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Speech Tips

Lighten Up and Add More Humor

By January 3, 2021November 8th, 2022No Comments

by Dave Gilman

Have you ever wondered how to lighten up your speech, in other words how to add more humor? If so, this speech tip is for you.

Please keep this in mind, your goal is not to become a stand up comic. Stand up comics are expected to get a laugh every 10 seconds. Imagine the pressure that would create! Rather your goal is to place occasional humor throughout. In a 5-7 seven minute speech, three to four entertaining moments would suffice. Too much more may be overkill.

The good news is, Toastmasters and presenters in general aren’t expected to get a laugh every 10 seconds, so when you deliver a funny line and get a laugh, it is a happy surprise to your audience. Before I get to three techniques that you can use to add more humor, I’d like to outline why it is important to lighten up your speech.

Humor in a speech or presentation accomplishes many things. To name just a few, humor makes you more likable as a speaker, it shows that you don’t take yourself so seriously. Humor also helps you you to connect with your audience as people like to laugh and are drawn to positive things. Now, getting back to the three techniques.

Number 1. – The Clash of Context

Many humor practitioners use this. The Clash of Context introduces an element of surprise. American humorist Jack Handey gives this as an example: “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.”

Clash of context is about situations or comments that clash unexpectedly with the “normal” expectation of an observer. For example, with Handey’s remark you expect him to use the “walk a mile in their shoes” phrase as a figure of speech. He then upends your expectation by using the phrase literally, which gives the context a funny twist.

Number 2. – You Are the Joke

Light-hearted self mockery instantly creates laughter and likeability. By poking fun at yourself its show the audience that essentially that you are just like them, that no one is perfect, and that you have the confidence to simply be yourself.

In order to use this technique, choose something that could be perceived as a negative, and then make a statement that relates to it in a humorous way. One way to do this is by making a list of obvious physical attributes that an audience would notice when you walk up in front of a room or on stage. Suppose you are delivering a speech at a gardener’s convention. An example could be “Just the other day, I was complimented on my leather gloves, however, I wasn’t wearing any.”

Number 3. – The List of Three

Three is a magic number in our universe. Let’s face it, there is the Holy Trinity made up of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit, the fact that we live in a 3-dimensional world which includes height, length, and depth. And last but not least, Miley Cyrus recently had three hit singles. Just as three is a magic number in our universe it is also a magic number in comedy. Using the “List of Three” formula, the speaker sets up a pattern with two serious ideas, and then adds a twist on the third.

For this formula to work, it’s an absolute necessity that your first two statements be real and serious. You want to lead the audience down a path of sincerity and then surprise them with a joke! The surprise is what makes people laugh. There are two easy ways to set up this formula which are Big-Big-Small and Small-Small-Big. 

Big-Big-Small: “It’s a scary world out there: We’ve got terrorism, the war in Iraq, and … Lindsay Lohan is out of jail.”

Small-Small-Big: “There are three subtle clues that your marriage might be over: You’ve stopped sending each other love notes. You’re not kissing as much. Your husband’s new girlfriend has issued a restraining order.”

In summary the Three Techniques are:

Number 1. – The Clash of Context – this is where you change the context of what is normally expected
Number 2. – You Are the Joke – where you poke fun at yourself with confidence
Number 3. – The List of Three – where you list two serious items followed by putting a twist on the third

In your upcoming speeches, consider adding in any of the three techniques. By adding in humor you can create a much deeper connection with your audience and help them lighten up.

Source: Toastmasters Magazine October 2012