May 25

32 Essential Skills Every Humorous Speaker Should Have

I’ve been inspired by fellow blogger Andrew Dlugan’s post 25 Essential Presentation Skills for Public Speakingaudience-laughter
I think in order to help you learn to be funny, these are some of the skills and humour techniques that you should have. Some directly relate to giving a speech, whilst others involve external factors. You’ll see what I mean below.

I know that there are some people wonder: “should you be funny in a speech?” I think it really depends on the circumstances and topic of your speech. For the most part I would say yes. Humour is a great way to connect with your audiences and have them remember your message. One of the essential skills below addresses this very idea.

Can you think of any more? If so, leave a comment below.

1. Create Large Amounts of Humour – duh, seems obvious, right? We should be able to create a large amount of humorous material that we can draw upon. Material created by your own sense of humour, not lifeless techniques on paper.

2. Refinement of your Humour– we need to be able to refine that humour to be able to get the maximum amount of laughs. If you can make humorous statements that make you think as well, then so much the better.
3. Open with a Big Laugh, Close with a Bigger One – according to the psychology of the primacy-recency effect* we remember the thing we see/hear first and last.
4. Know your terms – you should have an understanding of what a set-up line, punchline and tag line is.
5. Use natural gestures – a lot of people think that when they have to use body language they go out of their way to use exaggerated-Jim-Carrey-like movements. Just be you.
6. Tell a Humorous Story – make sure your story has a point as well as being funny.
7. Use simple, Zen-like Slides – simplicity is best. Read this post make your Make Your Next Presentation Naked by Garr Reynolds on Presentation Zen. Also, how can you uncover the humour?
8. Learn How to Handle Jokes – you should know how to source, edit and delivery joke stories
9. Use Different Humour Techniques – your audience can get used to a certain rhythm, so change it up a bit by using joke stories, quotes, one-liners and so on.
10. An Ability to Think on Your Feet – take an improve class, participate in table topics at Toastmasters International. Whatever you do you need to be able to think on your feet if something goes wrong. For example, when speaking, funny comments for microphone feedback might be a good way of calling the moment.
11. Deal with Interruptions – a waiter might drop a tray, your microphone might give you feedback. You need to be able to call the moment and deal with the interruption effectively.
12. Know Your Equipment – know how to handle a microphone, your laptop and any technical problems you may encounter.
13. Achieve a High Positive Audience Response – you need to know how to achieve and maintain a maxmimum PAR score
14. Audience Time – get in front of an audience as often as you can in order to achieve maximum stage comfort
15. Ability to Work in Different Markets – business environment, trade shows, comedy clubs you need to be able to work in an adapt to different audiences.
16. Connect with your audience – you need to be able to connect with your audience through your words and through eye contact.
17. Know about and hone your timing – you should be able to know how to maximise your laughter through the use of pauses both for dramatic as well as comic timing.
18. Tell an Embarrassing or Imbroglio Story – Doug Stevenson says that by telling an imbroglio story people can find a connection to that emotion as well as laugh. Check out the works of Ricky Gervais and Larry David for excellent examples of the humour of embarrassment.
19. Knowing when NOT to use Humour – this is as equally important as using humour. There could be times in your speech that you need to reign in the humour.
20. Learn how to use Non-verbal Humour – a punchline isn’t always confined to what you say, it could be a look, a gesture or a sound.
21. Have a Humour Buddy – it’s important not to develop your humour in isolation. By having a humour buddy, you can bounce ideas off them so you can see if things are working.
22. Know how to Revive Old Material – it’s not always time to ditch old material as you may just need to find a way to revive the material instead.
23. Incorporate New Humorous Material – don’t go out with new material straight away. Make sure that you incorporate it into into the material that’s already working well.
24. Use Humour to Lighten Heavy or Complex Subjects – your whole speech doesn’t have to contain humour, but it can help your audiences digest heavy subjects.
25. Clean vs. Blue – Know when to use clean humour, more often than you think, and when to use blue.
26. Know How to Set-up a Room – having the room set up correctly can help maximise your laughter response. Laughter’s infectious so you need to allow it to infect.
27. Know How to Deliver Your Speech – seems obvious, but you should make sure that you sound as natural and as conversational as possible. It will help you remember what you’re saying and allow you to connect.
28.  Make sure you’re Enthusiastic – be enthusiastic and passionate about your topic and your speech. That will come through your deliver and help you connect with your audience.
29. Use Examples – when you make a statement give your audience an example of how the idea works in practise.
30. Cite your Sources – make sure that you cite your sources and that your facts are accurate.
31. Handy Handouts – make sure your handouts contain information that is different from your slides. There should be more detail in your handouts than in your slides.
32.Learn How to Read an Audience – for instance, if your audience shift uncomfortably then that’s a sign that you’re losing them and you need to do something to re-capture their attention.

Don’t just read about the skills that you need to learn to be funny, make sure that you take action on them too!

If you want a fast and easy method for learning how to capture your sense of humour for a speech or presentation check out Top Comedy Secrets.


Photo source Blewt! Productions

*•  Deese and Kaufman (1957) Serial effects in recall of unorganized and sequentially organized verbal material , J Exp Psychol. 1957 Sep;54(3):180-7
•  Murdock, B.B., Jr. (1962) The Serial Position Effect of Free Recall, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 482-488.

1 comment

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  1. Kara

    Thank you for mentioning Garr Reynolds in your post. I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers might be interested in knowing that he just released his first online streaming video, Presentation Zen: The Video, where he expands on the ideas presented in his book and blog. More info can be found here:


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