Even though this post is from the perspective of being a member of Toastmasters International and the Humorous Speech Contest, there are certainly some lessons that can be applied to any speaking or presentation.
The Humorous Speech Contest
During my time at Toastmasters I’ve had an opportunity to deliver and watch a number of different humorous speeches; obviously none more so than in the humorous speech contest.
What I find quite interesting is the number of speeches that strive for originality (one of the rules of the humorous speech contest). Whilst this is perfectly admirable it’s not something that always works in your favour. What, I hear you say? We should just regurgitate old hackneyed topics instead? Not exactly no.
Consider this we can all safely assume that everything’s been spoken about and joked about. When it comes to doing comedy or delivering a speech in the humorous speech contest, there are no new subjects. Occasionally ones do crop up and they can be really funny, but for some reason don’t connect.
You have to take your audience into consideration as well as trying to create something that you personally think it funny.
Toastmasters Division B Contest
For instance, the winner of the Division B contest Jonathan Palmer didn’t win the national contest of District 71 because, from what he told me, no-one outside of London could relate to his topic of being a London-based commuter.
Hilarious it would’ve been to people in the Big Smoke, but when it comes to rural Ireland, or elsewhere, then it’s not something that people can relate to.
Consider, Cole McInnes who won the District 71 Humorous Speech contest in 2006. He gave a speech about the well worn subject of relationships and the differences between men and women. Original topic? No. Original jokes and delivery of the subject? Yes. And it was very funny too.
The lesson, it would seem, is to select a topic that people can relate to and then find the original slant within that framework.
This past weekend, I watched a DVD of the District 71 Humorous Speech contest that took place last year. Admittedly, as time of writing, I have only watched two of the speakers so far; David Jones because he won Division B and because I know him and also Michael Cronin, whom I don’t know, but was the winner.
Mike’s speech was hilarious as was David’s. Both brilliantly funny and both brilliant humorists and speakers. David used PowerPoint for his funny presentation, which is something that I thought was very unique and original.
As was his topic of a romp through art history. Original topic? Yes. Original jokes and delivery? Definitely.
However, Mike’s speech was about being a man who doesn’t read instructions and had problems with his new laptop. Essentially, Man versus technology. Original topic? No. Original jokes and delivery? absolutely.
There are obviously a number of criteria in a humorous speech contest that determines the winner and it’s obviously a lot more than what I’m talking about here. You need only take a quick scan of the Humorous Contest rules to see this.
However, that said, I think there has a lot to be said for those topics which an audience feels that they can relate to. Please note that I wasn’t in the room and my observations are purely based upon watching the DVD.
Speaking Audience Demographic
A comedy crime that I’ve been guilty of in the past is doing material about being a 20-something to an audience, most of whom hadn’t been a 20 something for about 30-40 years. I don’t recommend it.
You have to take the audience into consideration. Your topic needs to be relateable as well as from your own unique viewpoint.
Where this becomes difficult I think is with those comedians who deliver material that is very funny, but not something that you can immediately relate to; Eddie Izzard, The Mighty Boosh and Steve Wright leap to mind. In those instances, we laugh at the sheer bonkersness of what is being said. They often start in reality, before going weird.
You need to consider whether your audience can relate more to a hypothetical witty exchange between Shakespeare and Moliere…
… or to the fact that you accidentally took your kid’s lunch to work with you instead of your own?
Don’t be afraid of going after what may seem hackneyed topics, if you can put your own unique take on the subject and come up with original jokes.
For instance, male and female relationships and the differences is a very well worn subject. But what if you just got divorced? What if you’re a newly-wed? What if you just came out as being gay? What if you’re polygamist?
Each of these ideas would be a unique take on the area of male and female relationships. It’s looking at your topics from your viewpoint and your current life that you can find the originality as well as the relateability.
Ideas are all around us and you just need to find the things that make you laugh and work out whether an audience might be able to relate.
Notice I didn’t say laugh, because you’ll never be able to make everyone laugh. Your sense of humour might not be everyone’s cup of tea. but you do need to find the topics you think peeps might be able to relate to.