Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.

Podium Humor

The use and abuse of podium humor is a popular topic at K. W. Huskey Associates training seminars.

Humor is an excellent tool. In the hands of a skilled spokesperson, it can serve to soothe a potentially hostile audience, win friends, defuse controversy, fortify speaker credibility, emphasize key messages, open and close speeches and more. Humor makes a presentation entertaining … enhancing the prospects of speeches to inform and persuade. It is a tool to be used adroitly.

Humor is the seasoning, not the food, of the speech. Following these guidelines will cut down the risk and increase the benefits of tapping your sense of humor in the speaking situation.

  1. Audience Analysis
    Like your entire message, podium humor begins with a thorough audience/occasion analysis. The more you know about them, the more the funny bones will surface … as will the frayed nerve endings. Organization newsletters ooze with joke starters and seeds to be cultivated.

  2. Stretch … A Little
    While it's true each of us has a funny bone of different size and shape, each of us has the capacity to use podium humor effectively. You don't have to be a stand-up comic. Many speakers have convinced themselves that they "aren't funny" or they "don't tell jokes." No problem. Podium humor is a different skill altogether. Humorous anecdotes about the famous and third-party jokes are particularly effective for timid raconteurs. Personal experiences with a funny twist are excellent. The key is to find your best type of humor. Stretch, don't strain.

  3. Raison D'etre
    Podium humor has a purpose; it must fit. Evoking audience laughter is only useful if it serves your purpose. Gracefully weave in and out of your humor. Don't let audience members invest their energy trying to capture your material for their own future use.

  4. Opening and Closing
    Opening and closing with humor can be extremely effective. Opening with humor lets the audience relax (you, too) and cultivates rapport. It also serves to whet the audience appetite for more … passive listeners become active listeners. Closing with humor is a major cause of standing ovations. An otherwise mediocre speech can be saved in the last few minutes with appropriate humor.

  5. Issues
    Speakers often sandwich a discussion of critical issues between openings and closings, sprinkled with gags. Humor is a tool … use it to defuse tough issues. Using a hyperbole is particularly effective here. Appeal to the audience's common sense and thirst for amusement/entertainment.

  6. Hostile Audiences
    Hostile audiences can be tamed with humor. Poke a little fun at yourself or the issue that separates speaker from audience. Demonstrate that you respect the audience and that you're a human being, too … complete with a sense of humor.

  7. Use Good Taste
    Ethnic, religious, sexist and fad humor are at high risk and should be avoided. There's a thin line between a risquι story and a dirty joke … don't cross it. If you have doubts, abandon the joke and select or create an alternative.

  8. List Topics
    Humor is often triggered by an unusual association of events, times, people, things, etc. The longer the list of ideas, the greater the potential. Make note of popular songs, television programs, books, sporting events, political events, movies, crazes, etc. that may tie in with your topic or audience.

  9. Current Events
    Read the national and local papers for a few days prior to the speaking event. Newspapers are ripe with real life humor … weird occurrences, strange facts, true stories and more are common fodder. Read. Read. Read.

  10. Borrow From the Pros
    Don't gag, but watching Jay Leno, David Letterman and the like for a couple of days before your speech may be productive. If you can borrow an effective, funny line, go for it! If not, at least you'll benefit from the topical nature of the monologue and can learn from the professional comedians' timing.

  11. Keep a Humor File
    Lightning strikes at the darndest times … often between speaking engagements. Capture funny lines, humorous anecdotes, colorful illustrations, clever puns, etc. Develop a resource to tap during draughts and time of need.

  12. "I Kid Myself"
    Self-deprecating humor works. If a joke must have a buffoon, let it be you. Don't take yourself too seriously. Relax. Laugh. Properly crafted, self-inflicted kidding can also serve to fortify your credibility.

  13. Third-Party Humor
    Blame or credit someone else. Speakers who do not consider themselves natural humorists can inject third-party humor as a device to reduce the risk and pressure. Let famous people take the rap for marginally funny material. This offers the residual benefit of the speaker appearing to be well read. Select people of high audience respect and esteem … or the exact opposite if it serves your purpose. Eliminate coming across as "stuffy" by avoiding quotes from obscure characters from high-brow literature.

  14. Be Creative
    The perfect speaker, like the perfect punch line, has yet to mount a podium. Don't be shackled by past habits or friends' expectations. Every brain has a little compartment crammed full of creative sparks … let 'em fly!

  15. Brain Block
    Don't force it. Take a break … take a walk, take in a movie (comedy, of course), but don't continue if you're obviously stumped or burnt out. Get a fresh start later. What gets your creative juices flowing?

  16. Trial Balloons
    Break in new material on family members, colleagues and fellow speakers bureau members. Solicit the reaction of others. This is not a foolproof test, but it should help fine tune concepts. "Social facilitation" should be factored into the equation.

  17. Social Facilitation
    Cold rooms and sparsely filled auditoriums feed on unsuspecting jokes. Physical accommodations may retard your attempts at humor. Show up early and be assertive in designing room arrangements.

  18. Moods
    Audiences have moods that may transcend all the intelligence you gathered during your audience analysis. The announcement of ill or deceased members prior to your speech may affect the audience temperament. A somber, bereaved audience may not eagerly embrace your levity. Stay in touch with the program chairperson, arrive early, mingle, ask questions and more importantly, listen.

  19. Don't Read
    Nothing kills a funny line more surely than pedestrian delivery. Humor must sound genuine and fresh to be effective. Stale delivery complete with choppy phrasing and an absence of eye contact can strip the life from even the most robust material. On the other hand, over-rehearsed material may sound stale. Use common sense and remember timing is everthing.

  20. Send Non-verbal Signals
    The audience takes its cues from you. Your facial expressions serve as a comedic barometer. Let the audience know that the following is intended to amuse. Smile, grin, wince, smirk, scowl or whatever is required to tip listeners off to the humor to follow.

  21. Be Spontaneous
    The most cleverly crafted joke can pale next to a witty observation or spontaneous remark. Be sensitive to what's happening around you and don't hesitate to deviate from your game plan if suddenly struck by an amusing inspiration. A steady diet of speaking assignments will help sharpen your spontaneity.

  22. Q & A
    Do not turn off your sense of humor during the Q & A session. Use it to entertain and to defuse tough questions. Rehearsed jokes may seem completely spontaneous during the Q & A session. Don't spar with audience members. Your assessment of the chemistry of the moment will be your guide as to how comical you become.

  23. Crisis Humor
    Exploding slide projectors, collapsing easels, sneezing speakers, loud noises outside, bungled phrases, etc. are all potentially unnerving to speakers. They are also opportunities for humor. Turn what could be a distraction into an asset by laughing it away. Developing two or three standard lines will usually suffice for any crisis situation that may crop up.

  24. Bombs Away
    Even the most skillful spokesperson bombs every now and then … so will you. When your joke dies an ugly death, buried in audience silence, keep going. Don't stop to critique yourself … there's plenty of time for that later. Most skillful speakers have a recovery line or two just for this occasion. Some blame the joke's author while others credit an audience member or cite an occasion when it went over big. Don't panic … yet!

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