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April 2024
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A Quip a Day Keeps the Boredom Away

How to add humor to your speeches.

By Bill Brown, DTM

Jester hat with funny glasses, nose, and mustache on yellow background

I can always tell when it is getting close to contest season. Someone emails me and asks me to help them add humor to their contest speech.

I believe that your humor is better if you create it yourself. Why? Because you will deliver it better.

I can hear some of you now. “But, Bill, I’m not good at humor.” So get good.

I am good at humor because I do it all the time. The more you tell jokes, the better you get at delivering them—and the better you get at seeing opportunities for humor.

Now when I say “joke” I am not referring to a riddle or a long story with a setup. I am referring to a one-liner that is a response to a comment from someone else. This, in my opinion, is the best kind of humor in speeches. It’s natural, it’s short, and it doesn’t divert from your key points.

In building your humor ability, I recommend that you get in the habit of telling jokes every day. It trains you to be in the moment, ready for any opportunity. And it gives you experience in how to construct a joke and how to tell it. Timing and expression are important.

Let me give you some examples that might stimulate your humor muscles.

It is not uncommon to be in a store and have a salesclerk ask, “May I help you?” I just casually say, “Oh, I’m beyond help, thank you,” and then enjoy watching their reaction.

Years ago, when I was a Toastmasters Area Director, I visited a club that was centered on gardening. They asked me to say a few words and I informed them that gardening wasn’t my strong suit. “In fact, my last name is Brown for a reason.” They loved that line, so I continued using it over the years. I have since taken up gardening and had a good crop of vegetables this past season. I know, you’re green with envy.

My wife recently was reading about a new restaurant in town. She told me that they had a featured meal every day. “Today, it’s chili.” I immediately replied, “It’s supposed to be even chillier tomorrow.”

One day my wife was getting ready to prepare dinner. I was also in the kitchen, so she asked me to hand her a pan. I asked her which one. “Oh, I don’t care. Any one.” So, I picked up a vegetable that happened to be on the counter. It was called a Patty Pan.

The more you tell jokes, the better you get at delivering them—and the better you get at seeing opportunities for humor.

I was in a Toastmasters club a number of years ago and a speaker talked on the history of the dunce cap (those cone-shaped hats used as punishment for students years ago). She had one as a prop, which she placed on a table, coincidentally next to her notes. At one point in her speech, she had forgotten her lines, so she went over to the table and looked at her script. What if she had slowly picked up the dunce cap and placed it on her head? She would have brought the house down.

In this Toastmasters Podcast episode, learn how to tap into your clown presence with professional speaker and performer Don Colliver.

And looking at the Toastmaster magazine, last month’s theme was personal growth. My first thought when I heard it was, diet and nutrition can help you with that.

Now, were those jokes absolutely knee-slapping funny? Not really. But it gives you a picture of what you can create with no warning and how to compose one in a few seconds. In a contest speech, you can work on your humor to hone it to where it is awesome. And recognize, when you are in a real situation, what isn’t funny on paper can still be a real laugh because it is unexpected.

I keep telling jokes because it keeps me sharp. And, besides, it’s fun. It also helps that I don’t mind if I get a groan or if a joke falls flat. If you tell enough of them, you will get your fair share of laughs, and, as you get better at humor, those will come more and more frequently.

Give it a try yourself. Feel free to use the “Oh, I’m beyond help, thank you” line as a starter. It works in many situations. And it will give you practice.

When you listen to a speech in your club, what humor opportunities do you see? Add that to your evaluation.

I suspect that if you got a full-body x-ray, you’d find a crazy bone in there somewhere. Learn how to use it. And have fun in the process.


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