How to add humour to your speech!

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Rowena, a member of WiBF Speakers  – City Club recently attended a stand-up comedy  workshop which contained useful bits of information about how to deliver comic material. In the context of humorous speech competitions at club, area and district level in the past couple of weeks, Rowena decided to write a blog post to help others write humorous speeches.

I’ve always thought that I had a good sense of humour (GSOH as the lonely hearts columns say) but I struggle to write funny speeches.  Public speaking is supposed to be the most common fear people experience and it is feared more than death! If so, stand-up comedy must be like the death of a 1000 cuts in that case.  Despite this, when I heard about a workshop run by Max Dickens, a stand up comedian who facilitates workshops focused on adding humour to speeches, I decided to give it a whirl!

In this workshop I learnt several things in this workshop such as with most subjects, the first thing we tend to do is to break it down into its constituent parts. However, as Max said in his introduction, ‘Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog.  Nobody is interested, and the frog dies.’Instead, Max gave us some techniques to use right away.

The Basics

The main thing is to be authentic. This means being true to yourself and not trying to be someone else. Aim to be fun, not funny and don’t get hung up on timing. Use everyday scenarios that you’re familiar with. Be clear, cut away the superfluous and don’t talk into the laugh.

Use:

  • Truth
  • Surprise (the story goes somewhere you weren’t expecting)
  • Attitude (the comic builds emotion)

For example, we talked about shopping. One guy said he hated shopping for lingerie for his wife as it was really embarrassing. When asked what he found embarrassing, he said ‘Trying it on! ’This comment illustrates how the speaker surprised us, and also built up emotion in his response. Max highlighted that there was a technique to creating humour in a speech which I’ve summarised below.

Part One

Think of a topic and describe your attitude to it and insights into it. Be credible and specific.

Part Two

As a brainstorming technique, describe what is:

  • Weird
  • Stupid
  • Scary
  • Hard

then deliver the punch line. To test this technique we looked at different types of jokes and how an array of techniques can add humour to a speech.

Wordplay

Double meanings, e.g. ‘My cat is recovering from a massive stroke.’ It is possible to buy a dictionary of homonyms (homonyms are words that has two or more meanings)

Afterthought

For example, 3/10 men have a problem with PE. The rest don’t think it is a problem.

Pull Back and reveal

Describe something and then use the punch line to reveal the opposite.

Confirming stereotypes

For example: ‘Nobody thought Mel Gibson could play a Scot; look at him now, alcoholic & racist.’

Simile

Describe something as…….

Analogy

These work well for humorous speeches. For example, three quarters of marriages fail. Why do people do it? Would you go skydiving if you were told three quarters of parachutes fail to open?

Rule of three

‘I think the worse thing about a night of drunkenness is waking up next to someone, not knowing their name , how you met them and why they’re dead!’The third point is the punch line.

General rules

Self-deprecate! People love to hear of failure.

Make high status people the butt of your jokes!

Think of a similar idea to transition between stories.

Conclusion

After this workshop it dawned on me that we are using lots of these techniques already at Toastmasters. As ever, the key is practice, practice, practice.  Apparently, as your skill develops, you get a sort of radar or 6th sense for what works and what is funny.

I enjoyed the evening so much that I signed up to an 8 week course starting next week! I feel like I’ve agreed to do a parachute jump. Let’s hope that four out of four open!

To end, I will leave you with this. One weird thing I noticed at the workshop was that there were some INCREDIBLY annoying laughs in the audience. I don’t know if the comedian noticed it, but I was dreading the punch lines. I hope none of them are there next week!

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