Today is April Fool’s Day, but this post is not a joke. In honor of April being National Humor Month, I’ve created this guide to infusing humor into your speeches.
There are many reasons humor should be a natural part of most presentations. I’ve covered them before, so I won’t go into them in detail here. The two main reasons you want to infuse humor into a speech is to engage the audience and make you more relatable.
Before I go into the hows of infusing humor into your speech, I want to share what not to do.
The Don’ts of Infusing Humor in Speeches
Don’t Start with a Joke
The first words out of your mouth set the tone of your speech. Since a presentation is not a stand-up routine, beginning with a joke sets the wrong expectations and could hurt your credibility as a speaker.
In fact, under most circumstances, unless you are a natural comedian, leave jokes out of your speeches altogether. For one, it is really hard to integrate a joke into a speech without stopping the flow of what you’re saying. For another, a joke could undermine your message.
It is O.K. to be humorous – the quality of being funny. It can be a bad idea to tell jokes, the intent being solely to get a laugh.
Don’t Use Offensive Humor
The best way to get your audience to tune you out is to offend them, especially with unrelated offensive humor. Off-color remarks don’t belong in professional presentations.
That said, do your audience research. It is quite possible that something humorous to one audience will be offensive to another. Make sure you err on the side of not being distasteful.
Don’t Add Humor to Your Speech … Find What Is Already There!
The laughter you inspire with your speech should flow naturally from your message, your examples, and your stories. Shoehorning humor where it doesn’t fit will derail your presentation just as much as jokes and off-color humor.
Don’t Rush through Your Delivery
This is called “stepping on the laughter.” Use strategic pauses to not only elicit the laugh but allow it to run its natural course. If you get to the punch line too quickly, your audience might miss it. And, if you start sharing your next point before the laughter dies down, your audience won’t hear what you have to say.
Don’t Overdo the Humor
Unless the purpose of your speech is to be funny, use humor sparingly to help break up or lighten more serious information, to wake up the audience and to help drive home a point.
The Do’s of Infusing Humor in Speeches
Don’t Overdo Self-Deprecating Humor
Making fun of yourself can help your audience see you as human. However, go overboard with this type of humor and you’ll undermine your authority and your message. Think about it: If you’re that bad, why should they care what you have to say? In other words, its OK not to be perfect, but you don’t want to be worthless.
Understand the Basics of Humor
Some people are naturally funny, but even they know that to really hone their humorous skills, they need to gain a basic understanding of humor so they can use it strategically and on purpose. There are many ways to be funny in a speech:
- Exaggeration: A statement that represents something as better or worse than it really is, especially when exaggerating a description into the absurd.
- Puns: A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.
- Wordplay: The witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words, especially in puns.
- Self-Deprecation: Modesty about or criticism of oneself.
- Physical Humor: Using body language and facial expressions for comical effect.
- Deadpan: Being deliberately impassive or expressionless.
You can find information about these different types of humor by researching on the Internet, reading books, watching humorous speeches, taking improv or comedy classes, hiring a humor coach, or reading the chapter on The Power of Humor in my book, Public Speaking Super Powers.
Identify What Makes You Laugh
If the humor you are using makes you laugh, it is more likely to make your audience laugh. This is in part due to your delivery being more natural and relaxed. So take a look at the list above again. What types of humor tickle your funny bone the most? That’s the type of humor you’ll want to incorporate into your speech the most.
When being funny during your speech, don’t channel your favorite stand-up comedian. Be yourself, that’s who your audience came to see. Besides, when your humor flows from who you are, it is much easier to deliver.
Wash, Rinse and Repeat
Practicing your presentation is never more important than with the funny bits.
- Test them out on a sample audience. Do they laugh? Why or why not? How can you tweak your delivery to make your humor work better?
- Record, watch and hone your delivery. Video record yourself giving the speech, then watch your presentation. Are there points where you missed a humorous opportunity? Are there times when the humor felt forced? Did your voice, hand gestures, body language, and timing support your humor?
Humor can be naturally added to your presentation when it adds zest to your stories and anecdotes. You can also add a storytelling quality to your speech’s humor with analogies and humorous definitions. When you are tailoring the content of your presentation to your audience, a logical place to do this is in your stories.
Make Your Humor Relevant
Humor doesn’t work if it is shoved in where it doesn’t belong. You want to make your humorous content be an integral part of your message. Not only will it help get your message across more effectively, but also if your audience doesn’t laugh, no harm is done. Just continue on to the next point.
Some audiences don’t get that they can laugh. Other audiences need to be cued when to laugh. So find natural ways to encourage your audience to let down their hair and laugh. You can do this by laughing yourself, but also with facial expressions and body language.
Of course, this post can’t cover everything there is to know about infusing humor into your speeches but were afraid to ask, but it should get you started and point you in the right direction.
- Podcast: The Benefits of Using Humor In Your Speeches
- Safe Humor for Your Presentations
- Speech Critique: Carma’s Humorous Speech
- The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny by Steve Kaplan
- The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus
- Do You Talk Funny?: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker by David Nihill
- How to Use Humor in a Speech Opening by Communication Coach Alex Lyon
- Add Humor to Your Speeches With These Simple Tricks by National Speakers Association
- How To Add Humor To Your Speech (5 types of humor) by Jeff Roy