I'm not a funny speaker.
I hate trying to be funny.
I used to ignore the need for humour in speaking. I thought “I'm an inspirational speaker. I'm a motivational speaker. I'm NOT a humorous speaker.”
A big shout out goes to Steve Harvey for changing my mindset. I once heard him say that humour is a gift. He added that when you make people laugh, their minds open and they will be more receptive to any message that you deliver.
From watching and learning from the best motivational, inspirational and transformational speakers in the world, I have learned that uncovering the humour in your speech not only adds to your speaking, but it IS necessary to make your message stick.
People like to laugh. Actually they LOVE to laugh. They just don't always know it. But it's true. When you see a speaker that makes an audience laugh, even during a “serious” speech, you can almost see the relief in the audience.
Think about it – have you ever listened to a speech that had a serious tone, then heard a line that made you laugh, and actually felt relieved? As if you needed the break? That's how audience's feel. They want to laugh, no matter the topic.
Think of the following 5 ways to be funnier when you speak. Use them not to force humour into your speeches, but think of them as you write your speech, and use them as you uncover the natural funny moments in your story. Trust me, you can always find humour in a speech. When I made an audience laugh during a speech about my father dying of cancer, and another during a talk about being criminally charged, I realized that humour is truly “tragedy plus time.”
Tip #1 – The Rule of 3
The rule of 3 is very powerful. You can tell 3 vignettes in a short speech or make 3 points in a longer speech. When adding humour to your speech, think of 3 short points or questions that you can say to or ask your audience – the first 2 being serious and relevant, and the 3rd being ridiculous or involving a twist (but also relevant).
Do this exercise. Write down 2 points that lead the audience in a certain direction, then write TEN ridiculous twists that the audience might not expect as your 3rd point. Test them out on friends, and whatever one gets the most laughs, use it as your 3rd point.
Tip #2 – Laugh First
Sometimes you may deliver a humorous line, and think that a corresponding laugh is obvious – but it may not be. Sometimes you have to lead with a smile or laughter after you deliver the line. This prompts your audience to join you in laughter as well. People want to mimic each other. Have you ever seen a baby smile, then started smiling in response? That is our natural reaction – we want to copy what we see.
Smile or laugh as you deliver a funny line, and see your laughs multiplied throughout your audience.
Tip #3 – Emotional Exaggeration
A fellow speaking coach once told me that laughter is the gap between what your audience expects you to say, and what you actually say. And the bigger the gap, the bigger the laugh.
Find an area in your speech where your audience expects certain words and a certain emotion behind the words – then twist it on them and say something that opposes. For example, if you are talking about something serious, and then you throw in something light or funny (but keeping with the story), often the line is funny for the simple fact that it is UNEXPECTED.
Keep this in mind. Look for twists in your story.
Tip #4 – Characters and Conversations
Do you know how to bring your stories to life? Deliver lines of dialogue as if the person giving them was right there in the room with you. Often, conversations that we have with people have inherently funny moments, so use them and deliver the lines that they say. Don't just say, “She told me to bring the Apple Juice.” Instead, say, “She looked at me and said, 'Bring the apple juice, will ya!'” Bring characters and conversations into your speeches. Re-live the actual moments, including facial expressions, when you deliver the lines of conversation. This will bring life to your speeches, and humour to your lines.
Tip #5 – Audience Association
Can you mention something familiar to your specific audience? Is there something that happened at the event that you are at or during the day that would only apply to that specific day or that specific audience? Can you call back to it? Often when you can mention something that is customized to the audience of that day, it is funny for that reason alone.
Can you customize your speech?
Use these 5 tips to make your speech funnier...but more importantly, to make your message stick.
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.