A Public Speaker and a Horse Walk into a Bar – How to be Funny?
There are many techniques and tips on capturing and engaging your audience’s attention. One of the most effective technique involves the use of humour in your presentation. We know, though, that being funny is easier said than done, especially for a public speaker. Humour is an advanced technique in speech-crafting, building on (i) a speaker’s ability to weave a compelling narrative, (ii) create an intimate rapport with the audience, and (ii) punctuate his/her speech delivery with apt comedic timing. When tied together effectively, adding humour in your presentation is a sure-fire way to ensure that your presentation is particularly memorable.
There is, of course, a time and place to be funny. Humour elements should only be included in your speech or presentation if there are both relevant to your speech objective and appropriate in the context. The line may not be entirely clear. A serious presentation before a no-nonsense audience may not require a comedic presentation while a technical presentation may benefit from the pattern-breaking tendencies of humour elements. Before you decide to incorporate humour elements into your presentation, assess whether such elements would be relevant and appropriate!
So how do I become funny? Adding humour elements into your speech/presentation does not mean turning into a stand-up comedian. As a funny public speaker, your inclusion of humour helps to push the main message you intend to deliver and increase the retention of the same message. For those of you wondering how to start, here are some quick tips to kickstart the ‘tickling’ process!
Tip #1: Make it Worse – Exaggerate and Emphasise the Tensions
*** Phone Down = Man Down! Armageddon! Apocalypse! OMG!!! XD ***
Humour techniques build on effective story-crafting techniques – a humour element almost always requires a story vessel. As unorthodox as this sounds, one method of adding humour into your speech is by stretching and emphasising the tension points in a story. A purely logical story is rarely funny and exaggerating key components can turn your story into a funny one.
For example, modifying the phrase “The train was crowded” to “The train was so crowded that I was squeezed from a Size XL to a Size XS!” exaggerates the tension point (that the train was crowded). This turns a neutral and factual statement to one that is exaggerated to absurdity! The juxtaposition of an image of the speaker being squeezed a few sizes smaller is not logical, but it makes for a humorous addition to the line. The same also forms the basis of common hyperbole (or exaggerated comparisons) done for comedic effect, e.g. I am so hungry I can eat a horse! Start by identifying the tension points in your story – stretch and exaggerate these points to start incorporating humour into your presentation!
Tip #2: Laugh at Yourself First Before Laughing at Others
Before you start to make your audience laugh, you must be comfortable laughing at yourself on stage. As cliché as this sounds, the statement rings true when unpacked. This goes beyond making self-deprecating jokes or incorporating slapstick elements. Being comfortable laughing at yourself also means that you are comfortable enough on stage to exhibit emotions and open yourself up to the audience’s reaction. Part of being humorous involves showing a vulnerable part of yourself while presenting. Presenting yourself as a sincere and open communicator is a positive start to adding humour elements into your speech.
Successful humorous stories or elements are effective in encouraging the audience members to look at their vulnerabilities and take themselves less seriously. Identifying common human behaviour or traits that you and your audience members can laugh at (in a non-offensive/bullying manner) will put them at ease for your speech. For example, in one of my previous speeches on body positivity, I started by talking about my experience of having to throw away clothes that did not fit. This was a common, unspoken experience the audience (or most people) face – when the ‘dirty laundry’ was aired, the audience felt more comfortable laughing as part of the shared experience. All this must start with you learning to laugh at yourself more, of course!
Tip #3: Whatever Postal Service You Use, Make Sure Your Punchline is Delivered on Time!
Comedic timing is key and goes hand-in-hand with public speaking techniques on body language and vocal variety. Beyond the content of the humour element, a speaker should be able to maximise the humour relief by practising and focusing on how to deliver the punchline best. When delivering a humorous element, the use of pauses will help to heighten the audience’s expectation before you satisfy them with a well-timed delivery of the punchline. Delivery of the humorous element should also be accompanied by appropriate vocal traits – such as a higher volume and a more emphasised delivery.
A fantastic way to hone your comedic timing is practice. Practise in front of family members or friends before your presentation. This will help in two ways. First, the constant practice will allow you to be as comfortable with your speech material as possible. This also encourages you to be at ease with your audience and deliver the humorous elements more naturally. Second, the practices will allow you to gauge your audience reaction to your humorous element and modify your speech accordingly. With enough practice, your comedic timing will be precise and immaculate!
Final Thought: To Take It Seriously Or Not?
Being funny is tough work. Some of you may feel as if you do not have a ‘natural’ funny bone or humorous side in your presentation. That is not entirely accurate – humorous speakers spend plenty of time and effort in crafting and re-crafting their speeches until they are extremely comfortable in delivering their speech. With the three quick tips above, we hope you too can ignite your journey in delivering powerful and humorous speeches!
You might be interested in our YouTube video: “What I Did In My 20s, Impromptu Speaking & Humour For Older Audience | #SpeakUP 001”