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Finding The Funny: Tips and Techniques on Using Humor in Public Speaking

Many in the public eye will wonder how, when and most importantly whether to inject a bit of humor into their speech. After all, when done right, nothing breaks the ice or earns a speaker good will faster than connecting with an audience through humor. But what constitutes “funny”? Ah, there’s the difficulty.

While there are no hard and fast rules about using humor in public speaking appearances, there are some guides to think about before you try it. Here’s a few tips on whether being funny is something you might want to try at your next public appearance.

·        Are you good at this?  Ask yourself: Are you someone who is known for your sense of humor and using it to put people at ease?  If the first time you’re thinking about displaying your sense of humor in public is as a speaker at a public event, think again. Public forums aren’t the place for you to hone this skill because the stakes to your personal reputation are too high. Tell the wrong joke or worse, inadvertently offending through humor, might be all anyone will remember.

·        This isn’t standup.  Unless you’re a professional comic, stay away from telling typical formulaic jokes. Think less about the “two guys walk into a bar” tales and more about the use of gentle humor that doesn’t hold anyone or any group up to ridicule. Remember, the point here is to connect with an audience, not to make anyone uncomfortable at the expense of a laugh. If a line, story or joke you think is funny falls flat, it makes it hard for your audience to set it aside and listen to the rest of what you say.

·        Turn the humor inward.  Self-deprecating humor where you’re the target of the joke often works for speakers, as long as the humor is gentle. Sharing your confusion about something the audience can relate to or catching yourself in a mistake are examples that might break the ice and put the audience in a mood to hear what else you might say.

·        Make the humor organic.  If you can find humor in a situation that is particularly relevant to the event or to something your audience has probably experienced, so much the better.  Again, think less about standard jokes than about relatable stories that contain some humor flowing naturally from your experiences.

·        Run it by someone. One of the reasons using humor is fraught with danger for public speakers is that humor is an area colored in grey areas. We simply don’t all agree about what’s funny, what’s not, or what might be appropriate to laugh at in a public setting. If you know someone who will be attending the event, run the humor by them first to gauge reaction. Stay on the safe side and make sure your humor accomplishes everything you want it to.

Remember, every public speaking appearance is a chance to cement your reputation with an audience. You want to make sure you are remembered for all the right reasons, whether you chose to make an audience laugh as well as make them think.

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