Much like jello, there is always room for humor. Even the most solemn of speeches can be enhanced by the right kind of funny. How do you create a speech that is funny, relevant, and still a speech (rather than a standup routine)? Follow these simple rules, and you'll be delivering a comic speech that will bolster your message and keep your audience interested.
The Rule of Three
Three is the magic number in just about anything. It's especially magic in comedy. Aristotle said, "The secret to humor is surprise." He's still right to this day. The funniest things happen unexpectedly. That's why the rule of three works so well. When you mention two perfectly normal or logical things and follow them with something that doesn't fit, is opposite, or is totally illogical, it takes your audience by surprise and, if done correctly, can really make them laugh.
Renowned comedian John Kinde explains some of the patterns that you may use:
- Same / Same / Different (categories)
- Expected / Expected / Unexpected (traits)
- Love / Love / Hate
- Ordinary / Ordinary / Ridiculous
- Extreme / Extreme / Ordinary
… the list goes on.
Franklin D. Roosevelt utilized this rule when he advised speakers to "Be sincere, be brief, be seated."
Simply put, observational humor is infusing your speech with something you've observed recently. It is a shared experience that instantly endears you to the audience. If you are someone who can think on your feet, this is a wonderful technique that instantly gets the audience on your side. It can also make your well-rehearsed, prepared speech seem tailored and spontaneous.
When thinking of observational humor, the first name that typically comes to mind is Jerry Seinfeld. He can take the most mundane, everyday occurrence and make a joke out of it. You can do this, too. You don't have to go off on a wild story like Bill Cosby or hire a team of writers like Jay Leno – simply be aware of your surroundings and perhaps a quirk or complaint of your audience and work it into your speech.
This is also a great technique to employ should something embarrassing happen, such as a cell phone going off in the middle of your speech or your PowerPoint powering down when you need it most.
If you can good-naturedly poke fun at yourself, you've got a gold mine for a humorous speech. The easiest are obvious traits, such as being excessively tall or short. It doesn't even have to be verbal – I once saw a speaker bring down the house just by staring up for a moment at the microphone that had been set above her head. She made a face, then faked a couple of jumping swipes as if trying to reach it. When the technician came to rescue her, she gave him a kiss on the cheek after he adjusted the stand. She could have adjusted it herself and even complained about the height – instead she chose to make us laugh. From then on, we really wanted to hear what she had to say.
The most important thing to remember about using self-effacing humor is to have fun. No one wants to hear you beat up on yourself. Make sure it's something you can laugh about yourself.
Humorist vs. Comic
If you are a humorist, you can deliver a funny, engaging, and poignant speech that teaches even as it entertains. This is a different art form than being a stand-up comic delivering one-liners. Combining the three techniques above in various ways may take a bit of practice, but the payoff is huge. If they're laughing, they're learning.