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Humor - Tips for Using it in Talks and Speeches
By:Cy Eberhart

There are many occasions when you can find yourself speaking to an audience. These can range from report to club members to a formal talk or lecture at a professional gathering . Whatever the occasion you want information be of interest and remembered.

Humor can help you achieve both goals. Now this is not the same as giving humorous talk. That is a most difficult speech to deliver effectively, requiring a special talent and skill. These tips have to do with the use of humor in your presentations, whatever these may be, to help make your points clear and remembered.

Everything that said in my previous article, Humor - Tips for Using it in Everyday Conversation, also applies to using humor in speeches. But public or platform speaking at is sometimes called does have some additional considerations. Almost every professional speechwriter agrees on what the important ones are.


You are speaking to present an idea or discuss a subject. Use only those jokes or bits of humor that help you do that. A funny story that has nothing to do with your subject won't help you or your audience. Often a person is inclined to begin a presentation with a joke or humorous story. Your are immediately on shaky ground when you do. You have, in effect, a stand-alone bit of humor. It may or may not get the laugh you want. If the audience does not laugh, then you’ve lost that moment of initial interest audiences always give a speaker.

One way to overcome this risk is making sure your opening story has a point so strong that even if the laugh does not come, you can continue immediately focusing on the point of your story.


With humor you can actually make a point three times. You make your statement, follow it with your joke to highlight or illustrate what you just said, then you restate your original point. Three times you made your point: Your statement, the illustrative joke, a restatement. The listener, in recalling the humor at a future time, also recalls the point associated with it.

One comedy-writing technique to help you fit a story to your subject is called "Switching." You can change either the build up or the punch line for it to fit your subject matter.

Example of changing the build up: Original:

Neighbor: Do you like your new sister, Tommy? Tommy: Oh yes, but there are lots of things we needed more. Switched: Friend: I hear your mother married again. Do you like your new father? Tommy: He's all right, but there's lots of things we needed more.

Example of changing the punch line: Original:

Desperate panhandler: Lady, I haven't eaten in four days. Rich lady: Young man, you must learn to force yourself. Switched: Panhandler: Lady, I haven't eaten in four days. Can you help me. Rich Lady: Certainly. I recommend The Ritz, a wonderful restaurant on 14th Street.

Take time to practice switching jokes. Beside being fun, it will expand your story file.


Try to personalize and localize your stories. Instead of saying "a man" and "a city" give the man and the city names that the audience recognizes. If you can use their locale and people in the audience, so much the better. Work yourself into the joke as though you saw it happen, and if you can become the fall guy, better still. They'll love you for it.


When your joke has quotes, deliver them in the style of the jokes above. Do not say, "He’s all right,” said Tommy, "But there's lots of things we needed more”. That’s OK in writing, but in speaking it slows down the story.

Cy Eberhart

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