I’m all for injecting humor into a speech, but experience has led me to conclude that telling jokes is a risky venture.
(Let me start by confessing that I love jokes, both hearing and telling them. And I enjoy the rare speakers who are able to tell jokes in a speech successfully. If you’re one of them, more power to you, and I encourage you to keep it up.)
Be Cautious about Telling Jokes in a Speech
One of the worst pieces of advice you can get about speaking is, “Start your speech with a joke.”
My advice is, “Never start a speech with a joke.”
Okay, you can start your speech with a joke, if…
- If you’re a professional comedian.
- If the audience is psyched up for it. (Big time comedians are preceded by people who warm up the audience to get them in a laughing mood.)
- If, in other words, you’re absolutely positive that the audience will laugh at your joke.
But the chances of people actually laughing at your joke at the start are slim. So I recommend against it.
You may tell a joke sometime later in your speech if...
- If you’re good at telling jokes (and if other people think you’re good at it).
- If the joke is appropriate to the audience, occasion, and topic.
- If the audience is in a good mood and likes you.
That means that most speakers, most of the time, should not tell jokes during a speech.
Being Humorous in a Speech Can be a Good Thing
Using humor in a speech is something altogether different from telling jokes, and I encourage it.
Telling jokes is a skill and an art. Its intention is to be funny and to make people laugh.
Humor is an attitude: the ability to see, enjoy, and express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd. Its intention to share that amusement with others who may laugh, but who may simply (and genuinely) smile.
Humor treats things lightly, even serious matters, not to ridicule them, but to keep people from taking themselves too seriously. That’s why self-deprecating humor — the ability to laugh at oneself — is the most effective type of humor a speaker can use.
Humor is almost always appropriate and appreciated in a speech. (It’s also almost always appropriate and appreciated in life.)
What do you think? Do you have examples you’d like to share?