Tips for Using Humor in Public Speaking

Everyone loves to laugh, and we all know that humor can be a fantastic ice-breaker and rapport-builder. It can also, however, have us fall flat on our faces. How then to most effectively use the powerful tool that is humor to add to a speech and not take away from it? That is the question these tips aim to answer.

Make sure it makes you laugh. This should be a given, needless to say, but just in case it’s not, let it be said now, explicitly and in no uncertain terms – if it’s not funny to you, it’s not going to be funny to them.

Make it personal: The easiest and most appropriate place to find humor to use in your speeches is from your own personal experience. Rather than pulling out a joke you got out of a book, try instead to relate a funny story or anecdote from your own life. And if you think your life has no funny experiences to draw from, then that’s the funniest thing of all. Everyone’s life is chock full of hilarious happenings, we just have to know where to look and how to recognize them. For starters, look for experiences in your past that you found embarrassing at the time. What were moments of humiliation for us in the past are now, in the present, ripe fruits and valuable gems to reflect on with light-heartedness and humor.

Make sure it’s relevant: Humor is an excellent ice-breaker, yes. And it’s a great rapport-builder, indeed. But it should never be used solely for breaking the ice or building rapport. It should be relevant too, meaning it should speak directly to the subject matter of your speech. Your humor should enhance your message in some way, more than merely being humor for humor’s sake.

Try it out first: Before using a joke or funny story on your audience, try it out on a few friends or colleagues first. Make sure that other people find it funny too. And in practicing like this, you also get the opportunity to fine-tune your delivery of the humor to maximize the impact.

Keep it short and sweet: You’re not a comedian, you’re a public speaker. And nothing turns a crowd off more than a joke or a story that just goes on and on with no end in sight. Keep this critical point in mind when finding and practicing the joke or story you choose in order to infuse a bit of humor into your speech.

Make sure it’s audience appropriate: Consider your audience when considering what you tell them to make them laugh – has plenty of suggestions. Make sure it’s appropriate for the group. Not only does this mean keeping your humor clean in mixed company, but it means selecting jokes and humorous anecdotes that won’t offend those present, thereby sabotaging your entire speech.

Use a visual aid: Visual aids are a favorite elements of great speeches, whether a projection on stage or a printed handout given to each individual. When thinking about inserting humor into your speeches, then, considering incorporating it with another element of powerful and effective speeches, using humor as a visual aid. You do this by showing a slide or a video of a cartoon or comic strip, or printing one out on the handouts you intend to distribute at the speech’s close.

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