Eight Humor Tips for Speakers


By Allen Klein, MA, CSP (aka Mr. Jollytologist®)


For sixteen years, I have been showing audiences how to find humor in not-so-funny stuff. Thousands of people have laughed a lot in my presentations yet I don't tell jokes. Below are some ways I get people to laugh. And you can too.

1- Set the Scene for Laughter
If you want to lighten up your program, you might want to let the audience know this, even before you say one word. Project some lighthearted visuals as the audience is entering the room. Play some copyright-free uplifting music as they enter. Or, add some humor to your presentation title or program description. My bio, for example, has my list of accomplishments, playfully followed by "His mother is very proud of him."

2- Poke Fun at Yourself
Again, even before you open your mouth, you can show the audience that you don't take yourself too seriously by adding some playful things about you in your introduction. I, for example, have the introducer tell the audience that I am the author of seven books which have sold well over 30 copies. Then the person corrects their mistake and says, "Oops, that's 300,000 copies."

3- Get a Laugh with a Prop
It has been said that 80% of what people learn is visual. If this is true, then speakers need to enhance their talks with something to visually illustrate what they are saying. A prop is a great way to do this because it not only makes your message memorable but it can also get a laugh. Among other things, I use balloons to illustrate how people can let go of their stress; an inflatable globe to illustrate how we often carry the world around on our shoulders; and a plastic hammer which I use to hit myself on the head when I goof up. All make a point and all get a laugh.

4- Your Humor Stories
Open your humor eyes and ears and look and listen for the funny things that happen all around you. Families are an especially good resource for finding humor stories. Not too long ago, my Mom, who will be 93-years-old this year, told me an incident which I have now incorporated into my opening. Every time she goes to the doctor, she hires a van service to take her their and back. One late afternoon it didn't show up to take her home. Since the doctor had to close the office for the day, he suggested that she wait for the van in the pizza parlor next door. After waiting a long time without the van arriving, my Mom went up to the counter and asked, "Do you deliver?" When the man behind the counter replied, "Of course, we do. We're a pizza place." My Mom said, "Great. Then I'd like a pepperoni pizza and I'd like to go with it."

5- Borrow Some Witty Words
While waiting for your own humor-related stories to appear, you might want to borrow some funny short quotes for famous folk to lighten up your talks. Quotation books, the TV, newspapers, and magazines such as Reader's Digest are great resources for locating great quotes. Since I frequently speak to hospice groups, Woody Allen's comments about death and dying are appropriate. My favorite, "There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?"

6- Collect Audience Anecdotes
Sometimes audiences say the funniest things. When they do write it down. It could be a big laugh in your next presentation. For years, I've been asking audiences, "How do you spell relief?" My answer is "L-A-U-G-H". Then one day a woman in the back row called out, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." It got a huge laugh for her that day and continues to get a laugh for me when I retell it.

7- Make it Relevant
One final word about using humor in your presentations. Make sure it is relevant. Amusing an audience for the sake of getting a laugh might be ideal for a stand-up comedian or an after-dinner humorist but it's probably not OK for most speakers. If your humor doesn't make a point or have a purpose don t use it!

8- The Bottom Line
For non-humorists, some of the ideas presented here may seem too frivolous for your subject matter. Nevertheless, I would still encourage you to seek some way of upping the entertainment value of your talks because it might also increase what you charge. As Steve Allen once noted, "People will pay more to be entertained than educated."

Back to All Articles List

Get Free Reprints of this Article


2012 Allen Klein. All Rights Reserved.