Make Them Laugh
Most listeners admire a speaker who can make people laugh; that is,
use humor effectively in their speeches. Yet few speakers are able to do
so. Humor used effectively is a great tool; but nothing damages a speech
more than using humor ineffectively or inappropriately. Several
things should be kept in mind when deciding whether or not to use humor
in your speeches.
- Consider using humor not only at the beginning to gain attention,
but also at different points throughout the speech to reinforce
points as well as maintain or regain attention. Skilled speakers
know that the right story at the right place can both hold attention
and help make a point.
- Make certain that the humor is appropriate to the time, place, and
audience. For example, a story told at a reunion of war veterans may
or may not be appropriate for a couples bridge party or a Sunday
school class. If you can't decide if the story is appropriate, play
it safe. Don't use it.
- Don't use off-color stories or ethnic humor. Some see these as a
cheap way to get a laugh from an audience. But even people who laugh
at such stories in private often lose respect for the speaker who
uses them in public.
- Know the story thoroughly. Especially know how to tell the punch
line. Tell the story several times in informal situations with
people like those who will be in the audience. This gives you
practice in using the humorous item and in judging the reaction of
- Realize that humor comes in different packages--stories,
one-liners, or even from the situation itself. One time I stumbled
over the word "abominable" not once but twice. I blurted
out, "just washed my mouth and can't do a thing with it."
The audience loved it. Audiences always like it when speakers poke
fun at themselves.
- Finally, be very careful when using humor at the expense of anyone
in the audience. It often backfires. Some people are easily offended
or embarrassed when they are the butt of humor. And you often can't
tell who these people are.
Make them laugh. But don't do it at any cost.