How to be funny in a speech or presentation

In September, my local Toastmasters club is running it’s annual humorous speech contest and I am planning to enter. The problem is I find writing humorous speeches a real challenge. I can often weave a bit of humour into a serious speech without too much difficulty but for some reason, writing a deliberately humorous speech seems much harder.

Last year I entered the competition for the first time and wasn’t very successful. I basically researched a load of numerous stories via the web and attempted to string them together into a speech. Whilst I did get a few laughs, the whole thing was disjointed and contrived.

I think the main reasons for this were:

A) The stories I used weren’t mine

B) There wasn’t a strong storyline linking these various anecdotes together in any logical way

C) I was trying too hard to be funny

When I went to the Division H competition (SE England) to see and hear the area winners I was enthralled with their skills.  The  winner, Chris Billington, gave a hilarious speech without a single joke.   All he did was tell a story related to  a student job he had as a life guard.

In his tale, he described, in delightful detail, the unusual and sometimes bizarre behaviours of men and women in a mixed swimming pool. You had to be there honest!

What I learned from him was:

A) Don’t tell jokes, tell stories instead.

B) Tell your own stories rather than pulling them from the Internet. You will be much more convincing and congruent if you do

C) Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. Some of the funniest comedians on the planet don’t tell jokes They have us in stitches simply by exaggerating the things that real people do and say. So become an observer of people and look for things that make you smile.

D) keep a notebook handy and capture these little moments so that you can use them later on in a speech. Don’t rely on your memory.

So this year I have put together a humorous speech based on the above lessons. I have given it once already and it went down well. I did however get some really useful feedback that the beginning was a bit slow and so I am tightening it up so that I get hook the audiences attention and get them laughing from the start.

Wish me luck for our competition night on 21st September and I’ll let you know how I get on. I might even post a video of the speech and let you give me feedback too.

Let your voice be heard!

Gavin Meikle
The Presentation Doctor

 How to be funny in a speech or presentation

About 

Gavin Meikle is "The Communication Doctor" and his mission is to change the way the world communicates for good.

He runs workshops and courses as well as 1:1 mentoring programmes, helping business owners, managers and executives achieve personal and professional success.

Gavin is based in Hampshire in the UK.

4 Responses to How to be funny in a speech or presentation

  1. Hi Gavin – couldn’t agree more about the difficulties in writing a humourous speech!

    I find similar difficulties in writing a completely humourous speech as opposed to writing a speech with humour in it. Add to this the challenge of finding the correct humour for your audience (I know my comedic tastes are very different from my parents) and one quickly realises what a challenge humour is!

    It is after all, about speaking for your audience – who knows what their sense of humour might be?!

    And lets not even start on the debate of ‘what is funny?’!

    Rich

  2. That is great information!

    I really appreciate your honesty about the ‘less than good humorous speech’.

    We do learn more from our mistakes that successes, don’t we. That was really one of the important lessons here.

    Good Luck with your speech!

  3. Hi Gavin: I think the biggest thing I have learnt so far, over and above, your excellent comments, is the choice of topic itself.

    I used to pick topics that were heavy in message and try to make them funny. Essentially, I started with the topic, then worked out ‘what is my message’ then continued backwards filling in the middle and beginning. At the end, I would think about how to add humour. “lets add an exaggeration here or a characterisation there etc!”

    This message centric approach is fairly standard coaching stuff and works well for persuasive speeches. However, in my (still learning) experience it is the wrong approach in humorous speeches. The message is much less impt for humorous speeches. In a persuasive speech I will evaluate the topic based on quality of message I can deliver. However, in humorous speeches, I am learning that the topic should be evaluated primarily for the inherent humour in the topic.

    In a persuasive speech you would, of course, want the message to be the thing that is remembered most. Many of the best humorous speeches like Chris Billingtons’ last year stick, not because of the message (can’t remember what it was tbh!) but because of the inherent humour in the topic. The speedo moment lasts much longer than the message does.

    This is a learning topic for me too but I hope that this thought helps you start from the right place. Feel free to give me a buzz if you would like to know more. I have a real world example I can share!

    Cheers F

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond Freddie. Your comments struck a cord with me and sparked a related train of thought. A few years ago I remember doing an energiser exercise with a group during a training course. I chose that particular energiser purely because it was fast and fun, rather than on its relevance to the course. At the end I suddenly decided to ask the group what the link was between the exercise and the topic of the course. I was blown away when they came up with all sorts of very relevant and powerful connections that I had never thought of! The human brain is a “meaning making machine” and of we focus on the inherent humour of the speech people may just remember it for the humour or they may even find powerful messages within it that we never even thought of!

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