Does Humor Have A Place In A Business Speech?

If done correctly, a speaker can eliminate the boring from a business speech
If done correctly, a speaker can eliminate the boring from a business speech Image Credit: York College of PA

Just think for a moment about the last speech that you gave to a business audience. How did it go over? I suspect that you had a series of topics that you wanted to cover and you created a speech that allowed you to do this. You gave your speech, the audience clapped politely and then you sat down. Good news – you shared the importance of public speaking. However, did anyone really get anything out of your speech? Did you really connect with your audience? There is a good chance that you didn’t – most business speeches are boring. What can a speaker do to deliver a business speech that will be remembered?

Does Humor Have A Place In Business?

Every audience loves humor in speeches. Many speakers go to great lengths to incorporate it into their presentations — however, there is one area in which many think humor has no place. That is the world of business. Are they correct? I have seen even the funniest speaker turn as flat as a pancake when presenting a business report. However what we may be missing is the fact that audiences appreciate speakers who can interject humor into business presentations. Speakers have been told for ages that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, because if we do, nobody else will. What speakers need to understand is that humor in business works, with one important caveat. When you are using humor in a business presentation you need to keep your professionalism and credibility.

Humor Can Be Found In Pain

There is a fundamental law of humor – humor consists of both truth and pain. What is humor? Some say that humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully. To be very clear, we are not talking about being hostile to your audience. Speakers need to realize that hostile humor that belittles an audience. This means that it should be avoided at all costs. In contrast to what we should not do, “empathic humor” has a positive intent and therefore serves best in a business situation. With that in mind, we need to find humor that your audience can identify with.

Speakers need to choose areas they can relate to with a little bit of personal pain. Unfamiliar places, traffic jams, software updates, email ping pong and tedious company processes are good examples from the world of business. See if you can tap into these situations for humorous material to use in your presentations. Speakers need to realize that simply maintaining an audience’s attention span is an example of pain, particularly in remote settings. Guess what? That this, in itself, is potentially humorous.

Celebrate The Clash

A great source of humorous material for speakers comes from what is called the “clash of context.” This technique introduces an element of surprise to your audience. Clash of context is about situations or comments that clash unexpectedly with the “normal” expectation of an observer. How can a speaker find examples of clashes? One way is to consider a painful situation you identified and ask yourself what would be the extreme opposite of something that would “normally” be expected to happen. Next you can spice it up. After brainstorming and thinking about a potential clash, now it’s time for you to spice it up. You can go about doing this by exaggerate words and their delivery.

Always Find Ways To Interact With Your Audience

Interaction with your audience is a great way to potentially produce humorous situations that you can use. Something that you can try is using closed questions – those that require a specific answer, or only a yes or no reply when trying to interject humor into a business presentation. The reason that these work so well is because you can nicely interject a clash of context into interactions. Note that in business you don’t necessarily want to go after the big laughs that might win a speech contest. Rather, you are trying to see smiles on people’s faces and an expression of thanks for making a potentially dry topic a bit lighter.

What All Of This Means For You

The one thing that no speaker wants to do is to give a speech that nobody will be able to remember. However, when we are called on to give a speech to a business audience, this is exactly what can happen – we can fail to deliver on the benefits of public speaking. Business speeches tend to be both dry and boring. If we want to make our next business speech better than everyone else’s then we need to find a way to inject some humor into it. By doing this we can create a speech that everyone will remember.

The good news for speakers is that humor does have a place in business presentations. We can use humor to lighten the mood when we are presenting dense data. We can also use humor to get our audience to remember what we are telling them. We need to understand that a lot of humor can be found in the pain that both we as speakers and our audience experience on an everyday basis. If we want to get our audience to laugh with us, then we need to use the clashing of two ideas that don’t normally fit together. We can create humor with our audience simply by taking the time to interact with them during our speech.

Note that it takes time – even for the best speakers – to write and test humor. One must also test your humorous situations in business presentations. If your material doesn’t get a reaction from your audience, refine or replace it, or try something different next time. Test one of the strategies we’ve discussed and see what works. Always take notes of when your audience laughs, and learn from it. Speakers need to realize that humor is a process, and it’s worth making the effort!

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

Question For You: How often do you think that a business audience should laugh during a business 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 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

Our job as a speaker is to stand in front of an audience and deliver a speech to them. What we would like to be able to do while doing this is to find a way to use the importance of public speaking in order to connect with our audience. Where this can become tricky to do is when our audience is different from us. They may come from a different location, they may speak a different language or they may be a different gender. No matter, as speakers we need to find a way to bridge the gap between us and find a way to connect with them. Just exactly how should we go about doing this?