. Your next speech won’t be over until your audience tells you that it’s over.