Using humour in speeches is a great way of presenting yourself as friendly and accessible. The right joke, at the right time, can break down barriers. A shared joke will help individuals feel at one within a group. That’s a great state for your audience to be in when you speak to them.
But the wrong joke…
… You’ve probably seen the impact that a poorly timed joke, or worse, a poorly conceived joke, can have on audience. Never mind what it does to the speaker!
That moment when a joke sinks without trace, the audience squirms, and the tumbleweed blows slowly across the stage – that’s the moment that every speaker dreads.
So, is there a fool-proof way of using humour in your speech?
In my experience, there are a few good ways to get a laugh. And one very important secret, which I’ll share with you at the end
So, here are some suggestions:
Be audience specific
What do you know about your audience? If it’s full of friends and colleagues, you probably already know what’s going to make them laugh. But if you’re speaking to a new audience, you’ll need to be a bit more careful.
So choose your targets carefully – particularly in a social speech. It’s all too easy to cross the line from gentle ribbing into full-blown character assassination!
The ultimate antidote to making fun of others is to make fun of yourself. Self-deprecating humour always works. A hard-luck story gets funnier the more you pile on the calamitous misunderstandings and embarrassing accidents.
Because it revels in your own misfortunes or misunderstandings self-deprecating humour is a great leveller. You might find that useful if you need to cut down some barriers between you and the audience.
So don’t be afraid to use a few self-deprecating stories or anecdotes that encourage the audience to laugh at your expense. But be careful…
Don’t go so far that you destroy your credibility.
Stories and anecdotes
Audiences love stories. They like being taken on a narrative journey. Particularly if it’s a journey with a funny punchline.
It doesn’t even have to be a story about you. You can adapt stories that people have told you.
If it’s a new anecdote or a story you haven’t told before, make sure you try it out first. Tell it to as many people as possible. Because the better you know the story, the better your delivery is going to be.
You have to be able to tell the tale it, not read it or recite it.
Telling a good anecdote will draw your audience in. And the more familiar it is to you, the easier it is to tell. So it’s a good technique to use early on in your speech to relax you.
Off the cuff humour
So many of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard were because of an unscripted remark or ad-lib. Usually when something goes wrong.
A bit of quick thinking, a clever remark and suddenly, the speech is back on course.
I saw a speaker wax lyrical about three very important things we all needed to remember, and almost inevitably, she forgot the third one! It could have been a bit embarrassing up there, but quick as a flash she ad-libbed how the third thing she needed to remember was too important to tell us too soon… She span a funny little story about making us wait, and how, the longer we waited, the more impact it was going to have when she told us, and how that would help us remember it…
People laughed. It broke the tension and everyone relaxed again. In a way, it re-energised the whole speech. Suddenly the speaker was reinvigorated and everyone was ready to listen afresh.
It goes back to that strand of self-deprecating humour – if you can exploit your own potential embarrassment in the moment, you’ll make people laugh.
Crib from the best
It’s always good to quote. Particularly if you quote from the best. A dictionary of humorous quotations is a useful tool, but you can source thousands of good quotes online.
Obviously, quotes that fit your overall theme will slot in pretty seamlessly. But you can also use something more abstract, particularly at the start of a speech.
The start of a speech is unpredictable. The audience doesn’t quite know what’s in store for them. So a surprising quote can subvert their expectations and keep them focused on what you’ve got to say.
The secret to using humour well in speeches
Humour is a wonderful speechwriting tool. Probably the best tool at your disposal.
A good joke or a humorous presentation style will help your audience identify with you, and hopefully like you. If they like you, it’s so much easier to tell them whatever they need to know.
But just remember, humour is not an objective in itself. It’s a tool.
Unless you’ve been engaged as a comedian, it isn’t your job to make people laugh. It’s your job to promote your new product, or raise funds, or commemorate fifty years in business…
If you can do that amusingly, so much the better.
But if your audience leaves remembering all the jokes and none of the substance, then unfortunately, the joke’s on you.