How often have you heard someone start a speech with a joke? Too often probably. Speakers with limited experience tend to tell jokes just to get a laugh in the hope the audience will warm up to them. The jokes are often irrelevant to the topic of their speech.
Experienced speakers know there are better ways to add humor to a speech or presentation, including:.
Using funny stories and anecdotes–not jokes–in your speech
Everyone has had bad experiences that become funny with the passage of time. They make great stories Remember that today’s tragedy is tomorrow’s funny anecdote.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about yourself, borrow stories from other people. It’s acceptable to as long as you credit the source.
Collecting Stories from your audience
“Jollytologist” Allen Klein tells how he’d often ask his audiences “How do you spell relief?” “L-A-U-G-H” was his answer. Then during one of his presentations, an audience member cried out, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” It was hysterical. Klein now relates the story as part of many of his presentations.
Creating a fun atmosphere in the room before you speak
Since I’m a former news anchor and sportscaster, I sometimes arranged for the person introducing me to show some of my worst on-air bloopers in video clips (there was plenty of material to draw from). The bloopers always got people laughing, and also let them know I wasn’t afraid to laugh at myself a little–a great way to connect with them right from the start.
In the 70’s, President Gerald Ford was skewered regularly on Saturday Night Live about his lack of grace. Ford struck back by making fun of himself better than the SNL writers ever could.
He told his audiences about the night he met his wife Betty, and how he wanted to dance with her “in the worst way.” Then he’d say, “And Betty later told me I did just that–dance in the worst way.”
Ford also said he had to become the center on his college football team because center was the only position where he didn’t have to move my feet.
If someone as important as a former president can poke fun at himself, the rest of us can too. Self-denigrating humor is a powerful tool.
Using interesting props in your speech
I’d sometimes bring along “IFB” to use as a as a prop. An IFB (which stands for “interruptible feedback) is an ear piece TV reporters use when they’re doing live reports from the scene of a news story. The IFB allows them to hear what the people back in the studio are saying to them as they’re being introduced, and also allows them to hear questions the anchors might ask.
I would sometimes show a blooper clip of what can happen when something goes wrong with an IFB. The clip showed a female reporter stuttering and stammering during a live report. She sounded absolutely smashed. She wasn’t.
It turns out someone had unintentionally pressed the wrong button back in the control room, and the reporter was hearing her own words in her IFB about half a second after she spoke, which, take my word for it, is extremely distracting. For about 15 seconds, she battled and tried to be as professional as she could, but the harder she tried, the funnier she sounded. She finally ripped the IFB from her ear and continued her report.
The clip always got the audience howling.
The Internet is a great place to find one liners and funny quotes. Personally, I borrowed often from Yogi Berra (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it…”), Will Rogers (“when Democrats want to form a firing squad, they get into a circle…”) and many others.
Buying humor from people who sell it
There are professionals who will write funny stuff for you, and they’re generally not expensive. You can also check your local comedy club and hire someone who’s probably pretty good at writing one liners. Or do a search for “humor writers” or “humorists” on the Internet.
Steve Allen once said, “People would rather be entertained than educated.” But if you can entertain and educate at the same time, you have the makings of a great speech–without ever telling a single joke.