Why It’s Important To Effectively Use Humor in Every Speech You Give!

By Peter J. Fogel

Yesterday on CSPAN I was watching retired elder statesman George McGovern speaking to college students about how the Bush Administration, (because of the Iraqi War) should make a concerted effort to mend fences with our allies. The talk was dry and monotonous and contained information we’ve all heard before from other democrats.

Mr. McGovern thought it was counter-productive that we were boycotting French products and that the Senate commissary had renamed French Fries “Freedom Fries.” George matter-of-factly looked at his audience and said, “What’s next? Do we ban French kissing? Well, the audience was completely caught off guard by the flippant remark and responded with LAUGHTER and APPLAUSE.

But it got even better. You see, George then looked at the mediator seated to his right for a response and all he could muster was, (and I am paraphrasing) “Well, it’s been a long time for me, George. I’m more concerned with not going blind.” The auditorium full of at least 500 people of academia showed their approval with even bigger LAUGHTER and more APPLAUSE.

For a brief respite these men, who didn’t set out to be, were now “Martin and Lewis.” And they couldn’t help but soak up the adulation from their audience. Whether it was planned or not, the mediator had topped George.

Together these two men had turned a very dry and overly discussed subject into an enjoyable listening experience for all who attended that afternoon. (And I am sure those funny remarks were discussed at the water cooler the next day.)

To Succeed As An All-Around Speaker You Can Never Be Boring!

This proves a very important point pertaining to your own speaking career: Even though you’re an authority in your field and you have the knowledge to change people’s lives with your information, it still won’t mean a hill of beans if you’re boring.

Why? Because your message will be lost if you look out into the audience and notice their collective heads have snapped back and there are zzz’s cascading out of their mouths.

Yes, you want to make an impact! Yes, you’d be giddy if you got a real standing ovation: (and not the one where the attendees were rising and leaving the room anyway.)

But to assist you in your quest to break away from the pack of other speakers and to become the superstar platform star or seminar leader that you’re destined to be… you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and learn to effectively use humor in your speeches.

As shown by George McGovern, you should use humor because it will:

  • surprise your audience and keep them off-guard so their defenses are lowered.
  • entertain and enlighten your listeners so your message is absorbed better.
  • break up the monotony of a very heavy content driven speech
  • show your human side, which will make your audience bond with you quicker. (Strong content + humor = higher evaluation forms!)
Three Effective Ways to Use Humor!

1) Know Your Audience: Humor is subjective. Whether you’re making a playful remark about a particular person in the room or making light of something that happened to the attendees, clear it with the organizers first. You want laughter – not security escorting you off the premises.

2) Tell Humorous Stories: Ever since caveman days, stories have enthralled and drawn us towards speakers (especially if they’re holding a spear.) But your story should be organic. Never tell a humorous story if there’s no point to it. Sprinkle little comedic tidbits throughout the anecdote and end on a HUGE punch line: which is your payoff!

3) Use Local Humor: If you’re visiting a town for the first time: pick up some funny tidbits about the area that everyone knows and can relate to. Your audience will know you “did your homework” and appreciate you for it and laugh even harder!

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

Remember: Test your humor first on impartial audience. If it works, great. Now if it fails— always have a “saver line.” (Johnny Carson was a genius at that.) And don’t immediately discard the joke. If it works two out of three times, analyze why it didn’t “hit” that third time.

Was your delivery off? Was it for the wrong audience? Experience will show when a particular “bit” is a keeper. Naturally, don’t repeat a joke if it fails over and over again hoping that you’ll catch lightning in a bottle on the umpteenth time. If it’s dead weight, lose it. Instead, apply the jokes that deliver you a strong response every time. Rinse and repeat procedure over and over again for success.

And remember: You can’t ever afford to be boring!

Peter J. Fogel speaker/copywriter/consultant and author of the book “If Not Now: Then When?” Strategies and Stories of People Over 40 Who Have Successfully Reinvented Themselves. (www.reinventyourselfhow.com) As a performer he’s worked on such shows as Whoopi,  Hope & Faith and Married With Children, and has appeared on Evening At The Improv, and Carolines Comedy Hour.   He coaches speakers and seminar leaders in speech writing humor and presentation skills. His website is www.fortune500comedy.com. Sign up for his e-zine HUMOR THIS! and receive the FREE e-book: Effective Workplace Humor That’ll Deliver Your Company a Strong ROIL (Return of Infectious Laughter) He can reached at 718-847-0647.