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Lesson 16 - Using Humor in Public Speaking
"Once you get people laughing, they're listening and you can tell them almost anything".
~ writer Herb Gardner ~
Many speakers are afraid to try telling jokes. It's not really that difficult. Read my
advice to students on how to remember a joke, and see how easy it really is! After
learning one or two jokes, go out and try one in a speech. Try to keep your jokes clean. Some
jokes I've used with students can be found at
this page. The main point is to keep your jokes simple. If you only get the main
points - the people, the setting and the action - along with the final "punch line", that's enough. You don't always need a lot of extra details.
Besides telling jokes, you can add humor to your speech in the following ways:
Idea 1: Use funny quotes. With the Internet it is easy to find one that is perfectly suited to your topic.
Warning: do not try to be funny just to be funny. Be sure your humor fits your speech. If you start with your message first and
keep the audience in mind as discussed in Lesson 7, your humor can be very effective.
Idea 2: Try exaggeration, especially when telling a story. Don't just say something is "big". Say it is "as big as an
overweight elephant"! If exaggeration seems to silly or foolish to you, try to say "my friend said..." or "it seemed like..." to introduce
the crazy statement.
Idea 3: For contrast, use understatement after making a strong statement. For example, "We had just survived the biggest
earthquake in history! So we had lunch". The second sentence seems funny because it seems too calm compared to the exciting first sentence.
Idea 4: Use the "rule of three" when giving examples. The first two can be ordinary examples but the third one is a "switch" -
it is odd in some way. For example, I often tell my students that they can ask me any question in class except "how old are you, how
much do you weigh, and how many wives do you have". The first two are topics that someone may not want to talk about but the third one
is just nonsensical.
The most important thing is, don't worry if nobody laughs at your humor. Just keep on going. If your humor is tied to your message, people
will think you made an important point even if they don't laugh!
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