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April 2024
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6 Rules of Humor

By Graham Honaker, ACS, CL

Laughter and applause


Find Humor in Everyday Life

Some of the best speeches are inspired by everyday occurrences. In 2013, my wife and I flew with our two young children to Europe. The ensuing chaos on the airplane provided me with enough material to compose my winning speech that year. Think about your everyday life and things that may have a humorous twist to them.


Know Your Audience

In a 2009 speech, I compared the delivery of my first child to a Toastmasters meeting. This would have made little sense to a non-Toastmasters audience, but the humorous comparison (using timing cards to help with my wife’s contractions) landed perfectly with my audience. Knowing your audience is important when trying to land a punchline.


It’s a Humorous Speech ­Contest: Be Funny!

The best speeches are funny throughout. Some speakers work up to a big laugh at the end, so their speeches are void of humor in the introduction and body. This approach leaves your audience wondering, When do I get to laugh? Launch into a joke right off the bat to get the audience warmed up and kick-start your energy level.


Use Props

In the 2013 district contest, I brought a suitcase to show how, ideally, one should travel with kids inside a bag. I closed the speech by donning a pilot’s cap. Think about effective props that can enhance your humor.


Don’t Step on Your Laughter

One of the greatest challenges a ­humorous speaker faces is to avoid ­stepping on the audience’s response. It takes practice, but you have to allow your audience the time to laugh and soak in the humor. You can kill a joke entirely by rushing to tell your next one. Use effective pauses to enhance those jokes.


Consult with Others

Always run your speech by a mentor or trusted advisor. I have seen several contestants essentially eliminate themselves with humor that was deemed offensive. One of the reasons I am a fan of self-deprecating humor is that you only risk offending yourself!


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