We all love to laugh. It is known that we are well disposed towards those that make us laugh. Any public speaker needs to have their audience ‘well disposed’ towards them; so it makes sense that we need to come to grips with the use of humour.

Unfortunately, humour in public speaking is a tricky thing. Overdo it and we are just a comedy routine; our important, life changing message can get lost in the guffaws, titters and belly laughs. This is not a good thing!

And yet, if we consistently emphasise the serious, the lugubrious and the weighty arguments we can depress our audience to the point of tears. This is not always a good thing.

The use of humour can lighten the atmosphere when things are getting heavy. It gives the audience a chance to catch their breath, to lighten their hearts a little and prepare them for another change of mood. It is useful to provide a breathing space between important and complex ideas. But – it must be appropriate to the speech.

The problem is that not everyone has the capacity to use humour effectively. The person who can lightly toss out a quip or an appropriate one-liner is not often found; and most of us need to study the way in which humour works.

There are a number of books, articles and web sites devoted to using humour as a public speaker but the following ideas might be a good place to start.

Use short humorous stories or anecdotes to personalise your point. These can be found on the web or in the variety of books dedicated to the topic. An anecdote or humorous story doesn’t need to be given verbatim. You can personalise it, make the characters fit your topic and if necessary set the scene to one more local. The basis for such stories are ‘actions’ and ‘punch line’ and if you stay true to these you should succeed in getting at least, a wry smile.

The things to be avoided are the ‘blue’ jokes and the stereotypical humour that depends on insulting blondes or mother-in-laws. Unless you are really sure of the make up of your audience why take the chance to offend a large percentage of them? The risk is not worth the laugh.

The safest type of humour is self-deprecation. By making yourself the subject of the humour you are safe from offending anyone; you set up a sense of identification in your audience, because if they haven’t done something similar they will be well aware of how close they came and the laughter will be genuine.

So, humour should be an essential tool in the public speaker’s kit; but it needs to be used with caution and start low key, find a one-liner that can emphasis your point and try it. Watch your timing on delivery; the punch line needs a slight hesitation pause; and whatever you do, don’t laugh at your own jokes. They are never that funny!

Try it out and see how it goes; the first laugh might be a restrained snigger; but that is a start. Keep looking out for humorous stories, one-liners and acceptable jokes that you may be able to include in your more serious speeches and watch the laughter build. And note how the atmosphere lightens when used to punctuate some of your weightier topics.

Ensure that the humour is used appropriately, is relevant to the topic and is recognisable; and you too might find that your audience is ‘well disposed’ to like you, and that’s what it’s all about.

Michele @ Trischel.

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