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Incorporate Humor in Your Next Speech

Some speakers say, “I could never use humor in my speech; I just don’t feel comfortable with it.” I believe that anyone can use humor and that it is a valuable tool in speaking. Appropriate humor relaxes an audience and makes it feel more comfortable with you as the speaker; humor can bring attention to the point you are making; and humor will help the audience better remember your point. It can break down barriers so that the audience is more receptive to your ideas.

First, let me make it easy for you to use humor. The best and most comfortable place to find humor for a speech is from your own personal experience. Think back on an embarrassing moment that you might have thought not funny at the time. Now that you can laugh at the experience, you understand the old adage "Humor is simply tragedy separated by time and space." Or think of a conversation that was funny. Remember the punch line and use it in your speech. Probably the least risky use of humor is a cartoon. The cartoon is separate from you and if people don't laugh, you don't feel responsible. (Be sure to secure permission to use it.) You're not trying to be a comedian; you just want to make it easy for people to pay attention and to help them remember your point.

Here are some suggestions on using humor to make your next speech have more impact.

Make sure the humor is funny to you. If you don’t laugh or smile at the cartoon, joke, pun, one-liner, story, or other forms of humor, then you certainly cannot expect an audience to do so. A key to using humor is only using humor that makes you laugh or smile.

Before using humor in your speech, try it out with small groups of people. Do they seem to enjoy it? Even if your experimental group does not laugh or smile initially, don’t give up on the humor, because the problem might be in the way you are delivering the joke or quip. I often use this line in talking about the importance of listening. “We are geared to a talk society. Someone said, ‘The only reason we listen is so we can talk next!'” When I first tried that line, people did not smile; but I worked on the timing so that I paused and...

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