We all want our audiences to laugh with us, not at us and let’s face it — it just feels great to have the audience laugh at your jokes. Great speakers are able to entertain us while they educate us. There is also a perception that having the audience laugh with you throughout your talk means that it’s well received.

Humor is one of the best attention getting devices out there. If someone isn’t paying attention and the audience laughs, he or she will focus back on you to see what go the reaction. As a general rule, you want to put an attention getting device into your speech every three to five minutes to prevent losing your audience. In addition to humor, the other common ways to get attention include:

  • Asking a question.
  • Having the audience do an exercise.
  • Do a demonstration.
  • Change up your voice or body movements.

Many times, you can incorporate humor into these other attention getting devices such as poking fun of yourself or your volunteer (in a lighthearted way) during a demonstration.

Humor can come in many different forms. Jokes and riddles are the most popular — tossing out a one-liner in the middle of your talk can help you connect with your audience. Exaggerated comments, movements or gestures can be especially effective when done right. Humorous stories, particularly if they demonstrate a main point of your talk, can help the audience retain your message. Imitations or impersonations are an easy way to capture an audience’s attention, but only if you’re good at them.

It’s great to use a variety of these forms, but you can get by with just one if that’s what you do really well.

Some of the things to keep in mind related to humor include:

Make sure that your humor is appropriate for your audience:

You shouldn’t say something negative about a group of people unless you belong to that group and even then, make sure it’s something people won’t be offended by. Also, make sure that your audience can relate to the joke, or at least understand it. Many speakers make the mistake of telling jokes about people, places or things that the audience is not familiar with and get thrown off when there’s no reaction.

If you make that mistake, try to follow up with: “That’s funny because..”

Watch your language:

With many young successes hitting the speaking platform, there has been an increase in slang, technical jargon and even profanity in speeches. Keep in mind that what’s a hit to college students or young entrepreneurs may not necessarily go over well with corporate executives who have been in the workforce for several decades. Make sure the language that you use is appropriate for your audience. If you even have to question it, then leave it out.

Speak Clearly:

It’s important to speak clearly when you tell the joke so your audience can hear and understand it. There’s nothing more frustrating during a speech than someone mumbling through a punch line or speaking softly so can’t hear the funny part of a joke.

Use Self-deprecating humor:

Self-deprecating humor is a great tool. It’s especially funny because it takes you off the platform in the eyes of the audience and shows your human side. Just don’t overdo it or the audience will wonder why they’re listening to a buffoon.

Play the gender card:

The gender of your audience makes a difference. Women tend to laugh more easily than men because men tend to be more emotionally reserved. Women will just blurt out laughing when they find something funny while men will look around waiting for someone else to laugh before they’ll laugh. Try to use this to your advantage when you’re trying to be funny.

Keep in mind that humor is a great attention getting device and can really help you connect with your audience. One final piece of advice is to try out new humor on a mock or safe audience. That way you’ll know if it’s appropriate, funny and, most importantly, if it will have the effect you desire.

Public Speaking Success: Enhance a Speech With Humor
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4 thoughts on “Public Speaking Success: Enhance a Speech With Humor

  • May 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Humor always makes the presenter seem more approachable and human.

    Nonetheless, I should clearly differentiate between humor and jokes:

    Humor usually occurs when telling stories, revealing one’s foibles or spontaneously from what’s happening in the moment. I ALWAYS encourage clients to include humor.

    Jokes should not be attempted unless the speaker can consistently make people life in conversation AND the joke is clearly related and connected to
    the topic. After all, there is only one criterion for success. And if it bombs, everyone in the room knows it.

    Still, while jokes do sometimes fall flat, this is another opportunity to connect with your audience! Instead, of letting the awkward silence throw you off, turn it on its head by noting that your joke was a flop with a smile. Talk about the audiences reaction and note the atmosphere. Handling the situation like this if the joke bombs will often make the presenter seem cool, collected and approachable, and if the joke doesn’t bomb, this will lighten up the room and once again make the presenter seem approachable. It is a win-win as long as the situation is handled correctly.

    Thanks for the post!

  • May 15, 2008 at 6:55 pm


    Good points. I like your suggestion about when jokes fall flat.

    Thanks for the comments,


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