Podcast 20: I Want to Be Funny-How to Add Humor to Your Speech without being a Clown


Quite often, when we are designing speeches and presentations for a professional audience, we discount the value of entertainment and humor. In reality, though, a good presentation is both informative and entertaining. Your speech has to be both. If you aren't providing the audience with information that they didn't already know, then you are wasting their time. If you aren't providing some type of entertainment along the way, though, you will likely bore your audience so much that they will lose interest. So adding an appropriate amount of humor to your speech is very valuable to keep your audience engaged throughout your presentation.

TechFind! Orai - Improve Your Speech

This app is one of the most practical smartphone apps that we have ever reviewed! It was created by two Indian tech guys who spoke English as a second (or third) language, and they wanted to get more proficient at speaking in a way that their audience could understand them better. The app works by delivering your content into your phone verbally, and then it immediately gives you a score on how well that you did based on how easy it was for the phone to understand your words, your filler words used, the pace of your speech, and your perceived energy level. The app uses artificial intelligence to coach the user better as the user uses the app more and more. Fantastic use of technology.

Should I tell Jokes to My Audience?

When I first started speaking, I had a mentor who had been a speaker and trainer for over three decades. She worked for the Dale Carnegie organization, which, by the way, is a fantastic public speaking and presentation training organization. I remember, though, that very early on in my training with her, she told me to "Never tell jokes in your speeches." However, funny stories or anecdotes were fine and were actually recommended. I never really figured out why she and other public speaking coaches are so anti-joke, but my guess is that it is an extreme overreaction to a negative experience at some point. For instance, if a speaker starts a speech with a joke and it bombs, it is difficult to recover. Or perhaps it has something to do the fact that many jokes are pretty off-color or inappropriate to a general audience. Or perhaps the reason that many public speaking coaches dissuade new speakers from telling jokes is that the the delivery or timing of a joke is really important and hard to teach.

Whatever the case, I'd wager that every single professional keynote speaker has at least one joke in their keynote speeches somewhere. In fact, if you look at the definition of a joke, according to www.dictionary.com, a joke is...

A thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, especially a story with a funny punchline.

So, according to these great public speaking coaches, a funny story or funny anecdote is okay, but a "story with a funny punchline" is not okay? That never made sense to me.

With all that being said, jokes need to be appropriate to the point that you are making, and you will want to practice them over and over so that you have them down cold. A poorly delivered joke can be very challenging to overcome.

Make Your Point with Humor

A month or so I after I started The Leader's Institute ® my first client was the Freightliner Truck Dealership in Ft Worth, and the GM at the time was a guy named Ron who was famous for starting every meeting with a corny joke. So, before he or his managers discussed any business, he'd start the meeting with something corny, and everyone would both laugh and somewhat cringe at the same time. It became part of the culture, and it really worked. Ron was a virtual encyclopedia of corny jokes. For Ron, it worked really well. However, for most speakers, using your funny stories as a way to add showmanship to the point that you are making works much better.

If you haven't yet listened to Podcast #3, How to Design Presentations Quickly, it gives a few great tips on how to determine what main points to cover in your presentation. Once you create a good bullet point, ask yourself these questions as ways to identify how to add humor to the bullet point.

  • Have I Ever Had an Experience on This Subject Where I Screwed this Up?: Self-deprecating humor is almost always the best (and easiest) type of humor to add to a presentation. The easiest way to make an embarrassing story funny is to exaggerate what happened.
  • Google the Word "Joke" Followed by Main Ideas in Your Bullet Point: For example, I was recently writing a speech on how to get a good return on investment from training. I typed "joke return on investment" into Google, and I got the following ideas.
    1. You know how to make a million dollars in the stock market? ... Start with Two million.
    2. Mother had decided to trim her household budget wherever possible, so instead of having a dress dry-cleaned she washed it by hand. Proud of her savings, she boasted to my father, "Just think, Fred, we are five dollars richer because I washed this dress by hand." "Good," my dad quickly replied, "Wash it again!"
    3. A long term investment is a short term investment that failed.

    Any of these can, with a little creativity, be tied into the point that I'm making. For instance, I could start my explanation of my point with the phrase, "A lot of people see investing in or attending training sessions like playing the stock market. If you you don't have a clear goal for the training, a clear plan to achieve that goal, and a way to measure your progress, you're going to lose money. By the way, do you know a fool-proof way to make a million dollars in the stock market? ... Start with two million. Set a goal, make a plan, and measure your training results or you will have similar results."

  • Funny Analogies: I use analogies a lot in presentations. An analogy is basically making a comparison of something you are trying to explain to your audience with something simpler and more commonplace. What makes these fun and funny is when you compare things that absolutely and totally unrelated. For instance, a young lady who was a computer technician at an electric company came through my class in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. She was making the point in her presentation that the new software that her company had invested in would help their sales reps follow up on prospective customers who were good matches for what they offer. She started the explanation by saying, "When you think of good combinations you think of things like peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper. You'd really think of things like salad and ketchup. That is a bad match. So when the program analyzes a potential client and sees a manufacturing company, it identifies that potential client as a 'peanut butter and jelly' type prospect. However, with a small retail company who uses very little electricity, that would be more of a 'ketchup and salad' combo." What made the delivery funny was that she used this bad combination expression a few times, and every time that she did, she got a bigger laugh. The humor worked because she picked an absurd combination with ketchup and salad, and the food items have absolutely nothing to do with electricity consumption. The great news about analogies is that even if they don't get a laugh, they still work well as showmanship.

Add Colloquialism's to Your Speech

Being from Texas, this is one of my favorites. Dr. Phil, the blunt psychologist who became famous on the Oprah Winfrey show is the king of these. Type "[Your State or Region] colloquialism" into Goggle, and you will find funny sayings unique to your area. I did this with Texas, and I got a list of "Texas Sayings". My favorite was "He's all hat and no cattle." I tried it again for "Southern colloquialism" and I got, "That's a hard dog to keep on the porch" and "He's happier than a tick on a fat dog." This technique is harder to pull off, but if you do, you can have your audience rolling in the aisle.

Just remember to make your presentations fun. Humor is a good way to do that!

We cover these and dozens of additional public speaking tips in the 2-day Fearless Presentations ®: class held in dozens of cities around the world every couple of months.

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