adding humor to speech

A Guide To Using Humor In Your Speech

Charlie Chaplin said, “A Day Without Laughter Is A Day Wasted.” These words couldn’t stand truer for the day when you’re going to be delivering a speech. 

And yet many, many speakers are apprehensive of using humour in their speech. To add that ‘creative kick’, they choose instead to go with the relatively safer options of telling a quote, or a story, or sometimes chose to omit this bout of creativity altogether. 

Their apprehension isn’t wrong. 

A badly phrased or timed joke can kill the mood. However, an apt and well-timed joke can catapulate an audience’s interest in both; the speech and the speaker.

Adding humour to your speech can make your audience feel more relaxed and comfortable, and makes it easier for them to formulate a personal connection with you. This will, in turn, make it more likely that they will remember you and your speech in the future. 

In fact, many great public speakers understand that humour is not just an added ingredient to make a speech intriguing–it has now become a necessary one. 

This is why it’s imperative that you get over your humor apprehension and start adding it to your speeches. And how do you do I do that, you ask? 

Well, we’re here to help you! 

Importance Of Adding Humor To A Speech

1. Makes You Bond With The Audience

One of the most important elements that makes a great speaker is their ability to relate to and bond with their audience. If the audience can relate to you, if they feel a connection with you, then till will remember you–and your speech.

Humor is a great way of achieving this. A speaker who uses humor effectively is more human, more real, more like one of them, to the audience. Jokes put the audience at ease and make them more comfortable with you, and make it more likely that they will remember you for a long time.

2. Makes Them Remember You

One of the most difficult feats for a speaker to achieve is to not be forgettable. You want the audience to remember you long after you’ve finished speaking, and not forget about what you said the moment you get off of the stage.

Adding humor to your speech will make it more likely that they will remember you for a long time. A well placed joke is often easier to remember than a long or complicated point. Moreover, they might also repeat your joke to someone else, thereby increasing the reach that you have.

3. Gives The Audience A Break

If you speaking for a long time without offering the audience any relief, then chances are, they’re going to be dozing off before you reach even a quarter of your speech.

Humor prevents this by giving the audience a break from the monotony of continuous talk. It gives them a moment to refresh themselves, to chuckle and think about something other than your speech for a moment. When the moment ends and you slip back into the main topic, chances are, your audience will listen to you with renewed and prolonged interest instead of dozing off.

4. Makes It Easier To Get Across A Point

Not only does humor provide the audience a reprieve from much dreaded monotony, but it also makes it easier for them to grasp the points that you’re trying to make.

This is because humor simplifies things for the audience. As the speaker, you’re already well-versed in the topic you wish to deliver. However, your audience is perhaps not–at least, not till your level. Thus, by incorporating jokes that elaborate on principal points in your speech, you can make it easier for your audience to grasp what you’re trying to say.

5. Makes The Audience Feel At Home

Humor breaks the ice in the room, and there are few things that will warm up your audience not only to you but to each other as well than a shared laugh. Especially if you’re addressing an unfamiliar group, it’s imperative that you make them feel comfortable with you and the venue.

Cracking a joke at the beginning of your speech is one of the best ways of doing this. This will make sure that the audience is comfortable right from the beginning of your speech, and it will make it more likely for them to be receptive and interested in what you’re going to be saying for the rest of the event.

The Do’s and Don’t’s Of Making The Audience Laugh

Making someone laugh is no easy feat. And making an entire group of people is even more difficult.

But it’s not impossible–not if you keep in mind a few basic tips. And no, you don’t need to be a professional comedian or even a natural-born one to be able to successfully employ humor in your speech. What you need is the willingness to step out of your comfort zone, and to practice, practice, practice.

The Don’ts Of Making Audience Laugh

Don’t Make It Too Complicated

This is a very common mistake that most speakers make, especially if humor isn’t something that comes to them naturally. They make their jokes too complicated or too specific, thereby confusing the audience.

If your audience doesn’t understand the joke, they’re not going to laugh at it, period. You want the joke to be simple enough to be grasped by most of your audience. Keep the complex stuff for your speech–and even then, it’s best to be familiar with and mindful of your audience’s level.

Remember that the joke is directed towards the audience and not you. Therefore, it is imperative that while you’re thinking of the joke, you keep your audience in your mind.

Don’t Use Too Many Jokes

While it’s important to sprinkle your speech with jokes, the keyword here is sprinkle. Don’t dump an entire handful of them over it. Use humor aptly, and you will attain all the benefits associated with it.

However, if you use too much of it or simply use it too often, then then it’s going to have the opposite effect. That is, your audience is more likely going to groan at your joke rather than laugh at it. The best way to avoid this to only use humor when it feels natural to do so. That is, don’t just add a joke because you’re unsure what to say, but rather add a joke where you’re sure it will work.

Don’t Tell Them You’re Going To Say Something Funny 

Seriously, don’t. 

One of the biggest mistakes that a person can make before telling a joke is telling the audience that they’re going to be telling a joke. It sounds about as awkward as the three tellings did in the previous sentence. 

This is because it raises your audience’s expectations. Unless and until your story is something that will have them rolling on the floor in laughter, they’re going to be disappointed. Not only this, but it makes you look bad as a speaker, and it also takes away the element of spontaneity from the joke or speech. 

So, next time you want to tell a joke…

…just tell it.  

Don’t Use Controversial Topics 

How often has it happened that you have an amazing opinion of a speaker…

…and then it all goes downhill when they tell a joke. 

Remember that your audience is diverse and has diverse beliefs and opinions. Some topics–like religion, race, and gender–are bound to invite controversial reactions in the audience. 

You don’t want to alienate your audience. Rather, you want them to feel like they belong.

So, the next time you’re giving a speech, don’t use controversial topics. 

The Do’s Of Making The Audience Laugh

Do Perfect The Delivery

Once you’re done with practice, then comes the next, and the most important, step: delivering the speech to an audience. Delivering an awesome joke that you’ve practiced a hundred times and being met with crickets for response is embarrassing. To avoid that, the first thing you must do is practice your delivery.

Don’t read your jokes off of a piece of paper. That’s simply terrible. You need to practice your jokes until they’re naturally woven into your speech and you can recite them from memory. Deliver your humor in a conversational way, and not like you’ve spent hours memorizing it. Keep in mind the “Rule Of Three” i.e if you haven’t delivered your punch line by the third line of your joke…it’s too long.

For more information on how to deliver your speech, check out our article on Body Language & It’s Contribution To The Process Of Communication.

Do Make Sure The Joke Has A Point

Remember that you’re not on stage for a stand-up comedy show but to deliver a speech. Don’t just add a random joke, no matter how funny or relatable it is. You need to make sure the joke you’re making is relevant to the topic in hand, and elaborates or simplifies it in some way.

If your joke isn’t relevant to the topic in hand, the audience might find it funny, yes. But they will most likely also end up confused about the point you’re trying to make, and thus lose track of the main speech that you’re there to deliver.

Be Appropriate

Lastly, while delivering the joke, it’s imperative that you deliver it in an appropriate manner and in a way that you don’t end up offending your audience’s sentiments.

To do this, make sure that you look up what your audience is likely going to be composed of beforehand. Search about their likes and dislikes, things familiar and unfamiliar to them. Most importantly, however, it is important to educate yourself and keep yourself updated about what’s happening in the world on a regular basis, and not just before your speech.

If you do end up accidentally saying something that you shouldn’t have, it’s best to apologize. Remember that saying sorry doesn’t make you a smaller person–quite the opposite, really.

Do Incorporate Pauses 

You don’t want to rush through your joke in one breath, and then plunge straight into your subject matter. Your audience needs time to comprehend the joke: otherwise, they won’t laugh.

So, make sure to have appropriate breaks between and within jokes. It’s especially important to pause both before and after delivering the punch line. This is to give your audience the chance to formulate an opinion, which you will then subvert with the punch-line, and also to increase their anticipation level. Pausing after the punch-line is imperative to give them a chance to process your joke, especially if it’s a bit complex. 

Do Make Sure It’s Relevant 

Don’t use humor that doesn’t drive forward and expand on your main point. You don’t want to randomly dive into a story about your encounter with a ninja…unless your speech has to do something with encounters. Or ninjas (in which case, may I attend it?). 

The point is, use relevant humor. This will make sure that your audience doesn’t get confused about the point of your speech, and that they don’t lose out on important stuff that you’re saying because they’re trying to figure out how your joke fits into what they’ve been led to believe they’re there to hear. 

How To Add Humour To A Speech (Even If You’re Not A Comedian)

1. Using Anecdotes 

“Last summer, I visited a Yoga Retreat in the middle of nowhere…”

Many people feel more comfortable sharing their stories than slipping in a well-timed jab in the middle of their speech. Then why not combine both, and make it a funny story? The best and easiest way of employing natural humor in your speech is by drawing on your personal experience. 

Think about that embarrassing moment that was definitely not funny at the time, but you can now think back on chuckling to yourself. Or, if you’re not comfortable sharing something about yourself, think of a funny story that someone else told you. You can even use experiences common to most people–like having a little kid to take care of or college professors to tackle. 

Don’t worry about people having heard it before. 

Sometimes a good cliche is exactly what people need. 

If you need more help with using storytelling in your speech, check out our article on 9 Storytelling Approaches For Your Next Speech Or Presentation.

Example:

Here’s an example of incorporating anecdotes in your speech. As you watch the video, keep an eye on how the speakers phrase the story, their body language, and their facial expressions. Try to incorporate the same in your speech.

2. Surprising The Audience 

A perfectionist walked into a bar…apparently, the bar wasn’t set high enough.

Who doesn’t like surprises (except my mother)? 

And who doesn’t like jokes (except my father)?

Combine both elements, and your audience is in for a treat! 

And no, by surprise, I don’t mean you have to literally surprise them. 

Humour tends to naturally pop up when your perfection about what someone is going to say next is off the mark. The dissonance between sentences can be annoying, yes. But if done right, it can win you that surprised dose of laughter that you’re vying for.

And how do you surprise your audience? 

The best way of doing this is by using a set up and punch-lines. 

A set-up builds your audience’s expectations for a particular outcome. The punchline reveals the surprise and upturns the audience’s expectations. However, one key factor to keep note of while delivering your punch line is to keep it at the end of your sentence. 

This is because if you keep it in the middle, most people will be too focused on what you’re going to say to make deeper sense of what you’re actually saying right now. Also, words spoken at the end of a sentence or paragraph tend to have a greater impact–which is exactly what you want your punchline to do.  

Example:

Following is an example of excellent punch-line delivery. Make note of how the speaker says his punch lines. Notice how he pauses before delivering the line, the way he waits for the audience’s reaction, and the way he phrases the punch-lines to increase its impact.

3. Add Shock Value By Playing With Words 

Does anyone need an Ark?

I Noah guy.

Phrases with dual meanings can be interpreted in more than one way, and if you use them in an appropriate way, can garner a good laugh from the audience. In such phrases, while the first meaning is apparent, the deeper intonation is something that might take a couple of seconds to click

However, once it does–especially if your timing was great–then it might have the audience chuckling for a while. The easiest way of adding dual meanings to your speech is by using the set-up and punch-line method mentioned above. Use the setting to suggest one meaning, and then when the punchline rolls around, use it to insinuate an entirely different meaning. 

And the deeper intonation doesn’t have to be something cliche, either: you can make it something profound, or a sentence with more underlying depth or impact than the initial, seemingly silly, one.

You can also add puns to your joke. A pun is a grammatical effect that uses two words or expressions that sound similar or the same, but have two very different meanings. Normally in a pun, the first meaning is quite reasonable, while the second one might be less sensible or humorous in some way. 

Forr example, “Santa Clause – patron saint of grammar.” 

However, while playing with words, a key factor to keep in mind is to not go for cheap laughs at the expense of particular people or groups. This might have the opposite effect and entirely put off your audience.

Example:

In the following video, the speaker not only makes amazing use of puns, but also surprises the audience. In the beginning, it doesn’t appear that he’s going to be able to have the judges rolling in laughter–but that’s exactly what happens! Notice the way he uses the words, and the way he plays with them to make the audience laugh.

4. Adding Self-Depreciating Humor 

The only time I’m funny is when I insult myself

Audience tends to react positively to speakers who are self-depreciating–and by self-depreciating, I don’t mean self-loathing, no. 

I’m talking about self-depreciating humor–which is light-hearted humour at the expense of the speaker. 

This is because self-depreciating humour can make you seem more real or grounded to the audience. It also makes it easier for them to connect with you. When they laugh at your jokes, they’re not laughing at you but with you: they recognize some part of themselves in what you’re saying i.e they relate to you. 

It’s an extremely cathartic and fun experience. 

However, be careful not to overdo it. 

Remember, you’re trying to make the audience laugh, not to make them feel bad for you. 

Example:

This speech is an excellent example of how you can use self-depreciating humor without giving the audience the impression that you’re trying to make them feel sorry for you. Watch how the speaker uses self-depreciating humor skillfully, and while writing your speech, use his technique.

5. Use Audio-Visual Effects

using meme

Using audio-visual effects will not only make your presentation more engaging, but it will also add a kick of uniqueness to it. 

Using audio-visual effects to amplify the humour in your speech is a great idea because it will provide the audience a reprieve from the monotony of listening to a speaker for long stretches of time. 

You can add visual elements in many ways. If you’re displaying a presentation, you can add a meme or two into the slides. You can also show a short funny clip or a GIF. 

Audio effects can be timed beforehand and cued in during critical elements of your speech. For instance, you can add a funny audio during a punch-line, or while you’re delivering an anecdote. 

Done right, this will grab your audience’s attention, and make them re-focus on your presentation. 

Example:

In the following speech, the speaker makes outstanding use of audio-visual elements to make his speech stand out. Keep your eye on the screen behind him, and notice how he uses images and illustrations to make the experience more appealing for the audience.

6. Use Slapstick To Add Humor The Old-Fashioned Way

slapstick comedy

Slapstick comedy is easier said than done. However, if you do manage to pull it off,  it will provide a powerful kick and add more dimension to your presentation. 

Slapstick will also make you more real and relatable to the audience. It might be overused, however, it will add a burst of warmth and nostalgia to the audience’s experience. I understand that acting is not everyone’s forte, and not everyone will be comfortable enacting a comic play.

But I’m not asking you to turn into Charlie Chaplin. You don’t need to enact an entire funny scene or play. 

Even a small snippet of a scene, if done correctly, will do the trick.

All you need to do is get out of your comfort zone and practice!

Example:

This video is a classic example of how slapstick comedy doesn’t necessarily have to be boring. While the comic element in your speech doesn’t need to be as long, you can incorporate the technique used in your own.

7. Use Audience-Oriented Humor

What’s a comedian’s least favorite drink? 

Answer: booze

Since your audience is the one that’s going to be listening to your speech–and your jokes–it only makes sense that you use humor that will be understood and cherished by them.

Your humor should be directed towards and specific to your audience. That is, you need to change the kind of humor you’ll evoke and the type of jokes you’ll use based on what your audience comprises of.

For instance, if your audience is comprised of college-goers, your humor must incorporate subjects and experiences that are familiar to them. If your audience is mostly working people over forty years, then you’ll need to make tweaks to your planned jokes so that the humor is more relatable to them.

So, before you sit down and begin planning your jokes, make sure you’re familiar with your audience’s taste and preferences. After all, no matter how good or well-timed the joke, if they don’t understand it, they won’t laugh at it.

Example:

In the following example, comedian Ellen DeGeneres uses humor that is easily understood by her audience, thus evoking much laughter. It’s one of the most entertaining Oscar opening speeches, and for good reason! Notice how he keeps the audience engaged and calls out a few members to make things interesting.

8. Take Inspiration From Real Life

humorous incidents

While it’s important to have your jokes prepared beforehand, a secret ingredient that’ll take the humor level of your speech to the next level is by keeping a lookout for anything funny happening around you as you’re giving the speech.

That is, you need to pay attention if there’s anything that your audience is doing which can be turned into an impromptu joke. Say, someone, yawning. Or, a funny reaction that someone gives to your speech.

You can frame these events in a funny way and point them out while speaking. You can even directly address an audience member by asking them a funny question or simply asking if they agree with a humorous comment that you’ve made.

The key is to add a dose of spontaneous and life to your presentation. More often than not, it is these unscripted moments that will linger in your audience’s mind rather than the ones you’ve painstakingly timed beforehand.

Example

The following example is a great way through which you can make impromptu comedy not feel forced to the audience. As you watch it, notice how the speaker is on his feet, the way he delivers his jokes, as well as the subject matter of the jokes.

9. Using Props

Another great way of adding humor to a speech is by using props! This is a fun way to add a touch of uniqueness to your speech and to re-focus your audience’s attention on something other than you and the stage.

There are many different types of props which you can use. You can use puppets, suitcases, a table…anything you can think of, really! However, make sure that just like your jokes, the prop is relevant to the topic in hand. Don’t just use a prop simply for the sake of using one, or else it will take away from your speech instead of adding anything to it.

Example:

Using props can seem tough, but it doesn’t have to be so! The following video is a great example of how you can use props to make your speech more lively, funny, as well as entertaining to watch!

10. You Don’t Have To Be Perfect

Nobody’s perfect.

I’m nobody…

So I’m perfect.

Lastly, remember that you’re not trying to win a stand-up contest. You don’t need to be the best comedian in the world or even the funniest person in the room. You’re there to deliver a speech. You’re there to share with the audience your knowledge and your experiences, and the audience is there to receive them.

It’s okay if you mess up. It’s alright if the audience doesn’t laugh at one joke. It doesn’t matter if you messed up a punch-line.

What matters is that you’re there, and you did it! You gave your best.

Humorous Ted Talk Speech Examples

1. Inside The Mind Of A Master Procrastinator

This speech is no doubt one of the funniest Ted Talks I’ve ever come across, and for good reason!

Takeaway: A major reason for this is the speaker’s use of imagery and cartoons to add a dose of entertaining audio-visual elements to the speech. He neither overdoes it with the visuals nor does he underuse them. His speech structure and the punch timing don’t hurt, either. As you watch it, keep a lookout for these things, and try to incorporate audio-visuals in your speech in a similar way.

2. A Highly Scientific Taxonomy Of Haters

This is another great Ted Talk in which the speaker uses humor in a creative way to get across their point.

Takeaway: This is an example of how your humor doesn’t necessarily have to be slapstick or obvious. It also shows how humor doesn’t need to be a filler in a speech: it’s not merely there to entertain. Rather, you can use humor to add more dimensions to your speech and to make it easier for your audience to grasp otherwise difficult concepts.

3. The Happy Secret To Better Work

Another great Ted Talk was delivered by psychologist Shawn Achor, in which he argues that happiness actually leads to more productivity.

Takeaway: This is a great Ted Talk if you’re a professional looking for how to deliver your message to the audience using humor as a medium. Notice how the speaker keeps the audience laughing and in a good mood as he delivers his speech.

Notice the speaker’s body language, and how he smiles often to make a connection with his audience. He isn’t a professional comedian, but he doesn’t let that fact hinder his speech in any way!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How Do I Add Humor To The Beginning (Or the End) Of A Speech 

There are many ways using which you can add humor to the opening of your speech. 

You could start off by telling a funny story. This can be your personal experience, or just something imaginary. A funny story is a great way to begin your speech, because not only does a story capture your audience’s attention right off the bat, but the added element of humor elevates your audience’s mood. This will ensure that they have a favorable opinion of you–and the rest of the speech! 

For the ending, too, you could use a shorter version of a story. Or, another way of adding humor to the beginning or ending of a speech is the good old fashioned way: tell a joke. 

If it’s the ending, you could go with a joke that loops into or makes a reference to something that you’ve said before. If you’re starting off, start with something unique and fresh! 

Q. How Do I Add Humor To A Serious Speech 

So, what if your speech topic isn’t something light? What if you’re delivering a serious speech? Can you still add humor to it? 

The answer: Yes. 

Adding humor to a serious speech will give your audience a chance to breathe & to take a break from the heavy subject matter.

However, you need to make sure that the humor doesn’t seem forced or out of place. It should flow with your speech, and not feel like an external constituent that you’ve added simply because you have to.

You can still use the different ways of adding humor to a speech that we’ve mentioned above. However, make sure that you add them at appropriate time intervals, and that they expand upon what you’re trying to get across. Also, try not to use too many jokes, or bunch them all together, as this will affect the overall tone of your speech. 

 Q3. How Do I Find My Unique Sense Of Humor 

It’s important to have your own unique sense of humor, not just in everyday life, but during speeches as well. This will make sure that your jokes aren’t bland and overused, and that the humor in your speech feels natural and not forced. 

You can’t just wake up one day and discover what kind of humor fits you. You need to put in time and effort in real life to find your own personal touch. 

One way of doing this is by delving into humorous content. So, watch that stand up comedy show or YouTube video, or read that hilarious book you’ve been wanting to. You need to learn what you find funny, and what type of content makes you chuckle.

Then, try incorporating them into everyday life situations, or simply practice by yourself first before moving onto other people. It’s important to be considerate of your audience and make sure that your jokes aren’t offensive, yes. But don’t change your natural style to cater to other people–you will never be able to stand out or find your own voice this way.

Q4. What If My Audience Doesn’t Laugh? 

A speaker’s worst fear: they tell a joke to an auditorium full of people, and there’s pin drop silence (or, well, so it feels). 

However, don’t despair if the audience doesn’t laugh at your joke.

Pause for a little bit. Give them time. It could be that they haven’t yet understood it. 

If there’s still no reaction, don’t lose heart. 

It’s important to not let your audience control your emotions. Remember that your goal is not laughter but to get across your point. Take a deep breath, and continue on with your speech. Don’t let embarrassment make you skip the rest of your jokes. Tell them as you were going to–just because they didn’t laugh at one joke doesn’t mean they’re not going to laugh at others.

If you feel like understanding was a problem, then you can make little tweaks to your delivery or the content matter to make it easier for your audience to grasp the joke. You could even prepare a witty response to such a scenario in advance, and use it if the situation does arise.

To sum up, adding humor to your speech is imperative not just to liven it up, but also to make it easier for the audience to understand it and to cement your speech in their mind for years to come. While adding humor to your speech might seem like a daunting task at first, by using the tips and tricks mentioned above, you can easily train yourself to use humor easily as well as effectively in your future talks!

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.