Using Humour In Speeches

Put a smile on the faces of your audience

Why Use Humour?

Using humour in speeches and presentations can help to create a bond with the audience and put them at ease. Then they are more receptive to your message. It can help to influence them to your point of view.

Let’s take a look at how to use humour in speeches and the benefits of doing so.

Party Humour

When we laugh or smile, it’s like throwing a little feel-good party in our brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits our health and happiness.

Why not invite your audience to join the party by injecting humour into your speeches?

But before we bring on the party, let’s just clarify what we mean by humour.

Using Humour v. Comedy

Humour isn’t the same as comedy. It isn’t about telling jokes.

Comedy is planned; jokes are rehearsed and are unlikely to be relevant to a speech where you are trying to convey a specific message.

In a business presentation, colleagues or potential customers are unlikely to be impressed by joke telling. But using humour in a presentation, perhaps spontaneously as a reaction to an audience comment, can work well for you.

Presentation Party Planning

Even though spontaneous humour is to be welcomed, it’s a good idea to consider using humour in your speech at the planning stage. But even though planned, humour should feel natural, not forced.

Self-deprecating humour, particularly if used early on, can warm the audience to you. It makes you seem human and more genuine.

Note: That’s not the same as making excuses for yourself.

Often, being a speaker confers a certain amount of authority on you. However, it can make you seem a little remote. Well-used humour can break down barriers and help you connect with your audience.

OK, so let’s bin the joke book and look at how to use humour in speeches to good effect.

How to use humour in speeches - bin the joke book!

Using Humour In Speeches

There are various ways of using humour in speeches and presentations. The context will influence what is most appropriate for the occasion.

Shall we explore?

Quite Quick Quips

As your confidence grows, you’ll probably find it becomes easier, more natural, to throw in humorous off-the-cuff remarks.

Generally, this works well and is a good way to connect with the audience. Particularly if you are poking fun at yourself.

But just give yourself a second to reflect on whether it is appropriate to the situation. Is the audience in the mood for such humour? This is particularly important if you are making fun at someone else’s expense.

Using Humorous Stories

Can you tell a story to illustrate a learning point that you are trying to communicate to the audience?

If it’s personal or involves someone you know, it’s likely to be more meaningful. Especially if it’s an account of something that didn’t quite go to plan and there is learning to be gained from it.

A short, humorous story that illustrates a point makes it more likely your audience will remember than if you just lectured them.

Wrong-Foot Your Audience

An unexpected change of direction that wrong-foots the audience can work very effectively, but only if related to something that the audience will be familiar with.

For example, if you were talking about property development you could start by saying,
“Any estate agent will tell you it’s all about location, location and …”
then pause briefly to allow the audience to complete the sentence with ‘location’.

And you finish seamlessly, “… making a quick buck.” (Apologies to any estate agents reading this.)

Light and Shade

Speeches are often on serious subjects. Sometimes they may even be emotionally challenging for the audience.

If it is used appropriately, humour can give the audience some light relief in an otherwise serious presentation. By providing light as well as shade, the power of the message can be reinforced.

This was demonstrated by Bill Gates in a speech about malaria. He talked about how it has been eradicated in developed countries but not in poorer countries and the devastating effects of malaria in those countries.

He then picked up a jar from a table beside him, opened it and said,
“Now, malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit. There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience.”

After the initial surprise there was much laughter. (By the way, the mosquitos weren’t infected.)

It is unlikely that anyone in the audience will forget the message Bill Gates was conveying.

Mosquitoes released from a jar

Take a Laughter Break

Often, inexperienced speakers make the mistake of continuing to speak when the audience is still laughing at something they just said. If you get a laugh, pause and let the laughter run its course.

By pausing you allow everyone to relax for a second or two and then re-focus on what you have to say.

And size matters. The bigger the room and greater the number in the audience, the longer it will take for the laughter to spread through the room. So wait for everyone to settle down again before continuing.

If the audience doesn’t laugh when you expect them to, don’t worry, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t find it amusing. They may well be smiling to themselves and enjoying your humour.

The Last Laugh

Using humour in speeches is a skill that can be learned. Watch how other speakers use it and the effect it has.

Try to inject natural impromptu humour in response to a particular situation or audience reaction.

Remember, by giving your audience the opportunity to laugh, not only will you increase your connection with them, but you will also be good for their wellbeing.

Click here to watch Bill Gates’ speech.

This post was last updated on 15th December 2023.


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