Using Humor In Public Speaking

It has been said that public speaking is more frightening to the average person than violence, natural catastrophe or death. However, public speaking need not cause such trepidation.

As with many of the bolder, more “extreme” activities in life- be it dangerous sports, riding on a roller coasters or partaking in the performing arts- once an individual has “broken the ice,” gained experience and felt the rush of adrenalin brought upon by the activity- what was once terrifying and nearly unthinkable is suddenly pleasurable, immensely satisfying, even addictive.

Whether you have to deliver a speech, presentation or other type of address, one of the keys to happy and successful public speaking is gathering up one’s nerve, taking that first leap and just doing it! But that first attempt will yield greater results and feel less scary if the first time speaker is prepared in terms of approach, attitude and delivery, and armed with the best, most appropriate and effective words to speak.

And one of the key elements in many effective speeches is humor. Human beings love to experience the release that humor offers- the unexpected twist, the totally different perspective in looking at an issue or problem, the light comedic take on a serious issue or problem. Why deliver a plain, regular, predictable speech, when you can deliver a funny speech? Funny usually equals more entertaining and more memorable.

If the speech is about highly technical matters- be it for a specific company, industry or field of interest- the speaker can get appropriate and appreciated laughs by making fun of the technical terms- or jargon- employed by the members of the group. Perhaps the group members employ an “alphabet soup” of acronyms for things. Good comedy undoubtedly will come out of that, as well as other “insider” terms and concepts. Individuals involved in a specific scene or milieu love hearing irreverent or mocking comments having to do with their special “world.” Whether your group is bankers, bottle cap manufacturers or spotted moth enthusiasts, they will greatly appreciate and heartily laugh at well-constructed jokes referencing their area of work, interest or expertise.

If the event is more about recognizing specific personalities in attendance, then the very popular “roast” format can be employed, with great success. In a roast, an individual, or several individuals, are recognized and honored through the jesting, teasing and telling of highly personalized jokes by selected presenters or “roasters.” What makes roasting so powerful, besides the cleverness, sharpness and unexpectedness of the punchlines, is the personal familiarity that the attendees feel with the roast honoree(s). A close knowledge of a subject’s strengths and weaknesses, their foibles, notable anecdotes, likes and dislikes, qualities, characteristics and tendencies will enable the speaker to connect with the audience in a deeper way, offering jokes that resonate deeply beneath the surface. And realize that a roast need not be crude, lewd and of the sort one might see on Comedy Central or HBO. A roast can maintain a lighter, cleaner, more “tasteful” sensibility if that is appropriate and necessary for the setting and audience.

There are several mechanisms used in successful joke writing. First, there is exaggeration. Take any specific piece of information and multiply it exponentially until it becomes absurd. “His sandwich is the size of a studio apartment.” “She’s as mean as a pit bull at Abu Ghraib.” “He’s crazier than Randy Quaid on the wrong meds.”

Then there is comparison. A is to B as X is to Y. “Trying to convince her to stop is like trying to get Kim Jong Il to go on ‘The View.” Or, “Working for him is like doing time at San Quentin- but with worse furniture.”

There is also the exaggerated, made-up funny scenario. “When I ran into him in the hallway, he set me on fire and hit me with a coconut.” Or, “I had her do my hair and she gave me a fluorescent purple beehive with actual bees in it.”

There are several other highly effective comedic mechanisms used in successful joke, speech and roast writing and you can look them up in comedy writing books or websites or you can hire a proven professional comedy writer to custom write a funny speech, presentation or roast for you. Since the public speaking alone is a big step for you, and you want to put your efforts and energy into acing that, you may do very well to put the writing- at least in your beginning stages- in the hands of a seasoned comedic speech writing professional. Such professional comedy speech and roast writers can be found easily through an online search. And remember, if you adopt an attitude of calm confidence, pretend that you are speaking to a bunch of close friends in an intimate social gathering, and come prepared with a great- and funny- speech, you will do very well and be a bit at your meeting, event or party.

Author Adam Gropman is a comedy/speech writer and can be reached at inquiry@thefunnybiz.biz.

Adam Gropman


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