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Using humour in public speaking

To make them laugh – or not! Injecting humour into your public speech

Everyone can learn how to be funny.

You may not aspire to becoming a stand-up comic but chances are you’d still like to make people laugh occasionally.

It’s not always appropriate to have your audience rolling in the aisles of course, but sometimes adding a touch of humour to your speeches or presentations is a welcome relief, especially when the audience is already anticipating a long, drawn out discourse. Yes! Peppering your presentation with humour sends several messages:

  • It let’s your audience know you actually have a personality
  • It can liven up an otherwise dull topic
  • It can re-focus your audience
  • Used well, it can make your speech memorable – for the right reasons.

Overdo it of course, and you’ll have an audience of listeners shaking their heads and rolling their eyes.

For many of us, making people chuckle does not come easily – however with a little forethought, it’s something you can learn to do.

Here are some tips to make your speech “chuckle-able”.

Firstly, begin by identifying the type of humour that makes you personally laugh.

By understanding what makes you laugh you become more in touch with your own personality style.

It’s easier to write and deliver in a light-hearted way, when the type of humour you use matches your personality.

Consistently watching, reading and listening to things that make you laugh will help you feel funny. Do you like puns, rants, observational humour, slapstick or double entendres?

Begin by selecting a script or listening to your favourite extracts from a television series or sketch delivered by your favourite stand-up comedian.   Analyse the construction; the way words are manipulated; the structure, the timing. Observe the nuances of how it’s delivered.

Learn from the things you laugh at.  Once you understand some of the techniques your favourite comedians and funny speakers use to collect a laugh, you can incorporate those techniques into your presentation.

Be careful though – simply mimicking a comedian’s voice will only work for a matter of seconds.

Secondly, think back to the times you’ve actually made people laugh.

Pay attention to what you are already doing to make others laugh. Ask yourself: “Can I weave something of the more humourous side of me into my speech?”

Here are a few techniques to try:

  • Exaggeration: This involves simply inflating or deflating whatever you are talking about so much that it is obviously an exaggeration. “My father is so short he has to look up to tie his shoelaces.”

  • Understatement: This is the technique of underplaying the obvious. “Bill Gates is making a modest income”.

  • Puns: A pun is manipulating words that have more than one meaning or that sound like other words. For example: “I’ve been reading a book about mazes; I got lost in it.”
  • Wordplay: No matter how much you push the envelope; it’ll still be stationery.

These are lots more.  Consult Doctor Google.

Where to begin:

Start off simply. Next time you prepare a presentation, add just one or two humourous elements.  With practice and experimentation, you’ll soon identify what style and technique works best for you.  Once you know what works for you, you can gradually and confidently increase your humourous content.

Liz Paine, is the owner and operator of The Occasional Speaker and offers coaching in business presentations and special occasion speech making –