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January 2001 - Make Them Laugh

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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January 2001

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 listeners.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama
jkline@klinespeak.com


January 2001 - Make Them Laugh
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