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March 2024
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Develop a Reputation for Being Funny

Gaining laughs begins with believing in your own humor.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Man speaking at lectern while group of people sitting at table laugh

How many times have you heard it? “You need to add humor to your speech.” But all too frequently, that is easier said than done.

Whether I am looking for laughs in a speech or in casual conversation, I have found it easier to do if I have developed a reputation for being funny—not only in the minds of my audience members, but also within my own mind. It helps if I believe that I am funny.

How do you do that? By being funny as often as you can. “What if I’m not naturally funny?” you might ask. I suspect that you do have a sense of humor, no matter how buried it may be. You need to identify it and develop it.

Illustration of a toolboxIllustration by Bart Browne

I have attended humor workshops where I studied the structure of jokes and other topics for stand-up comedy. I discovered that is definitely not my style. I am more of the quick one-liner type. Mine is what I call situational humor. I don’t need to set up a punch line, the basic conversation or situation does that for me. And that, I would submit, is the perfect type of humor for a speech.

My humor is spur of the moment. For this style of humor to be successful, I need to quickly recognize opportunities for a joke. Puns have trained me to do that.

You might be saying, “Puns? Oh, no!” Yes, puns can be groaners, but they are frequently funny. The more you tell puns, the more you will learn which ones have comedic value.

Puns have taught me two skills—how to sense humor opportunities and how to take advantage of them. Both skills are helpful in adding humor to your speeches.

If a statement can be taken two ways, go with the wrong way.

Another benefit of using puns is that you can bring out the punster in others. If you tell a pun, a punster will respond with one themselves. Immediately start thinking about your own comeback. That is good training.

If you’re looking for another way to develop your funny, Table Topics® is an incredible place to do it. Sometimes the question that you are asked is quite serious, but many times the question can be moved in a humorous direction.

A club member had just returned from a trip to Alaska. While there, he encountered skate fish. My task was to describe that fish. I had no idea what a skate fish was, but I had to say something. I asked myself, what comes to mind when I say “skate”? Ice skating and roller skating. So, I began by saying, “There are actually two kinds of skate fish, ice skate fish and roller skate fish.” I then developed a story from there.

Many times my humor takes the form of taking a comment in a way that it obviously doesn’t mean. If a statement can be taken two ways, go with the wrong way.

Sometimes you can have a funny one-liner by understanding what the audience is expecting, and then saying something different. I once heard a speaker talk about how she revitalized a struggling Toastmasters club. She told us that, when she joined, she was given the choice of any officer roles that she wanted. All were available. She said, “So, naturally, I chose President.” I suggested that she say, “So, naturally, I chose Sergeant at Arms.” That got a big laugh.

In a contest speech, I talked about an incident that happened one day when I was on the radio. I was a news reader and read a story about the Paris rapid transit system. I knew this title would sound really boring to my audience, so I paused and then said, “I sense your excitement.” That brought the house down.

As you practice, you will get a good feel for which one-liners will be funny and which ones will fall flat. But the more that you develop that reputation for being funny, the more people will laugh, even if it isn’t one of your best punch lines. That will give you confidence and the courage to tell more jokes. Which, of course, will enhance your reputation as a funny person.

Don’t wait until you have a speech to work on. Develop that reputation for humor, especially in your own mind. That is when adding humor to a speech becomes much easier.

Humor is “funny” like that. (Oh, no! Not another pun!)

Watch this Toastmasters webinar to learn how to sprinkle a little laughter effectively and appropriately into many aspects of your professional and personal life.


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