Don’t do it!
Unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up and primed to laugh, do not — I repeat, do not — start your speech with a joke.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll bomb. The other 1% of the time you’ll get a polite, halfhearted response. And where do you go from there?
Humor in a speech, on the other hand, is almost always appreciated.
When you tell a joke, you’re trying to make people laugh. When you use humor, you’re wanting to amuse them. You’re happy if they smile or chuckle.
Humor makes people more likely to like you. It weakens their resistance. It’s like Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar: it helps the medicine go down.
To be humorous without trying too hard, follow these rules:
- Laugh at yourself, your foibles, your mistakes.
Self-depreciating humor is the safest and surest way to win people’s hearts.
- Write it out.
A sense of surprise, clever wordplay, exaggeration and embellishment, amusing anecdotes, and ironic twists get better with the kind of refinement and precision that comes from writing and rewriting.
Paradoxically, it takes practice to use humor so well that it sounds spontaneous and unscripted.
- Keep it clean.
Avoid embarrassing, insulting, or offending your audience. Don’t laugh at others or make them an object of ridicule.
- Don’t tell listeners what’s funny.
Saying, “This is really funny” is a setup for failure. Simply tell your story or make your witty remark and allow the audience to respond. If they laugh, great. If they don’t, move on.
- Follow the AT&T rule.
Is your humor Appropriate to the subject and the audience? Is it Tasteful? Is it Timely?
Even if your humor meets those criteria, remember: Less is more. So keep it short. Avoid long stories or complicated setups. And limit how often you use humor in a speech.
After all, as humorous as you may be, you still want to be taken seriously.