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Communication Tip: Adding Humor to Your Speeches

Everyone loves to laugh, especially when laughter can bring your audience closer to you as a speaker. If you are going to use humor in your speech, it’s important to know how to use it and when. Using jokes improperly or inappropriately can backfire and alienate your audience.

Here are some tips to help you use humor effectively in your speeches.

Only use humor when it fits your speech

Humor has to fit into the content, tone, and structure of the speech. If humor doesn’t fit your speech, don’t use it.

Some speakers feel that they have to tack on jokes at the beginning of a speech to “break the ice”. What is more effective is a humorous story that introduces the theme of the talk. Giving unrelated jokes leaves the audience confused or irritated, especially when your speech is about an important or serious subject.

Choose humor that is appropriate to your audience

Consider not only the age of your audience, but their cultural background and their mood when choosing humor for your speech. Not all audiences respond to the same type of humor. References to local TV personalities or restaurants wouldn’t be understood by people outside of your area.

Needless to say, off-color humor is not appropriate around children and audiences who would be offended by it, and jokes that ridicule ethnic and religious groups aren’t appropriate anywhere.

Use humor to make your point

The best way to use humor is to illustrate a point. In my speech, “Cell Phone Rudeness,” I used a number of humorous anecdotes to show how the inconsiderate use of cell phones affects others and makes the cell phone abuser look foolish.

Humor is often more effective in illustrating ideas than cold facts and figures, which can go over an audience’s head; or preachy exhortations, which can turn off even sympathetic listeners.

Draw upon personal experience

The best humor comes from your own experience. Talk about a humorous situation you had and what you learned from it. Audiences will be drawn to your story because it  is personal and real. They can also relate to similar experiences they had.

Using your own experiences will make your speeches fresher than if you culled jokes out of joke books. The problem with pre-packaged jokes is that audiences are likely to have heard them before, and the listener will know that you’re just telling jokes. Telling your own humorous experiences make your speech fresh and original.

Deliver humor with confidence

Give your humorous story with confidence, enthusiasm, and a smile. Don’t preface the story with something like “Here’s a funny story” or “Let me tell you a joke.” Audiences will pick up the humor and laugh without needing to prompted.

After telling a humorous story, plan a pause so that the audience has time to laugh. If the audience doesn’t laugh, don’t explain the humor or comment in any way about the lack of laughter; just go on.

As you can see, humor needs to fit into the speech and not draw attention to itself. People don’t like being told that they’re supposed to laugh.

Find Your Own Humor

Some speakers worry, “What if I’m not funny?” You don’t have to be a standup comic to be funny. Humor comes from awareness and observation. Look for situations that strike you funny and write down what you see. Keep a journal or stack of index cards with your observations.

When you see a situation that fits a speech, put it in. Practice your speech so that you can deliver your humorous story with confidence and zeal. You will find that you have a lot more humor than you think.