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Aug 29

Writing a Winning Humorous Speech

The London Speaker blog has just posted an interview with Jonathan Palmer last year’s Divison B Humorous Speech winner. It’s a really good and revealing article. Palmer talks about why he didn’t make the grade and win the contest at District (National) level. It’s a key distinction.

He had a speech about the nightmare of being a London commuter. Something that everyone in the city can relate. I didn’t see his speech, but I know that it would’ve struck a chord with me. But what about people who don’t have to suffer the daily commute on the London Underground?

What happens when you perform in other cities or the regions, where they don’t have the same transportation system? What happens to your jokes about failing Oyster cards? your observations about fighting to get a seat and reading the free newspaper? the character traits of the Underground staff?

Palmer says:

“Most significantly I learned how important it is to recognise that audiences are different.  Londoners got my speech.  The national audience at Harrogate didn’t warm to it!  The speech just didn’t hit the mark.  I had made changes.  I’d put in some self-deprecating “us stupid Londoners – we must be mad” remarks.  But it was papering over the cracks – it wasn’t enough”.

The same thing would happen in reverse with a speech specifically focused on life in the countryside and all of its trials and tribulations. What would happen bringing in a speech about, say, living on a farm to an inner city london Toastmasters club? The same thing that Jonathan went through.

What’s the solution then? Perhaps to bear in mind where you’re performing or, more importantly, where you could end up performing. Especially when it comes to the humorous speech contest which goes national. One of the reasons why Cole McInnes won the U.K. and All Ireland contest in 2006, with his speech “Statistically 100% of Divorces begin with Marriage” was because his speech was about relationships. This is a topic which people can relate to no matter what part of the country they’re from.

So I guess you should find a topic that you’re passionate about AND is likely to have a broad appeal.

Check out the whole interview with Jonathan Palmer here The London Speaker.