Your Country Needs Humour

7 Reasons to be funny: Humour in Public Speaking

Why Humour in Public Speaking is Important

One of my clients told me a classic joke the other day.

“Why did the chicken go to the gym?”

“I don’t know; why did the chicken go to the gym?”

“To work on her pecks”

Groan-worthy for sure but I hope will have made you smile.

Humour is an important component of all but the most serious of speeches. Here are seven reasons why you should include humour in your next presentation.

  1. The Pomposity Guard

Humour in public speaking is a great guard against pomposity. It helps us not to take ourselves so seriously. When we get elevated to the giddying heights of public speaker or presenter there is a danger that we can think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

Listening to someone who is puffed up with their own self-importance is not a pleasant experience. Ironically it’s hard to take someone like this seriously.

It’s true that being a presenter, speaker or trainer is both an honour and a privilege but one which carries with it a burden of responsibility and a demand for personal integrity. A little humour can help keep this in perspective.

  1. The Tension Buster

Even experienced professionals can experience unsettling nerves when faced with new or challenging situations. Then humour is a good tension buster.

Humour, for fast relief of tension, trusted, safe and effective. Available from your local pharmacy and all good comedians * Always read the instructions on the packet * Repeat the dose as often as needed ! Warning Exceeding the recommended dose may cause strong feelings of happiness
Humour – for the fast relief of tension

Physiologically tension has a number of unfortunate effects for speakers and presenters, the most troublesome being reduced vocal control. Your voice can become high pitched or cut-out at awkward moments.

This loss of control is caused by muscles in the neck and throat tightening up. A good dose of laughter will free this up every time.

It is said for good reason that laughter is the best medicine. It releases feel-good hormones into the blood stream and will instantly elevate your mood. A good belly laugh will also give your breathing muscles a good work out too. The resulting movement will automatically release muscular tension. Hence humour really is a tension buster.

  1. The Nut Cracker

Let’s face it some subjects are tough nuts to crack and can be hard to talk about. Some things are sensitive, boring, or taboo. However, if you think about it pretty well any subject has a lighter side. Even the final frontier, death itself is easier to take if we laugh at it.

A lawyer texted his client overseas: “Your mother-in-law passed away in her sleep. How shall we instruct the funeral director? Burial, cremation or embalming?”

The reply came back a few minutes later, “Take no chances, order all three.”

Accountants are often perceived as being boring: but it’s easy enough to find some humour in it.

What does an accountant’s wife do to get to sleep?

Ask him about his work.

Psychologists have demonstrated that people who have a sense of humour adjust better to all sorts of stressful situations including bereavement.

As a speaker or presenter humour is a useful way of breaking bad news gently.

  1. The Perspective Changer
Spike "I specialise in baking law" Sharma "You mean banking law?" Spike "No BAKING law" Shama "What's that?" Spike "Mostly torts"
Spike & Sharma Cartoon Strip – Baking Law

Being able to see the lighter side of things brings us neatly on to our next reason to be funny: humour helps you see things from a different perspective. Having a sense of humour not only helps you to get through difficult circumstances but helps you to come up with new and imaginative ideas.

Seeing the quirky side of things enables you to think outside the normal constraints of your subject. This is especially useful if your topic is technical or a little obscure. For example most people understand the basics of law but it quickly becomes very technical with all kinds of exceptions based on jurisdiction, precedent or your status.

It’s useful both for you and your audience in explaining difficult terms or concepts. It can also help you see a brand new angle on something that has become very familiar.

  1. The Memory Maestro

There are umpteen ways of remembering things, but humour is a great one. Associating important points with something funny will help people remember them that little bit longer.

The sad truth is that it doesn’t really matter how much effort you put into carefully crafted speeches and fantastic content: your audience will forget most of what you said by the time they walk out of the door. Most of what’s left will have gone by the time they get home. This applies to the big name speakers just as much as to the bottom of the ladder ones.

This does beg the question why do people go to listen to speakers if they don’t remember any of the content? The reason is that it’s how they make them feel.

Think of the last speaker you went to see. What do you remember of what they said? The chances are that you can recall very little if anything. On the other hand if you were asked how you felt about the presentation, you’d be able to say a lot more. Probably one or more of the following: inspired, motivated, excited, entertained, diverted, amused, wanting to emulate, moved … If the speaker was any good your feelings will endure long after you’ve forgotten the last syllable of their content.

  1. The Recruiter
Your Country Needs Humour
Your Country Needs Humour

Everyone likes to laugh: it’s a great feeling. If you can make people laugh and get something important over to them they will love you. Humour helps people forget their aches, pains and troubles

Humour can be like a recruiter: you can use it to get people on your side. If people think that something is fun, they’ll be much more likely to want to come along.

Of course once you’ve got them there you can use humour to win them over. For example you could use satire. By making an opposing idea seem ridiculous, awkward or exaggerated you can help people see the sense of your argument. This is especially useful if you are trying to communicate something complex, abstract or controversial.

  1. The Cheer Leader

Ask any experienced speaker: some audiences are just hard work. Humour is a great cheer leader, helping to banish the enthusiasm police.

Every group of people has a different kind of energy or characteristic. It’s a remarkable thing: something as simple as adding or removing one person can make a massive difference to the way a group behaves. Environmental issues can also have an impact. Things like the weather, the season and the phases of the moon can have an effect on a group’s responsiveness.

A good speaker learns to read the audience and adjust their content accordingly. If an audience is proving to be difficult or unresponsive a good dose of humour can really help to get them re-engaged.

Because laughter is such a positive, strong and powerful emotion it can easily overpower more negative feelings and inhibitions. If someone is feeling down it will help them feel better by releasing those feel good hormones.

To recap …

Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list: you’re sure to be able to add more. To recap the seven reasons to be funny are:

  1. The Pomposity Guard
  2. The Tension Buster
  3. The Nut Cracker
  4. The Perspective Changer
  5. The Memory Maestro
  6. The Recruiter
  7. The Cheer Leader

Hopefully you’ll be able to find at least one reason that will help you with your next presentation. Let us know if you’ve found this article helpful, how you get on using humour in public speaking and presentations and if you come up with some more good reasons.

Robert Williams, Voice Coach
© Clearly Talking December 2012 & 2015

(Originally published in 2012 but updated in 2015)